If you’re any kind of serious about getting traditionally published, or if you listen to writing podcasts, or if you hang out with writers or writing communities, you’ve heard about the “Elevator pitch”.
It’s almost unavoidable.
But, if you’ve somehow managed to avoid hearing about the elevator pitch* let me wrap a definition around it.
The elevator pitch refers to a scenario where you’re at a con and you find yourself in an elevator with an editor or agent**. It’s just the two of you and, as the doors close, the brief conversation leads to:
Them: Oh, you’re a writer? What are you working on?
Here is where the elevator pitch comes in. The editor/agent is getting off on the next floor and you’ve got about 30 seconds to pitch your book, generate interest, and-hopefully-get a request to see some of it.
But your book is 476 pages long (not that you’ve memorized that, or anything). How can you possibly distill your Magnum Opus*** into a thirty second pitch?
Practice, practice, practice. It’s a skill, and a handy one at that, but you’ve got to work on it.
So how do you go about putting together your elevator pitch?
Well, there are a couple of tools you can use. You could start out by stealing from Hollywood. They’ve developed a kind of shorthand when talking about new movie concepts. What they’ll do is reference other movies.
Die-Hard on a bus.
Steel Magnolias meets Ocean’s Eleven.****
Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Firefly.
There are a couple of pitfalls here. First, the person you’re talking to has to be able to recognize the references you’re making, otherwise this description doesn’t do you any good.
Secondly, you may be tempted to compare yourself to Tolkien, or Shakespeare, or someone like that to ride the coattails of those names. Maybe give you a boost. Try not to do that. If you do, you’d damn well better be able to back it up.
Another tool that you can use comes from Twitter. Twitter regularly holds pitching events. This is going to be your elevator pitch classroom. Seriously. Join them, read them, learn what you can about distilling your book down to less than 140 characters*****
Maybe you’re already thinking about a pitch for your own book about this time. While you’re doing that let me relate to you a story that came out of ConFusion 2017.
I had the good luck to catch up with Dave Robison from The Roundtable Podcast on Saturday night in the hotel bar.****** I’d binge listened to the podcast for most of 2016 and I’d wanted to meet him since episode 5. We talked for a while and, during that conversation another gentleman came over and the conversation turned towards the book I was shopping around. What follows is (to the best of my recollection) a crash course on building an elevator pitch.
Him: So what’s your book about? (Sound familiar??)
Me: (Thinking I’ve got this nailed down already…) It’s like Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Firefly.
Him: Good! That’s definitely got me interested. But it doesn’t tell me what the book is About.
Me: (Not wanting to dive into a 30 minute description…they don’t make enough alcohol for anyone to want to sit through that. Desperate, I fall back on my Twitter Pitch) To fulfill her duty, Deanna must allow her crew to die. To save them, she must start a war.
Him: Now we’re talking. That tells me what the story is about. So what you do is you take that hook in the beginning and follow it with what you just said.
Me: (Light. Freaking. Dawning) It’s like Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Firefly where, to fulfill her duty, Deanna must allow her crew to die. To save them, she must start a war.
Him: There’s your pitch.
The conversation moved on from there. The man’s name, which I didn’t find out until later, was Michael R Underwood. The North American Sales and Marketing manager for Angry Robot books******* and an amazing author. If that guy isn’t qualified to critique a pitch, I don’t know who is.
So there you have it. Use shorthand where you can (Remember the pitfalls). Attend the Twitter school of pitching******** until you’ve got a tweet-length pitch that captures your story. Put them together and see how it rolls off the tongue. If it comes out rough, tweak it until it doesn’t. This is one place where you want a really smooth delivery.
Lastly, always be ready to deliver your pitch. You never know when someone’s going to ask you for it.
Now I’ve got some editing to do…
Time: 2:20 pm-ish
Music: Edguy – The Headless Game
*Your streak ends here. Mwuhahahah….
**Most of the scenarios feature editors, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be an agent.
***It isn’t. Keep writing.
****Somebody needs to write that before I do.
*****You don’t even get 140 characters, because you’ve got the Hashtag the event, specify genre, age group. Sure you’re only using a single letter for most of this, but that well of 140 characters runs dry pretty damned quick.
******ATTEND BARCON!!! Easily worth the cost of admission on it’s own, this is the time after most -if not all- of the panels are done and the authors and guests are all hanging out down in the hotel bar. You don’t have to drink anything and you’ve got a chance to network with other writers. Many an anthology has come to life at barcon.