Monday, April 20, 2009

How's Your Elevator Pitch?

What would you do if you suddenly found yourself alone in an elevator with a famous literary agent and they asked what you were working on? Would you lock up? Would your knees start knocking? Would you have an answer?

It's something that each of us writers needs to have for projects that are complete or near complete. If it is a work in process, then you might not even know yet, and it's probably too early to talk about. But for anything that's worth a query letter, you need to have a few sentence description about the theme of the work.

That's the key, the theme. It's not the complete plot, all the characters, the entire back story. It's just a quick description of the theme set in such a way that you peak the listener's interest and they want to know more.

For instance you wouldn't want to say:
It's about this guy named Frodo who lives in the shire, and he's got this friend Sam Gamgee and they leave to go find Mt Doom cause they need to ..... Well he has this ring that ....
You've already gone a few sentences, I haven't heard what the book is about, and by now I'm probably wondering what I am going to have for lunch.

Here's my latest.
It's a novel about a blinded woman's struggles to get away from her controlling husband even though he just restored her sight.
Now I didn't say anything about the fact that the woman's name was Ellen, her husband is William, she has a friend name Jesse who's a biker chick, that Ellen decides to get her own bike and go riding with the girls. But aren't you wondering why she went blind, how her husband controls her, and why she's still trying to get away even though she can see again? The story is quite complex, but when you boil it down to its essence, the theme is a blind woman who can suddenly see again. That's what you need for your story. A quick description to set the context for your listener to ask more questions.

They may ask the character's names. They may ask where the story takes place. They may ask a number of things about the story, the point is, now you have their attention and your answers are helping to put the story in a framework that they can quickly understand.

So let's go back to Lord of the Rings. I haven't worked on it very hard, but here's a quick attempt.
It's a trilogy about a member of a diminutive race who overcomes tremendous odds to destroy a magic ring whose power threatens the known world.
Work on your elevator pitch, and be ready to answer when someone asks. So what are you working on?

No really, I want to know. What are you working on?


  1. I've got a pitch session coming soon, and it would be great to have this line ready.

    Here goes nothing.

    My mainstream novel is the story of two men of completely different natures who must travel halfway across the world to understand the cryptic suicide note left behind by their one true love.


  2. Pretty good Patrick.

    You might want to hint about the nature of the two men if you can do it in just a couple more words, but I really like the cryptic suicide note, and it seems to be from someone that they both love. Intriguing.

  3. Fun post, and that's saying alot given how I feel about pitching right now.

    I too have an agent appointment coming up. For some reason I feel really humdrum about it despite the fact that it is with an agent that I imagined pitching to even as I wrote my book. Mr. Donald Maass, if you are interested in knowing.

    Your pitch is intriguing and I love how you point out all the things you left out. Leaving stuff out can feel torturous as a writer, but the glazed over look that comes from overanswering the question is much worse.

    I heard someone once say that your opening pitch line is just like the opening line in a conversation. It's just designed to get a conversation going. I've learned the hard way that you are not supposed to try and download an entire novel into someone's brain.

    Thanks for the post. Given that I have a conference coming up soon I will have to start thinking about pitching, or talking about the story, again.

    I wish there was another word for it than pitching.

  4. I like your pitch. I'll have to work on mine. Thanks for the post.

    Lynnette Labelle

  5. Ooooh. Let me work on that, and I'll post a pitch later.... (yikes, they've found my Achilles heel: talking to strangers seriously about my writing...)

  6. Cowabunga...

    I'm currently working on the third book of a series which follows the adventures of a group of friends, some of whom are also enemies, who while searching for treasue find themselves embroiled in a battle between gods and tasked with healing a country that they helped sunder.

    I'm aware it probably needs work. Go ahead, prune me. :)

  7. A. Grey not bad.

    You might want to say what genre it is. I can't tell, but seems like fantasy. I don't think you need to say that it is the third book right away. You can say that once you have their interest.

    See if this helps.

    I'm working on a {genre} book that follows a group of friends, some of whom are enemies, searching for treasure. In the midst of a battle between Gods, they must heal a country that they helped rip apart.

  8. ok, my work-in-progress, also my first novel:

    It's about a teenage girl looking for her missing brother and discovering that he's caught up in an ancient vendetta between a long-dead woman and some very vengeful gods.

  9. Dan,

    That's a good one. I'm curious about the relationship between the brother and the woman. I'm curious about why the woman is fighting with the Gods. It's a great conversation starter.


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