I remember the first time someone asked me what my elevator pitch was. I probably gave him a snarky look.
“A what?” I snapped. I actually thought he was making fun of me. What did an elevator have to do with anything?
Now, my much wiser self can inform you… An elevator pitch is what you would say if you had some important publisher to pitch to on a 20 second elevator ride. (Although pitching someone in an actual elevator is probably pretty tacky.)
Let’s talk about how to write the infamous (to most) elevator pitch. My first piece of advice is…
- Think of an elevator pitch as movie preview
If we’re being honest here, movie previews are my favorite part of most movie experiences. What can I say? I like the highlight reels. (Especially if the narrator is throaty like James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman or Emma Stone) Movie previews are like the sugar center of a jawbreaker and, again if we’re honest, often better than the movie itself.
Your elevator pitch is the highlight reel of your book, except that you leave a lot of the stuff you think is really great and important out. Fun, huh?
Let’s try one together… (Imagine James Earl Jones’ voice here)
“Caught in the crossfire of an age-old feud, two young lovers defy their families in a romance that will cost them everything.”
Can you guess it?
“After his father’s sudden death, a young lion turns away from his destiny to be king and, in shame, abandons his throne and family. Years later, he must save his pride from starvation by confronting the current king, the power hungry uncle that murdered his father.”
“A has-been alcoholic who has lost everything and given up is challenged to take a young rookie under his wing. Forced by circumstances, the man begins training the rookie, seeing a younger version of himself in the boy. Finally reconnected to his purpose, the man discovers he has one last fight in him.”
Did you guess it? Haha! Trick question! That’s the storyline to about a hundred movies.
The point is to summarize your book in two to three sentences. And you feel it, right? The curiosity to hear more? That’s what your elevator pitch should have.
I’ll tell you the secret to writing these elevator pitches. You ready? I didn’t write these movies! They’re NOT my story. Which leads to my first piece of advice…
- Don’t write your elevator pitch yourself!
Wait, you say. Who will write my elevator pitch if I don’t?
And I say, anyone! Your brother. Your neighbor. It can be a compilation from lots of people. Heck, crowd source it! Just get someone else to tell you what they think your story is about and start there.
YOU want to talk about the cool concept or your main character or what makes your book unique or whether it’s based on a true story. The fact is, this isn’t necessarily what will grab your audience (in this case, someone trapped in an elevator with you).
And here’s a secret. They don’t even have to read your book first! Elevator pitches are based on themes. Sometimes an elevator pitch will be easier the less you know.
Here’s how I’d recommend it… Tell your girlfriend/mother/aunt/coworker/guy-sitting-next-to-you-on-the-train your long story with all the parts you love and the symbolism of the setting and the layers of meaning. Blah blah blah. I’m no being condescending. I do this.
Then, have that same person tell it back to you in like 3-4 sentences. You’ll be dumbfounded. You now have the bones of your elevator pitch.
Which leads to…
- Rewrite it and rewrite it and rewrite it
Now, you have to hone down that skeletal pitch. The only way to do that is to write it a hundred different ways. Don’t delete as you go. Just add options, more and more ways to say the same three lines. You will start to feel it as you go. Imagine someone else’s voice saying it. Imagine hearing your pitch in an elevator or on the radio.
- Go In Order
Personally, I find it easier to start where the books starts. There are a lot of ways to do this but something like this…
(This person) in (this setting) is changed when (this) happens. It takes everything in them to overcome (this) but in the end (this amazing thing) happens.
Easy Peasy right? Let’s try it… (Use Morgan Freeman voice)
“In a faraway land, against the feud of a nation, two children find resilience in a broken home. Isolated from the world they’ve always know, together they’ll learn that will is stronger than circumstance and the strongest bonds are those we build ourselves.” (This isn’t even a real story. But maybe it should be?)
Now, this feels hard. I get it. All worthy things are difficult. Annnnnnd somebody wrote the elevator pitch to The Matrix so it could be worse.
Happy Pitching… Your audience awaits!
Now, how to get stuck in an elevator with some important publisher…?