In 45 seconds or less tell me what your book is about. What do you mean, "It's kind of involved?" "Well, it's hard to explain." "It's like this. You see, you have to know some background information before I can explain what it's about."
No, that is completely unsatisfactory! You must be able to tell me what your book is about in 45 seconds or less. OK, think about it this way. Take a normal breath when talking with someone. Then, tell the person what your book is about. Take a breath in the middle and you've taken too long.
Why be so harsh? You've spent months and months (maybe years) writing your book and someone asks you to explain what it's about in 45 seconds? How rude!
Sorry, but that's the life of writing and publishing. This 45 second rule is actually called an elevator pitch. The term came from the idea that it takes about 45 seconds for an elevator to go from one floor to the next. You have to be so ready to tell someone what your book is about that if you happened to see publishers or agents in an elevator, then you can quickly sell them on wanting to know more about your book. Sound crazy? It may be, but that's the facts.
There's also a subliminal reason for being able to tell someone what your book is about in such a minutiae of time. When you are writing your book, you need to maintain focus. Write on a scrap of paper or at the head of every sheet of your manuscript, this very succinct "elevator pitch." You need to write, "My book is a about. . . ." As you are writing your chapters and details of your story, seeing this at the top of every page helps keep you on the direct course which your book is mapped out for. It keeps you from wandering around as if you are traveling from South America to Canada by route of China. If you don't keep your succinct focus of what your book is about in front of you all the time, this wandering around is exactly what is likely to happen in your writing.
There are other reasons to know your elevator pitch by heart. Editors and publishers are very busy people and do not have time to listen to writers who don't know the focus of their own books. Editors, publishers, and agents know a book needs to have one focus, and if the author doesn't know concisely his or her focus, then the writing will lack focus. Also, book sales people have less than 3 minutes to sell your book to book stores. If the seller can't convince stores that quickly, stores won't stock your book.
I've been to many leading writing conferences. At the Christian based conferences (writing which targeted Christian audiences) writers had 15 minute appointments with publishers or agents to pitch their book idea, their ability and background to write it, and their marketing plans which the writer plans to implement or to participate.
At one of the top secular or mainstream writing conferences I was at in Los Angeles (not religious oriented), writers had 3 minutes to meet with agents individually. In that 3 minute appointment agents also asked how much we as writers had been speaking to audiences in the past year in order to build a platform (audience following of you as a writer). Then, exactly when the bell sounded at 3 minutes, writers had to move on to allow the next writer in line to pitch his or her book idea to that agent.
Forty-five seconds may sound impossible to summarize your entire book idea, but if you can't do so means your book probably won't sell. This elevator pitch rule is the same whether you write nonfiction or fiction.
Yet, writers can be thankful for this 45 second rule because it helps hone the focus of the book in the concise way it should be focused. Not only will the writing be better, but you become a better writer.