Sure, there’s that unbaby.me app on Facebook that blocks pictures of your friends’ babies if you’re sick of seeing them, but on the other hand, some people really do like the little creatures. Politicians. Grandparents. Anyone who willingly lives in Park Slope. And whether or not you like babies, what you probably don’t like is hearing a detailed half-hour soliloquy on any one of the following baby-related topics:
- the awful morning sickness endured by the baby’s mother during the first trimester
- every detail of the journey to the hospital and ensuing 48-hour labor
- how often and in what way said baby fills its diaper
- what developmental milestone said baby has just achieved or is oh-so-close to achieving
But like I said, this post is not actually about babies.
We writers have a tendency to focus on the journey. I worked so hard on this book, we say. It took years to write. I had to write it and rewrite it and then my agent/editor/critique partner tore it apart and then I had to rewrite it some more. I sent one hundred and thirteen queries. It was rejected fifty-seven times.
But readers, for the most part, are primarily interested in the finished product.
Don’t tell me how long you were in labor, they say; show me the baby.
Here are some Show Me the Baby examples to keep in mind, wherever you are in the process:
In your query letter. In this context, it’s a rookie mistake to focus on how long you’ve been writing the book or what inspired you to write it in the first place. The agent doesn’t know you or your work. You don’t even have the space or time to describe what your whole book is like, let alone go into why you wrote it or how you’ve always wanted to be a writer since you were in the fourth grade and cried the first time you read Bridge to Teribithia. Quickly express what the book is about in a way that makes it sound compelling, finish any other important business, and be done.
When pitching at a conference. You may have the most brilliant idea for a book ever, and you might pitch it to an agent who is incredibly excited about it. However, there is a nearly zero-percent chance that the agent will agree to represent you without actually, you know, reading the book you’re pitching to them. So it’s great to get excited about pitches — and these can be great opportunities — but the best response you will probably get is, “Ooh, that sounds awesome! Please send it to me.” Where it goes from there is entirely up to what’s in the manuscript (and not how it got there).
In author interviews. In this case you may be asked to open up about your inspiration or how long the book took you to write, and it’s more than fine to talk about these things. What’s not fine is getting deep into detail. This is especially important in radio interviews, but even written ones shouldn’t go on too long about any particular topic, or they get boring. Readers may love hearing that you cried the first time you read Bridge to Teribithia, but they don’t need to hear that you borrowed it from the library when you thought you had chicken pox but it was really just a kind of flu thing and you dug down under your striped comforter because it was January in Roanoke and you went through a whole case of grape Shasta that week. Tell your stories, but tell them crisply. Practice if you have to.
Share other example in the comments: when should we focus on results (the baby) and not how we got there (the labor)?
(Image via flickr by mglasgow)