“What’s your book about?” I ask.

“Oh… well… um… it’s about good vs. evil in a fantasy land and a character who has to destroy the evil.”

This is the type of response I often receive when I ask an unpublished writer what they’re working on—it’s generic, doesn’t sound unique, and assumes I don’t really care.

It’s tempting to hum and haw and mumble a mediocre response, either because you don’t think your work is worth talking about, you feel your writing is personal and speaking about it is scary, or you assume the person asking is only doing so to be polite.

The problem is, I actually want to know! As an editor, I’m vastly interested in the projects writers are working on. And even if it’s only your second cousin (once-removed) who’s asking, responding with a detailed elevator pitch—a sentence or two describing your book—accomplishes two things:

1. It demonstrates to them that you are serious about writing. Sometimes this, in turn, demonstrates to yourself that you are serious about writing, and that’s even more important.

2. It gives you practice at your elevator pitch, which comes in useful when speaking to actual editors and agents, as well as for writing a query letter.

The above was an example of a weak elevator pitch. Here’s an example of a stronger one:

“It’s about a hobbit named Frodo who’s given a ring of power and has to travel across orc-infested lands to destroy it in a volcano.”

Though that is The Lord of the Rings in the tiniest of nutshells, it’s so much more interesting than the first example. The first pitch could be describing Tolkien’s masterpiece—or a million other fantasy stories. But the latter might incite questions from your second cousin. What’s a hobbit? Why does the ring need to be destroyed? Why can’t Frodo just smash it with a hammer?

If you truly love the book you are working on, try giving an interesting, detailed response when people ask what it’s about. Remember, “detailed” doesn’t necessarily mean long! Keep it to a sentence or two and only give more if they ask.

Go forth and write!