So, What’s Your Book About?

The first question people ask me when they find out I’ve written a book is: “What’s it about?” I really need to get better at answering this question in social settings. I’m better on paper:

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Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover?

In the spring, when I was writing dozens of query letters, the way I answered this simple question depended a great deal upon what I thought would grab a particular agent’s attention. Not that I’m any expert, seeing as how my search for an agent yielded an avalanche of silence littered with several form rejection letters and—the few beacons of light—custom rejection letters explaining, “I would read the novel you’ve described in my leisure, but what you’ve described is very tough to market.”

It’s true. I knew it then, and I really know it now that I’m marketing the book myself. Without tooting my own horn too much, there’s a lot going on in Release. When I applied to Bowker for the ISBNs, and when I contracted with Ingram to publish and distribute the novel, there were dozens of check boxes to click in order to properly categorize the book. Romance, Women’s, Literary, Psychological, Christian, Metaphysical… Yes. I wanted to click All Of The Above. Except…

Romance: I can’t tell you how out of place Fabio would be on the cover of Release. There’s no bodice ripping in my book (not that’s it’s lacking any spice). A very small part of me wishes I could write that kind of book. Those books sell like mad. It’s just not my thing. To qualify as a romance novel, a story must have a satisfying and optimistic ending. I’d be interested to hear whether you think Release has that ending.

Women’s: Of the earliest readers and soon-to-be proud owners of Release, thirty percent of them are men. Maybe it’s just because most of the men I know are awesome, and that the polling data’s a little skewed. They are awesome, but even awesome people won’t keep reading a book if it doesn’t appeal to them. I flinch at the idea that Release is a story just for women. If anything, Release is a sneak-peek into a woman’s mind and heart while that mind and heart are in the midst of tragedy and crisis. Men who are struggling to understand what the women in their lives are going through—READ RELEASE.

Literary: I’m a middling fine arts snob. I don’t say that lightly. My Bachelor’s degree pretty much covered the gamut in terms of reading, writing, and speaking. I’m ruined for most commercial fiction. It’s because of my education that I can say this, however: most contemporary literary fiction is way snooty, on the whole—highbrow, elitist pretension. It’s not that I don’t read it and like a lot of it. I just think that, if a book achieves a certain Flesch–Kincaid score, it’s excused from conveying an accessible message. It’s like, if someone picks up a literary novel and doesn’t “get it,” the fault’s with the reader, not the story. Communication must be owned by the communicator. My goal with Release was to write a sophisticated book that also has wide appeal. I think that’s possible without littering the story with vapid characters, cheap gimmicks, superficial topics, and predictable plots.

(The Grade Level score of Release is 5.8, by the way, and the Reading Ease is a 75. This means that the average 12 year old would understand it—NOT that twelve-year-old kids should be reading it).

Psychological: This, of any of the categories, is the one that feels like the best fit, but books that fit this mold are often thrillers, as well. Someone looking for murderers, psychopaths, degenerates and fast-paced mystery in Release might be disappointed (or will they??). Theatricality—heightened circumstances and raised stakes—make for page-turning reads. Readers of Release will need a bit more patience, investment, and engagement. Mandelyn, Colette, Henry, Joshua, Sam, and Dante don’t tell you how to feel about themselves, but they do present enough for you to consider on your own.

Christian: Yes. It is. Except it probably won’t be carried by any Christian book store. And that’s too bad. Most Christian novels are just as vapid as most romance novels. There; I said it. The central conflicts of books in this category, and I’ve read quite a few, are contrived stereotypes, the characters are far too self-aware, and no other category of novel employs Deus ex machina more than this one. There’s a very prescribed, expected plot arc in every Christian novel; not one ends without a satisfying and optimistic ending. These books exist to reinforce the readers’ existing paradigm, not enhance or deepen it. Jesus isn’t that easy. If I’m going to write about faith, hope, and love, I’m going to make you feel what it’s like to live without them. If I did one thing right in this book, I wrote several passages that simultaneously turn you on and turn your stomach. Because that’s how it feels.

Metaphysical: Yes, it is, which is another reason it probably won’t be carried by any Christian book store. The myriad science vs. religion discussions in Release could comprise a blog post of its own. It’s a discussion I look forward to hosting. I’m going to conclude this post by quoting Dante (Nunki’s, not Chaucer’s) by saying, “There’s more than one road to the amusement park.”

What do you think Release is about?

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One Response to So, What’s Your Book About?

  1. Release is about the journey of putting one’s life back together after a tragedy. How do you do that? How can you keep what was, and yet still heal and build something new out of what’s left? Because when you go through something that painful, you and life are never the same again.

    And yes, it ends on a satisfying, hopeful and optimistic note 🙂

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