The Elevator Pitch

Juliet Pickering writes on the "quick, snappy" elevator pitch writers should arm themselves with.

Many authors find writing a synopsis a tricky task. ‘How can I condense my 250 page masterpiece into just 250 words?’ they cry, their faces tortured already with the thought of the impossible job ahead…

But I'm asking you to do something even worse here: write an elevator* pitch, or two or three sentences that encapsulate your novel or your book quickly and accessibly. And make it sound irresistible too.

As an agent, I often have to come up with elevator pitches – or a one-minute pitch for each of the books I represent – so that I can excitedly tell an editor about the books I'm offering soon on submission that they might love. And editors and publishing teams must do the same to relay enthusiasm and information about their books to colleagues, readers and booksellers. In the age of Twitter we’re living in a world that has an ever-decreasing attention span, so these quick, snappy pitches are essential.

It might be that I've bumped into the editor at a party somewhere and I've got his/her attention for five minutes. Or that a scout has popped into Blake Friedmann's offices to hear from my colleagues and me about the books we’ll be selling at Frankfurt; we’ll get five minutes each to pitch up to five books whilst the scout furiously scribbles notes. That’s why I need an elevator pitch at my fingertips, and why you should have one too: so you can make the most of grabbed opportunities, and leave a lasting impression with a succinct summary. Next weekend I’ll be leading a workshop about honing your two-minute pitch at the Writers’ Festival in York; the Festival attracts scores of agents, and the networking events create the perfect place for the attending writers to pitch us their books, but there’s nothing worse – for either agent or author – than standing there awkwardly and fumbling through a 20-minute conversation about your novel, at the end of which neither of us is really any the wiser about the story that’s been written.

So how can you condense your entire book into a couple of sentences? Believe me, I do not underestimate the difficulty of this task! I’d suggest starting with a few lines and whittling them down. What happens, who does it happen to, and what is the book’s USP?

For example, look at the first two lines of Orion’s Amazon pitch for GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn:

Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears.

These two lines pitch the book in a very neat way: they pique our curiosity and make us think about our own relationships, hint at dark goings-on, and then deliver the thrill of a missing person, but a missing person who has seemingly been in a happy marriage for five years. We are also introduced to the two main protagonists, Nick and Amy Dunne, without our even realising it. Can you do the same for your book? What would your equivalent pitch be?

Once you’ve written your quick pitch, MEMORISE IT. I'm not joking! Have it ready to trip lightly off the tongue at all times. You never know where you might bump into a friendly agent (stalking is not recommended and neither is pitching on Twitter!); Ben from LitFactor originally got in touch with me to write this piece because he’d read my woeful tale of being pitched at in a jacuzzi. Whilst I wouldn't recommend hanging out in jacuzzis and wrinkling yourself like a prune in order to get your book published, if you’re in the right place at the right time with the right agent, an elevator pitch could be the best thing you've ever written.

Good luck!

*Strictly speaking, for us UK residents, this should be a ‘lift pitch’. Elevators are for ascending Americans.

Originally published on LitFactor, 10 September 2013