My buddy Jenn and I went to brunch over at Mary Anne’s yesterday and ate good food and talked shop. I also had the opportunity to meet Jennifer Stevenson, who wrote the recently released trash sex magic. We talked about selling novels – it apparently took Jennifer about twenty years to sell hers – and I found myself terribly uncomfortable talking about my finished book. I tend to shrug it off when people ask and say, “Oh, it’s just classic epic fantasy.”
But that’s not going to sell a book.
Jennifer was talking about finding a “high concept idea” spin for your book. She launched into hers – trash sex magic was about a promiscuous woman, a hussie, who lives in a trailer park and falls in love with a tree… Only – she says it way better than that, and when she’s done with her spiel, your eyes light up and you think, “Hot damn, I have to *read* that!”
She told me not to feel too bad: it only took her twenty years to condense the concept down into something that made dollar signs flash in the eyes of editors and agents. We trotted out ideas from my book: priests who practice biological warfare, shadow knights who ride dogs into battle, the kitchen-girl-who-would-be-queen in a polyamous matriarchy.
“Go with the polyamous matriarchy,” Mary Anne said.
Always get straight to the sex… it sells more books. When Mary Anne introduced Jennifer and said, “Oh, she wrote this book,” and handed me trash sex magic, well, I’d already heard of the book – it’s tough to forget a title like that, and it’s always cool to meet an author whose work I know.
I’ve had a tough time trying to condense my book into soundbites that make for good cocktail party conversation. I’d finally figured out how to do that with my thesis project in South Africa because I was asked so many times. Now I’ve got to work on 1) my 1-line spiel 2) my 60-second Editor’s Dollar Signs spiel 3) my 5-minute, chatting with other writers about my book spiel.
I hate talking about myself (though I could *write* about myself all day…). I’ve been taught that talking about your accomplishments is akin to bragging. Bragging is rude. You should always listen twice as much as you speak. But I was being asked about my book three or four times over the course of the brunch, and every time, my chest seized up and the mortal fear came over me and I wanted to say, “It’s nothing, no, really, just an epic fantasy. You know, classic epic fantasy stuff. With polyamous matriarchies. And weird social structures. Oh, and giant dogs. And end-of-the-world, purging-magic-users stuff. You know. Kitchen girl who would be queen. It’s classic fantasy, only there are women in it. And everybody gets laid.”
So I went home after the brunch and thought about High Concept Ideas while I cleaned the bathroom floor. George R.R. Martin could say he was writing an epic fantasy loosely based on the War of the Roses. I’m writing an epic fantasy where priests practice biological warfare, shadowy knights ride dogs into battle, and a kitchen girl struggles to become queen of a polyamous matriarchy at the brink of destruction as magic-users are purged from the continent. Oh, and there’s some sex scenes. And some men kept in harems. And lots of fights scenes. Did I mention the sex?
It’s a starting point.