In this post, we look at how to write an elevator pitch for your book.
The trickiest question for any author is, ‘So, what’s your book about?’ We all know the answer might make or break a deal with a publisher or an agent. What you need is an elevator pitch. In this article, we will explain what that is and how you write a killer elevator pitch for your book.
What Is An Elevator Pitch?
An elevator pitch is a sales pitch so short that you could sell your wonderful idea to agents or publishers while riding the elevator with them. Ideally, when they step out of the elevator, they will be so engaged in your idea that they want to hear more about it and ask you into their office. That’s when you can tell them your synopsis (to write a good synopsis, read this article).
This idea of the elevator pitch already shows you the following things:
- It’s a powerful marketing tool.
- It cannot tell the whole story of your novel.
- It’s your one shot at getting attention for your book, so make it your best.
Even talented writers struggle at pitching. Writers love to write, but to get that book in print, they need to learn how to sell.
How To Write An Elevator Pitch For Your Book
There are many theories. Some say, a pitch must be as short as possible, only outlining your plot. Others say, your pitch must also tell a publisher what books your novel compares to so that the publisher can see you’ve already scanned the market.
Agents and publishers themselves are wary of giving authors a formula to create the perfect pitch. If you check this database of successful magazine pitches, you can see that they all are very different from each other.
Nonetheless, some bloggers have come up with formulas. They’re fun to try out if you really haven’t a clue. Please remember, agents and publishers know those formulas as well and easily judge your pitch as being less creative.
They all agree on this underlying principle:
The Three S’s:
An elevator pitch must be
Short: no longer than 30 to 50 words (about one minute of speaking time)
Simple: just the basics of your story
Snappy: so interesting that an editor or agent will ask you for a synopsis
But how do you create the pitch?
Three Sentence Approach
I have combined the theory of the elevator pitch with how marketing experts catch people’s attention to come up with what I call the ‘Three Sentence Approach’.
I have created this graphic to help:
Why does this pyramid stand on its head? Because I am using a technique from journalism, the inverted pyramid. The idea is that you give the most relevant information first. That way, you make sure that the agents or publishers hear it no matter how much time they really have. Getting a minute to pitch is what you hope for, but not necessarily what you get.
Let me take you through my approach. Here’s how it’s done:
This must be extremely short. It should answer the basic six questions below, again using the technique of the inverted pyramid (this sentence really is very close to journalism).
The logline must contain the protagonist (who), the basic action of the book (what), the setting (where does this happen), and the period (when). You can add a reason (why) and a manner (how), if necessary. But never ever say how the book ends!
To explain what I mean, let’s try this with J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter:
Who? Harry Potter, an orphaned 12-year-old boy
What? Learns how to do magic and has adventures
Where? In London / at a secluded wizarding school
When? In our present time
Why? Because he is the son of a witch and a wizard
How? By receiving an invitation to the school
Sometimes not all six questions are relevant; simply answer as many as you can and want to. In our example, string all answers together to get a logline like this:
A 12-year-old orphan from present-day London goes to a secluded wizarding school to learn magic (15 words).
Note that in your very first sentence, you do not include the title of your book or any names. Don’t worry, this information comes later!
If you’re very unsure of how to write this logline, here’s a Quick Pitch Formula that I find interesting.
Now that you’ve talked about the story, we want to know the mindset behind the whole book. What’s the general idea?
2. General idea:
Hopefully, you’ve caught the agent/publisher’s attention. Time to let the title of your masterpiece slip. Apart from the title, you should include your genre in this sentence and something to get the agent/publisher’s attention. You do this by giving him a glimpse of what they’re looking for: a marketable idea. Ideally, this would be a ‘high concept idea’.
A high-concept idea has a broad appeal; it promises big sales for the book. It usually entails a ‘what if’. The movie Jurassic Park, for example, is based on a high-concept idea: ‘What if you could clone dinosaurs?’ Instant blockbuster, right? Blockbuster ideas must be original, obvious, and easily communicated.
Again, let’s use Harry Potter:
Harry Potter is a coming-of-age fantasy novel describing how magic can co-exist in our world. (15 words).
Here, the high concept idea is the question ‘What if magic could exist in our world?’
This is where you can include something which gives the agent/publisher the ultimate nudge to ask for more information about your story. This sentence varies greatly with every book. You could mention other relevant themes from your story which give us a feeling for the universe you’ve created.
For Harry Potter, this could be:
But not even magical powers can prevent evil from threatening modern Britain. (12 words).
Take all of these three sentences together, and a pitch for Harry Potter could sound like this:
A 12-year-old orphan from present-day London goes to a secluded wizarding school to learn magic. Harry Potter is a coming-of-age fantasy novel describing how magic can co-exist in our world. But not even magical powers can prevent evil from threatening modern Britain.
It’s just 42 words, so that’s well within the limits. Can you see that even if we don’t get past that logline, we have delivered an interesting pitch?
Some More Examples?
Here are other examples using this technique. Note that not all of them need three sentences:
- Snow White: A princess fights for dear life as her stepmother tries to kill her. This fairy-tale is a romantic coming-of-age story about friendship in unlikely places, where good triumphs over evil. (30 words)
- Back to the Future: A 1980s teen from California travels through time to the 1950s, where he must make sure his parents meet or he’ll cease to exist. This movie is a cross between science fiction and teenage romance. (34 words)
- A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: An Englishman in a bathrobe survives the explosion of planet Earth by hitching a ride with an alien spaceship. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a witty novel combining the realms of interstellar travel and whacky British humour. Readers learn the secret of life and why a towel is so important to survival. (46 words)
- Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle: A high-functioning sociopath of Victorian London solves the crimes which Scotland Yard cannot. This collection of stories centres around Sherlock Holmes, an extremely intelligent man out-witting the most cunning criminals. This master detective must solve the most difficult riddles and find clues that are that are invisible to others. (36 words)
Now go and write that pitch for your own book! Then proceed to the final question:
When Do You Use An Elevator Pitch?
That’s obvious: whenever someone asks you about your book. Practice your pitch whenever you can. Friends and family will probably be your first guinea pigs. Their questions will point you to what your pitch still needs.
Pay attention to the way you deliver it: if you stammer or get stuck, then your pitch is not perfect, not yet. Give it another round of polishing. Then, practice again.
Analyse people’s reactions: do they understand what you mean? Do they want more information? If they cling to every word you say, then you’re ready to try your killer pitch on agents and publishers. Good luck!
The Last Word
Pitching is hard work. We hope this article is making it easier for you. And if things don’t work out the first time, remember that even bestselling authors have been rejected. J.K. Rowling had to pitch her book 12 times!
So, don’t despair; keep on pitching! May you eventually win a multi-book deal and a blockbuster movie on top!
- 60+ Pitching Guides
- How To Write An Irresistible Book Blurb In 5 Easy Steps
- Why You Need The Inverted Pyramid When You Write
- Why The Elevator Pitch Will Always Be Effective
- The Elevator Pitch
- How To Write A One-Page Synopsis
By Susanne Bennett. Susanne is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.
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