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How to Talk about Your Book with Confidence

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

For most of my life, if someone asked about my novels, I had two responses: either A) downplay the story so much no one would ever want to read it or B) info-dump way past what anyone ever wanted to know.

Not super helpful.

And honestly, self-doubt is part of the creative process. It never goes away completely. We gotta live with that and move forward.

So how can you talk about your book without getting embarrassed?

  1. No bad-mouthing your book!

  2. Fake it 'til you make it.

  3. Take a step back; don't make it personal.

  4. Memorize the audience, genre, and premise (The Formula™).

  5. Focus on what YOU like, not what you think the other person will like.

*Disclaimer: This blog article isn't addressing clinical anxiety issues.

General tips

Tip #1: Don't badmouth your book.

This seems obvious, right? But let's take a look at what I call the Fanfic Self-Disparage:

  • "sorry for the bad summary"

  • "first story, sorry if it's bad"

  • "probably OOC sorry"

You aren't exactly instilling confidence here.

Now, you're probably not going to tell people your original characters are written out-of-character. But original-story negativity might sound like this:

  • "it might be boring"

  • "you probably wouldn't like it"

  • "it's been told before"

  • "it's average/mediocre/okay"

  • "it's my first book, so..."

Cut these apologies out of your vocabulary. For your OWN sake as much as your potential audience's.

Tip #2: Fake it 'til you make it.

"But I don't feeeeel confident," you weep on a bed of manuscript pages.

Fun fact: Few people do.

So don't give up on yourself and your book just because you don't feel confident in it yet.

Straighten your back. Lift your head. Declare, "My story has value, and there are people out there who'd like it."

Does it feel fake? Maybe. But the more you practice it, the more you'll start to believe it.

"Fake it 'til you make it" is a 100% valid strategy, my friend. It works for self-confidence; it works in pretty much all of adulthood; it'll work for your book-confidence.

Tip #3: Take a step back. (Don't make it personal.)

Listen. Please. I say this so, so lovingly: No one cares about this as much as you do.

Mentally distance yourself, and reframe the encounter.

This person asked, "What's your book about?" (Or some variation thereof.) That's it. That's all they're looking for.

You aren't trying to sell this person on YOU as an author or even on YOUR creative product. That thought process gets you all tangled up, and it feels so personal and high-stress. Chill out.

If you're not a salesy person (I'm not!), stop thinking of this book-talk as a sale. Odds are, this two-minute description won't change anyone's life. Take a step back, and realize it's not that serious.

And in case you haven't heard it recently, this book is not you. Your personal worth doesn't depend on every single person liking this one particular story.

Formula for a quick summary

Let's say your local neighbor, Annie Nearby, asks you, "What's your book about?"

We've already established that you're not allowed to verbally doubt your way out. You also shouldn't provide a scene-by-scene rundown. (She doesn't care that much.)

But you CAN give her a quickie overview that you've prepared beforehand. And here is the magical formula:

(adjective +) audience + genre + premise


The audience describes the age of your target readers:

  • juvenile (5–8 years old)

  • middle grade (8–12 years old)

  • young adult (YA) (12–18 years old)

  • new adult (NA) (19–30 years old)

  • adult (18+ years old)

The age of your target audience might correlate to the age of the characters, but not necessarily. Consider themes, topics, etc. A super-gory horror story about an 7-year-old would not be a "juvenile" book.


The genre is, well, self-explanatory:

  • fantasy

  • science-fiction

  • romance

  • erotica

  • adventure

  • there are lots, take your pick

Note: for some genres, you'll need to specify the setting. For example, within the romance genre, specify whether the time period is contemporary or regency.

So far we have audience + genre. This is the simplest way to describe your book.

  • Juvenile fantasy

  • Young adult (YA) horror

  • Adult thriller

But you don't have to stop there. Let's go deeper!


This is the Main Thing That Happens. Be GENERAL here; it's not an info-dump.

Keep the premise brief. One sentence, if you can manage it, and definitely no more than two.

