One question I dread to hear is: What is your book about? I should be happy that someone is curious enough to ask, but in truth, it’s akin to that point in a job interview when a person says: Tell me about yourself. I want to point to my resume and say it’s all there, can’t you just read it? I want to hand potential readers a bookmark or a preview booklet or a page of review excerpts or send them my video trailer or website — everything I created to avoid having to say it out loud — but the question inevitably comes. So, even though I’ve written my spiel and practiced it for hours, when a person asks what The Neurology of Angels is about, I usually end up mumbling something like, ”Oh, well, there’s this neurologist and a little girl with a rare disease, and, you know, he’s trying to cure her, and um, it’s hard to do, and it’s kind of expensive, what with the monkeys and all, and, well, yeah…”
I blame my ancestors for passing down cells lousy with humility and conditioned to curl up at the very thought of sharing personal stuff — especially with people from away. But I know I have to get over it if I want people to read my books. David Morrell suggests that it can help to build your pitch around the non-fiction thing that gives context to your novel. So, in the case of his book, Creepers, it is about urban explorers, i.e., people who break into abandoned buildings. There’s suspense inherent in the very idea, and it’s a cool conversation starter. In the case of The Neurology of Angels, the non-fiction thing is drug development, particularly the challenges to treating rare diseases and the well-meaning people working at cross-purposes in the health care system. What is inherent to these ideas? Politics. And if there is anything more shameful to my ancestral cells than pride and sales, it is politics. Big sigh.
But there is one day of the year when I can speak freely — February 29th, Rare Disease Day. Because on that day, it isn’t about me or my pitch; it is about the people for whom I wrote the book, the thousands of people with rare diseases which have no treatment, let alone a cure. Those people I can speak about all day long. As their slogan goes: “Alone we are rare. Together we are strong.”
As writers, we know that there is more to every story, that our characters have lives off the page that never make it into the book. We also know readers aren’t content with a one-dimensional villain, because it doesn’t feel real, and yet the prevailing story in health care is about big bad companies that force the heart-wrenching choice between medicine and groceries. On 29 February 2012, or “bonus day”, there is light on the more to the story — the people who don’t have a choice at all.
Rare Disease Day is designed for “strengthening the voice of people with rare diseases” and “raising awareness about equity in access to care and treatment”. And that is what The Neurology of Angels is truly about. So, in honor of Rare Disease Day, I’m giving away 14 copies of the book on Goodreads.com, and for every 5 copies sold on www.neurologyofangels.com, $10 will be donated to the Children’s Rare Disease Network.
As I write this, I feel my characters are alive, that they are part of these real people with real choices who have a voice on this one day of the year, and I just want people to read their story. It makes me think that when people ask what a book is about, they just want a glimpse of the passion they’ll find inside. So maybe the best pitch is whatever stokes the fire, even if it’s more about the thing that drove you to write the story than the story itself. After all, when a character asks a question, the dialogue is more interesting when the other character doesn’t quite answer.
What is your book about?
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Krista Tibbs studied neuroscience and business and worked for a decade in clinical research. She grew up in northern Maine and currently lives in Tennessee. The Neurology of Angels is Krista’s first novel. You can read more about Krista on her blog. Enter to win The Neurology of Angels on Goodreads here.[subscribe2]