By Brian Kaufman
The editor from a New York publisher just wanted to go to the bathroom. The author, attending a writer’s conference in Colorado Springs, blocked the way, promising to be brief. And he was straightforward, delivering his pitch, no windup. Having agreed to look at the first 30 pages of the novel, the publisher could take care of business without mishap.
The smoothest elevator pitch I ever made. (Yes, the book was published, but with a different imprint.)
An elevator pitch is a sales presentation so tight and targeted that it can be delivered in less than thirty seconds—the time it takes to ride an elevator. The pitch answers essential questions:
- Fiction or non-fiction?
- What’s the book about?
- Why is the book different?
- Why should readers care?
A close cousin to the query letter, the pitch is something you deliver verbally. If you attend a writer’s conference, have a meeting with an agent or editor, or try to talk about your book to friends, the pitch is invaluable.
A quality pitch has to be planned ahead of time. Writers are notorious fumble-mouths. A fresh, snappy elevator pitch requires thought and practice.
Some pitches are fastballs, and some are curves. Here are some strategies to frame your pitch:
- The Logline is a great hook that you can deliver in one sentence. When crafting this opening, think of the driving need of the protagonist (or antagonist). What earth-shaking consequences are at stake? Consider Nathan Bransford’s pitch for his Jacob Wonderbar series. “Three kids trade a corndog for a spaceship, blast off into space, accidentally break the universe, and have to find their way back home.”
- X meets Y describes your story as a match between existing, sometimes divergent works. Megan Toogood’s play A Company of Roses was described as The Da Vinci Code meets Gone Girl. What If? This approach begins with questions. “What if the afterlife was a bar where all the possible versions of you met to compare notes? And what if you were the worst possible version? (This, courtesy of my novella, House of Stairs.)
Your genre will have something to say about where you start. For example, a theme-driven pitch works for literary fiction. The “what if?” approach works for speculative fiction.
The pitch is more than just an opening, of course. You’ll need to answer the questions an agent or publisher would want to know, and you’ll have to decide how to leave them wanting more. But, unfortunately, you only have 30 seconds.
A well-crafted elevator pitch will have other uses. Your agent might use it to entice a publisher. An editor might use it to argue for offering a contract. A marketing team might use it to sell your book. A great pitch can do all those things because it delivers the heart of your book in a few well-chosen words.
Are there any hard-and-fast rules to follow? There is general agreement that the pitch should not be boring. To that bit of obvious advice, I’d add that when pitching in or near a restroom, be sure to wash your hands
Anyone looking for fun or inspiration should visit the following website, with its handy-dandy pitch-generating chart: