by Lee Carver
Here’s the scenario: You enter the hotel elevator during the ACFW Conference and recognize an agent or editor you’d love to impress. Each of you selects a floor choice, and she turns to you and asks, “So what are you writing?” Being prepared for the question, you unabashedly speak your thirty-word pitch in the twenty seconds or less that it takes the elevator to arrive at the floor where one of you will exit. She whips out a card and says, “Send me the full.”
That’s an elevator pitch. If you don’t have one for your book, you need one. Don’t be caught saying, “Well, it’s about this guy…”
But I’m not going to the conference this year, you say. Some people start their cover letters to agents and editors with their pitch line. The pitch may eventually headline the back cover blurb. Have it ready for your next chapter meeting, and impress your friends with the genius of your work in progress. Every book needs a hook, even if it isn’t finished yet.
Furthermore, an agent has about twenty seconds to convince a publisher that this is a unique, dynamic story which the company might well invest in this year. And that publisher has the same few seconds to grab the attention of the publishing committee. Supply the magic line that gives your book an opportunity to be taken seriously.
An elevator pitch is clear, concise, very brief–think in terms of thirty words–yet hooks your listener/reader with the brilliance of your plot and characters. Avoid generalities and themes, because agents and editors have heard every one of them hundreds of times this year. Instead, focus on your story. Mention specifics which trigger questions in the mind of the listener. Insofar as possible, your choice of words will also communicate whether this is a romance, historical, comedy, or maybe time travel.
Your elevator pitch doesn’t explain the interior arc of the main character. It’s all about the story. Consider John Grisham’s : “Young lawyer fresh out of law school gets a dream job that turns out to be a nightmare.”
A particularly good technique to writing a pitch is to focus on a juxtaposition of character or plot.
Here’s one I love from Cheryl Wyatt: An attorney with traffic tickets crashes into a Harley-riding hero on a mission.
From Julie Lessman: Rival sisters with strong faith–one in God, the other in herself–turn the head of a heartbreaker who proposes to one and falls in love with the other.
A couple more examples of packing in a lot of story: Melanie Dickerson, A Spy’s Devotion: Julia Grey agrees to spy on her uncle, who is also her guardian, to help handsome army officer Nicholas Langdon save England from traitors.
My own, from Love Takes Flight: Volunteering in the Amazon to escape a broken heart, an American nurse re-examines her life’s calling as she confronts hijackers, malaria, and her attraction to a certain missionary pilot.
Now write your elevator pitch, swap words, cut the excess details, and emphasize your dynamic story. If you have ten honest friends, send them your three best versions. They don’t have to be writers nor do they need to have read the book, but mothers don’t count. You’re listening for their reaction. Did the pitch make them interested in the story? Sleep on the answers, and look at them again the next day.
When you’ve chosen the pitch that works, memorize it and practice saying it. These few words will represent your book. They will be your best chance at having it read.
Lee Carver is once again failing at retirement, a hybrid author in every sense: fiction and nonfiction, trad and indie-published. She also does freelance editing, formatting, and uploads. Married forty-eight years to a very tolerant man, they have two children and five grandchildren who live entirely too far away.