Telling your meta-story

This evening I’m talking to high school students and residents of Mariemont at the local library. It’s one of many times I have the opportunity to meet readers and talk about my book, myself, and the craft and business of writing. Whether in person or in print through guest blogs, this connection with the curious comes up again and again. It led me to the following conclusion: after you have written your story, there’s the story behind it waiting to be told, one which you also have a hand in crafting and making memorable. So here’s the article I wrote about that!

Telling your Meta-Story: Advice from a Debut Author

by Liz Coley

One of more unexpected parts of launching a book is developing what I’m calling your meta-story—that is, your story about the story. It’s like the challenge of developing a perfect elevator pitch all over again, with an opening phrase that hooks, followed by a crisp explanation.

While you were aspiring, writing, revising, submitting, the invariable question on everyone’s lips was, “What’s your story about?” Remember the early, stumbling versions of your pitch? The one that started as a wordy, awkward mouthful that you gradually honed to a memorable tag-line? Tip of the iceberg. When you achieve that long-sought sale, prepare to advance to a new level of curiosity as you become an object of even greater fascination. In the lead up to your book launch and forever after, you can anticipate a barrage of typical questions:

Where do you get your ideas? Where did the idea for this novel come from?

How long does it take to write a book? How long did it take to write this novel?

Which of your characters are you most like?

Do you take ideas for scenes from your life? Do you write about people you know?

How long have you been writing? How long did it take to get published?

How did you come up with your title?

What kind of research did you do for this book?

What is the hardest part of writing? What is your favorite part of writing?

Which writers are your greatest influences?

What is your favorite book? What are you reading now?

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Whether you find yourself facing a dinner table riveted on your success, a roomful of people at a signing, a classroom of eager students, or a television interviewer, you’ll want answers at the ready that sparkle like perfect little gems. I found the more times the same questions came up in social situations, the more polished my responses became; and in the months just before launch, working out the best narrative for book blogger Q&A interviews helped me come across as “effortlessly” prepared in person for television and for signings.

In some authors’ cases, the story behind the story is truly compelling: Eragon—self-published by 17-year-old and discovered by chance; Harry Potter—seven-book story arc scribbled on a restaurant napkin; Cinder—four-volume series drafted in one month during NaNoWriMo; Divergent—three book deal signed by college senior while taking a full class load.

While our meta-stories may not be that dramatic, we can still apply story-telling skills to make them engaging, memorable, and entertaining. I’m offering this heads-up so you can begin to craft responses that aren’t hesitant, stuttered, or rambling. When you have one of those long, anxious waiting periods in the spaces between submission, edits, first pass pages, ARCs, and publication, why not take the opportunity to tackle this question list? As you refine your responses, begin each with a hook and expand with details to compose a series of a diverting vignettes. Together they will create the meta-story about you and your novel.

Originally posted Sept 17, 2013.