“Surround yourself with people who know more than you and soak up knowledge like a sponge!” P.K. Witte
The Elevator Pitch Otherwise Known as the One-liner or the Opening Lines of Your Query!
Click the pics for awesome writer’s links!
FYI- The elevator pitch is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product (your book).
Developing your elevator pitch, one-liner or opening sentences of your query is often tough, a bugger, a real bear. Sometimes it’s tricky or even just plain Hell! Most writers dread the process of encapsulating their entire WIP into a simple statement. All those beautiful words condensed into a tiny pitch, ugh! But, we’ve all had to do it. Yes, it’s stressful. Sure, we fear the worst. But, come on? We’re writers, isn’t that we do best? We live to suck our readers in and hold their attention for better or worse (hopefully better)!
If you dread the elevator pitch, don’t worry. If it gives you cold shivers just thinking about it, have faith, you’re in the same boat with a lot of your friends!
When I went asking writers in the know if they’d share their pitches and their feelings with Gate Crashers the response was amazing! Tons of wonderful writerly folk jumped aboard. So dig in. Enjoy. Learn. And know that you are NOT alone!
Gate Crashers Tell All! The Dreaded Elevator Pitch
The single-sentence synopsis has got to be the hardest piece of writing I’ve ever done. I do not write short. Give me 80,000 words and I’m happy. Reduce me to a single sentence? I’m done for.
I didn’t write an elevator pitch for GILT until after I had an agent. Until after the book had sold. Until I needed one to put up on a website and hand over to bloggers. Even then, I had to ask my editor, Kendra Levin, for advice. She gave me a formula that made the process so much easier, I share it whenever I can.
–”After [inciting incident], a [character description, without name] must [primary action] or risk/while risking [stakes] in order to [end goal].
The resulting sentence can morph and evolve over time, as you learn what parts of the story resonate with most people, and which words produce the greatest impact. This is what I ended up with for GILT: When her best friend marries Henry VIII, a previously disregarded maid-in-waiting must learn to walk the fine line between secrets and treason, knowing that the price of gossip could literally be her head.
THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR
For me writing an elevator pitch was little more than an exercise in personal torture. Shrink my novel down into a two line summary? Impossible. And yet for my book The Nightmare Affair I went one step harder—I wrote a twitter pitch. That’s right, my entire novel shrunk down to a 140 character sentence. Here’s what I wrote:
16-yr-old Dusty is a Nightmare who must identify a murderer at her magical high school by following clues in her crush’s dreams.
Overall it’s not a horrible pitch. It does capture the book’s main idea and hook. But its weakest point is that there’s no room for voice in it. Another weak point is that it requires a reader to figure out just what a Nightmare is exactly. In hindsight, I would recommend not writing twitter pitches. Instead, don’t be afraid to write something a tad longer—they’re called 30 second pitches for a reason. A good one should provide the basic hook of your story and express a little of the voice/feel. It could also easily serve as the opening paragraph in your query. Here’s what mine looked like:
16-year-old Dusty Everhart might make a regular habit of breaking into houses late at night, but she’s no criminal. She is a Nightmare, a magical being who must feed on the dreams of others, and in doing so experience those dreams, too. But when her latest dreamer, Eli Booker, the hot guy from her old high school, turns out to be dreaming about a murder which shortly comes true, she goes from non-criminal to reluctant crime fighter.
Short? Check. Basic idea of Nightmare explained? Check. The hook identified? Yes. A little of the voice showing through? Yep.
THE BOY PROJECT
My elevator pitch: THE BOY PROJECT is a funny MG novel about a girl who tries to figure out how to find a boyfriend by using the scientific method.
When writing my book, I knew I needed a device add humor to the usual first boyfriend story. I also looked for a device that would allow me to tell the story using a diary format, but with a twist. I’m not sure how I stumbled on the idea of using the scientific method for a framework (although we’ve done quite a few science fair projects at my house in the last few years), but once I did, I knew I had my hook. And once I had the hook, I had the elevator pitch.
The elevator pitch needs to answer two questions.
1. What is your book about?
2. How is it different from other books?
If you have a plot, this answers question number one. If you have a hook, it answers question number two. Once I answered these two questions in the elevator pitch, I tried it out on a few people. The sentence made everyone smile. So I knew I had it, and I felt great about it!
