Crafting Your Pitch, Elevator Style

This week for all the aspiring novelists out there, Joshua Palmatier invited a bunch of us to share our stories and advice about three stages of pitching a book.  Find more entries here–and happy pitching!

I love me a good elevator pitch–I have even used mine (drumroll please) in an elevator!  Though that was to a reviewer, not an agent, it still garnered a positive response.  Many authors now are taking their books direct to the public, and thinking, “I don’t need to pitch–I just need to publish.”  Except. . .

Whether you are hoping for a New York traditional contract, or simply trying to get readers interested in your indie work, you’ll be pitching All.  The.  Time.  You’ll be pitching to bloggers to get them to cover your new release.  You’ll be pitching to the person in the check out line who says, “You’re a writer?  What have you written?”  Your elevator pitch is not just a throw-away line to get agents or editors interested, it is the easily memorable, readily deployable hook that gets a reader, any reader, engaged with your work.  You can put it on business cards, bookmarks, and blog headers. It fits in a tweet.

Yes, your book is much bigger and more complicated than any five or fifteen words, but the ability to distill it into a few phrases is much more likely to lure the reader into giving it a try.

Okay, E. C., so what’s yours? I actually have two–the micro, and the mini.  The micro gets used every time someone asks “what’s your book about?”

Dark historical fantasy about medieval surgery.

I used it yesterday on a guy at the library.  We struck up a conversation because I recognized some titles in his box of books to check out. I noticed he seemed to like dark fantasy, and he agreed. I introduced myself as an author, and gave him the pitch.  He was instantly intrigued.  I handed over the card with my website to learn more.  Done.

What makes this line so effective?  It immediately tells you what the genre is (historical fantasy), suggests the tone (dark), and tells you what sets this book apart from others in its genre (the focus on medieval surgery).  In short, it delivers several reasons to think the book might be a good fit (or not–sometimes, people are freaked out by the medieval surgery part, in which case I pitch them my other series instead, but I digress).

The slightly longer version employs my Person, Place and Problem model.  Donald Maass, agent and author of numerous books for writers, says this is all he needs in order to get curious about a book.  A character, in a unique or striking setting, who faces an important conflict.

In 14th century England, a barber-surgeon learns diabolical magic to confront an unjust king.

This one is less pithy, but conveys a few more details specific to the story, and suggests both an internal and an external conflict.  I deployed this one on an editor I discovered at a conference banquet table, and also to another editor after a conference panel.  Both times, I got the go-ahead to submit.

My basic advice to develop a good pitch line would be this:

Where does the book fit in the marketplace?  What makes it stand out from that niche?

Who is the protagonist and how can you describe them in a brief phrase?

What’s the milieu?  You don’t have a lot of time for description, just a detail or two that lets the reader know when/where the action takes place.

What’s the big problem your character is going to overcome?

Bonus points for strong verbs that convey the action of the narrative.  Then, practice!  Then, let me know if it works–where have you used it?  What happened when you did?

Happy pitching!


About E. C. Ambrose

I spend as much time in my office as I possibly can--thinking up terrible things to do to people who don't exist.
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