The Elevator Exercise:
All too often I've read the first page of a book proposal or query letter, only to realize I have no idea what the subject of the book will be. This makes me stop reading. I know your project is special and beautiful, but you are not the exception to this unhappy truth. Editors, agents, & their assistants simply do not have time to read your beautifully crafted but long-winded description of what your book will not be about, or what inspired you to write it, or the setting...
What you need is the written equivalent of the elevator pitch. You must clearly & concisely articulate the book’s subject before we reach the lobby. Or, as another editor I consulted put it: "Even if [authors] plan to take a more literary approach in the manuscript itself, a proposal should tell me -- in as straightforward and honest a fashion as possible -- what the thing is about, ideally in an introductory couple of sentences.”
Of course, you still want those sentences to be well written, to show your writing style, and to offer a hint of what a reader will find in the full manuscript. It's a tall order, but you can do it. I have faith in you.
So, with all of this in mind, here's your weekly writing exercise:
Without using any existing language from your manuscript (don't even open it for a quick inspirational peek), describe your book's subject in no more than three sentences. If you feel overly ambitious, try to do it in one. If you feel even more ambitious, craft a paragraph around these sentences. No quotes, references to other works, or jargon allowed.