Friday Speak Out!: Work In Progress, Guest Post by Susanne Holly Brent

Friday, October 25, 2013
“So what’s your novel about?” is a question which I have come to dread. It may be asked by a relative, a coworker, a friend, or another writer, and I’ve still not found an adequate response, or at least provided a description that sounds like I’m writing a best seller.

I always get the sense when people ask me that question they are waiting for me to immediately share with them an amazing story, with a plot, and characters, like they’ve never heard before. I wish I had dollar for every time people have said to me, “Why don’t you write a book to make you as rich as that woman, you know the one, the woman who wrote those Harry Potter books. Isn’t she a billionaire?”

Yes. She’s rich. No. I’m not. If I did have that dollar for each time I’ve been encouraged to write like another writer, I would have enough money to go to a writer’s conference in some inspiring location and at least be with people who knew the name of J.K. Rowling.

Truth is…I’m still writing my book, and unable to give that three minute pitch I’ve read is necessary to snag an agent, or please the well-meaning folks who ask.

Still, I’ve made the mistake of struggling to explain my book. I still cringe remembering sitting in a hotel restaurant trying to describe my novel to two dear friends. We were eating breakfast when the dreaded question was posed. I took a deep breath and said, “My book’s about a woman whose best friend dies in a car accident, has a romance with a fomer lover, and there’s stuff about paintings of gypsies done by a woman in a Nazi concentration camp.”

My two friends stared at me with pained expressions and did the worse thing possible. They said nothing. Not even a “sounds interesting.”

I stuffed scrambled eggs and toast into my mouth, and we changed the subject. I try not to mind read, but all I could think was the two of them silently saying to themselves, “She’ll never get it published.”

And that’s the problem with sharing your novel before it’s completed. I myself haven’t figured the entire story yet. It’s like trying to explain what your child will look and act like before he or she is born. I know my novel will have words just as a baby will have a head, but other than that my novel is still in the creation process, not yet birthed, though the labor is taking way more than nine months. And I may never get rich like you know who.

So here’s what I do now. I say, “Thanks for asking. I’m still in the writing phase, and not ready to share all the juicy details yet. But as soon as I am, you will be the first to know.”

This response still doesn’t satisfy everyone, and it’s not perfect, but like my writing, it’s a work in progress.

* * *
I spend my time either at my desk writing when the sun is shining, which it does a lot where I live in Phoenix, Arizona, or working as a waitress, when the moon is smiling in the desert sky. I blog about my dual existence at

Twenty some years ago, (has it been that long!) I earned a journalism degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver, and moved to Arizona to work as a small town newspaper reporter. When the eight to five reporting routine became to restrictive for my free spirit, (or some may say lack of discipline) I left the newspaper and have since worked as a freelance writer.

I’m currently writing/revising a novel about….well, you’ll just have to wait.


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Margo Dill said...

That's a great response! :) I think I'm going to start using it, too. ;)

BTW, if we had a dollar for every time someone said we should write something like HP or Hunger Games, we would be rich--like it would be so easy.

Rita A. said...

I've wondered if that dreaded question is like asking how the cashier at the convenience store. By rote, social standard, just a question: and you could answer it by describing some ancient text and they'd never know the difference.

Tamara Marnell said...

MP, I guarantee you your friends weren't thinking "she'll never get it published." They were thinking:

1) "Oh God, why did I ask? Look at her face; I've put her on the spot. Now I've ruined our nice breakfast...."

2) "Oh God, what am I supposed to say to that? It's about the freaking Holocaust! If I say it sounds 'fun' it's like I think the Holocaust is fun, but if I don't say anything she'll think I think she's a bad writer, ohGodohGodohGod..."

3) "Wow, these eggs are to die for! Wait, didn't I ask MP a question? Did she answer it? Oh God, I wasn't paying attention..."

When people ask what your book is about, they're not that interested in the answer. They're just making conversation. If your friend is a professor you ask what classes she's teaching; if your friend is a lawyer you ask if she has any interesting cases; and if your friend is a writer you ask about her latest book. They don't expect a perfected elevator pitch. It's enough to wink and say, "You'll have to buy a copy when it's published to find out!"

Unknown said...

I love your response. I hate that question! Sometimes I don't even want to tell people I write because I know they will automatically ask what I write and truth be told, it changes! For me writing one genre would be like wearing the same color everyday and who wants to do that? Thanks for a great post. I will be using your answer!

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