You: *get on elevator*
Fancy Editor from Fancy Publishing House: *gets on elevator*
*You turn to the Editor. She is yours for the next eight seconds. There is no escape. This is an elevator, after all.*
You: Hi there. I’ve written a book.
Editor: Oh? Tell me about it.
You: Well, it’s sort of a transformation themed love story. See there’s this girl, and a long time ago this werewolf killed her grandmother. She she has a little sister, who she loves and they’re really close, and they live in this house and it’s basically just them, and they’ve kind of been living there for ages and making it work. But there’s also this boy– the kind of boy they’ve known for a while– who lives next door, and he’s close friends with the older sister and as they start growing older he ends up having feelings for the younger sister. So anyway, the werewolves they–
*Elevator doors open*
Editor: Have a nice day!
You: Wait! WAIT!
Editor: *does not wait*
The Elevator Pitch is a skill I want you– all of you, writers old and young and small and tall and here and there– to have. The Elevator Pitch is a skill you need.
So often we get caught up in the vastness of the worlds we’ve created, the characters we’ve meticulously honed, the subplots we’ve carefully laid out. We’ve spent SO much time on them, after all, and we want others to appreciate them!
The trouble is, all that stuff? That’s the stuff people find out and respect and admire when they READ the book. It’s not the way to sell people on the book before they’ve opened it. Think of the Elevator Pitch like a tagline, or the way you’d summarize a movie to your friend. You don’t tell them the nitty gritty, you tell them the big idea.
You: Want to go see Bring It On?
Friend: Maybe. What’s it about?
It’s about this girl who has taken over as a captain for a cheerleading team that always wins, and then they start to lose and she freaks out, but this new girl comes to town who is an ex-gymnast and joins their team, the main girl– the captain– ends up having feelings for that girl’s brother. And anyway, they train really hard and hire in this guy who is supposed to be an amazing cheerleading choreographer, but it ends up that he’s just shopping the same routine to all sorts of groups, and so the team gets disqualified. And then they also find out that all the cheers and routines they’d been doing for ages were actually stolen from this black cheerleading team from Compton that couldn’t ever afford to go to competitions, and so it’s like the main girl’s whole cheerleading history is stolen and faked. And so they take all these lessons and learn to like swing dance and stuff and then they do a fundraiser so the team from Compton can come compete, but the Compton girls find another way to get there because they don’t want pity to get them to the competition. And in the end there’s this big huge cool routine and the main girl is like YOU BETTER BRING IT and that’s what the title is all about, and then the black team wins but it’s cool because they were the best and the main girl is like Oh, this feels like first.
It’s a semi-dark comedy about competitive cheerleading.
Friend: I’m in!
If you’d given your friend the long spiel, her eyes would have started to glaze over. My eyes started to glaze over while writing that, and I freaking love Bring It On. Even if you’re not talking to an editor or agent or industry person, an elevator pitch is a clever way to make people think “My, that person has chops!” rather than “My, that person is still talking!”.
So, how to do it?
Take your book. Grind it down to the very, very basics. So, for example– I was talking about SISTERS RED in that scenario above, in the elevator. Instead of all that long-winded nonsense, I could have just said: It’s a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, about two sisters who hunt werewolves.
BAM. There’s you pitch. And for what it’s worth, that’s how it was pitched to my editor who wound up aquiring the book.
PURITY? It’s about a girl trying to lose her virginity before her Purity Ball.
TSARINA? It’s about a noble girl trying hunt down a magical Faberge egg in the middle of the Russian Revolution.
A slightly longer version is okay too, like:
DOUBLECROSS? It’s about a boy who has always wanted to be a super spy, like his parents. Even though he’s super smart and clever and works hard, he’s a bit chubby and isn’t able to pass the spy agency’s physical exam. But when his parents are kidnapped by a rival spy organization, he and his little sister are the only ones who can save the day.
Have your Elevator Pitch ready to go from the moment you start mentioning your book to people, because you never know when you might need it. Ages and ages ago, I remember calling an agency to verify their mailing information before I started queries. The woman who answered the phone gave me the info, then casually said “So, what’s the book about?”
And I basically said: dlkjflskdnfwlkerowuefoiwenrlwkejd0wejpfuweofch2i
Because I didn’t have my Elevator Pitch ready.
Often, when I’m at events or conferences or signings at stores, people mention to me that they write, and I always ask what the book is about– and more often then not, they don’t have their elevator pitch ready either. It doesn’t bug me or anything, but I can always see their faces getting red as they stumble through, trying to sort out what to say, reminding me oh-so-much of myself on the phone with that agency many years ago.
My point is, go forth, create your elevator pitch sooner rather than later. The world is full of elevators, after all, and you never know who you’ll get on board with.