Sometimes it's hard to verbalize the premise because you're shy or embarrassed. I believe in you, okay? Come up with a 100% objective, fact-based summary (i.e., based on what the characters DO). Leave out your feelings.

If you can't think of a might have a bigger problem.

You might also use a central theme here—a vague idea that the story centers around—instead of the actual premise. "Family," "sacrifice," "finding yourself," etc.

General mood adjective

If you wanna go wild, add one (1) adjective at the beginning that describes the overall mood of the book:

  • grim

  • lighthearted

  • dark

  • hopeful

  • bittersweet

  • tongue-in-cheek

  • satirical

This part is optional, but it provides atmosphere (without you having to go into detail).

An example of the Formula Summary in action!

Were you hoping for a real-life example of how an author would use this Formula Summary? Well, you're in luck.

I have no idea how many awkward conversations I struggled through, trying to talk about my novel Border Ctrl+Esc (Santiago/Mariana) with any degree of confidence. I was awkward, I was vague, and I was self-deprecating.

Enter the Formula Summary, stage left.

"It's a (mood) audience genre about premise."

How does this translate for Santiago and Mariana?

Border Ctrl+Esc is a lighthearted adult contemporary romance about a marriage of convenience between Internet friends.

To break that down:

  • Mood: lighthearted

  • Audience: adult

  • Genre (including the time period): contemporary romance

  • Premise: a marriage of convenience between Internet friends

Once you figure out the Formula Summary for your own book, practice it over and over again.

Practice it so many times that you can rattle it off without second-guessing yourself. The less you have to think about it, the better.

Focus on what YOU like

Most of the time, the Formula Summary is all that person wants to know. They asked about your book, and they'll move on. But sometimes (gasp!) they actually want to know more.

How do you stay confident (or at least fake-confident) when the conversation goes deeper?

My strategy: Assume that the person you're talking to isn't the target audience.

Sounds weird? Let me explain.

As a romance writer, I run on the expectation that when I tell someone the genre, I'll get a weird look or a criticism of romance novels as a whole. I knew this prejudice going in. I don't like it, but I've come to terms with it.

Now, I can shove my books under a mattress, or I can embrace them for what they are. (Guess which one I chose?)

Few of my real-life acquaintances read romance novels. That's fine. If the conversation goes beyond The Formula, I focus on the aspects of the book/series that *I* enjoy, rather than trying to fit what I think this other person likes. 'Cause odds are good they won't like any of it, so who the hell cares.

Let's break down the Santiago/Mariana example: a lighthearted | adult | contemporary | romance | about a marriage of convenience | between Internet friends.

Every single one of those aspects has the potential to be someone's deal-breaker.

What's a girl to do? Stop giving a shit, as it happens.

You wrote your story because it has things you like, right? Right. So take another step back, and don't try to cater to whatever this rando might want to read.

What do YOU like to see in a book? What are YOUR favorite aspects of the story? When the discussion goes deep, talk about THOSE things, and you'll light up.

For example, I wrote Border Ctrl+Esc because it features things I like: Green card marriage. Mutual pining. Witty banter. Diverse ensemble cast. "Oh no there's only one bed I guess we have to share it."

If my local neighbor Annie Nearby doesn't like those things, who cares? In the grand scheme of things, her opinion doesn't matter.

Recap of how to talk about your book with confidence

  1. Never bad-mouth your book!

  2. Fake it 'til you make it.

  3. Take a step back; don't make the conversation personal.

  4. Memorize the audience, genre, and premise (The Formula™).

  5. Focus on what YOU like, not what you think the other person will like.

Now go forth and talk about your book proudly and confidently.

I believe in you!


"Make the Yuletide Gay" is now out in the world! Add it to your TBR list on Goodreads. Read Chapter One for free: Chapter 1: “Good Sir, That's a Lotta Snow”!

If it makes you happy, you can follow me on Facebook ("Author Ivy L. James"), Instagram (@authorivyljames), and YouTube ("Author Ivy L. James")!

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