I was caught off-guard about my elevator pitch just last week. I took my novel from the shelf in a bookstore and brought it to the information desk to sign it and have them put the shiny “Signed by the Author” sticker on it. They were carrying only that one copy, and the employee there hadn’t seen it before, so he was reading the back cover and then said, “Maybe we should order more. Pitch it to me.”
Pitch? Oh, right. Um. What was it again? I should remember this.
It’s hard not to ramble when someone asks you what your book is about. There’s so much you want to tell them, and boiling a whole book down to one sentence can be daunting. But people will get glassy-eyed if you go on for more than a few seconds, and won’t remember much of what you tell them anyway. So what do you want them to remember when they think back on your pitch?
Thankfully I was able to reach back into Pitchville and remember my one-liner: “Hastin is a 10-year-old in India who leaves home to work as an elephant keeper, and soon realizes that he and the elephant are both captives at the run-down circus.” I always want to add something about their friendship, and about how they’ll have to work together to escape, but I can always mention those things if the person I’m pitching to is interested in hearing more. In coming up with the pitch, I thought about what things in the story I’d want to stick with the listener. Elephants, obviously, since they’re an important part of the story and a lot of people love them. Also India, since the foreign setting might be of interest. And I always include something about the captivity, which implies the need for escape and lets the reader know they’re in for an adventure.
BRIANNA ON THE BRINK
Holiday House March 2013
The elevator pitch was something I actually came up with after I’d written BRIANNA ON THE BRINK, and what might make my situation unique is that I already had my agent at the time. So, while my pitch was directed more toward the editors to whom we’d be submitting the manuscript, the general purpose was the same as a pitch for an agent query letter.
Basically, I needed to state, in as brief a way as possible, the main gist of the book. Incidentally, once I realized how key this exercise can be in ensuring a solid plot, I made sure to have the current WiP’s pitch in place before I got too far into the writing of it.
My secret for coming up with a solid pitch/pithy one-liner to encapsulate what a book is about? Read Publisher’s Weekly, or the New York Times Book Review, or any other major publication where a variety of books are listed and reviewed. Usually, you will see a great cornucopia of single-sentence descriptions, and it’s surprising how effective the good ones are at giving a real sense of the book’s heart. Once you’ve trained yourself to know a good pitch when you see one, you’ll hopefully be that much more confident at crafting your own. Good luck!
CHASING THE SKIP
Pitching doesn’t have to be scary. It’s not some mystical thing whereby if you recite the right incantation, your book will sell. Crafting a good pitch is a skill, just like everything else. Here’s my pitch for CHASING THE SKIP, one I’ve given several hundred times over the last few years:
When Ricki’s mom abandons her, she goes to live with her bounty hunter father in his travel trailer. While on the road with him, Ricki develops a crush on the guy Dad’s chasing.
The key to writing a good pitch is to tell something that makes your audience immediately think, “I want to read that!” This means you want to get the ideas in your book with the most zing into your pitch. For me, that was the bounty hunting, which implies adventure and excitement. The other must-include is your conflict. Whatever it is about your first few chapters that is going to make your readers feel like they must read on–that’s the information you must work into your pitch.
A lot of pitches I hear don’t enthrall me, because they either give me too much information, or too little. When I hear a pitch, I want to come away asking specific questions that I want to have answered, because to find those answers, I’ll want to read the book. I hope that you come away from my pitch wanting to know what will happen to Ricki when she goes after a felon, how that will affect her relationship with her dad, and why her mother abandoned her, and how Ricki will cope with all these things. I also hope you want to read about bounty hunting, because, hey, fun!
NOT A DROP TO DRINK
Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins Fall, 2013
My first experience doing an elevator pitch actually went pretty well, despite the fact it grew from a bad place – genre confusion. The ms in question – a YA urban fantasy – was giving me fits when it came to genre. It had all the hallmarks of an urban fantasy, but the voice of chick-lit and a country setting. So I told the agent I was having dinner with that I’d decided to call it “rural fantasy.” I had my tongue jammed in my cheek firmly the whole time, so it also did a pretty good job of conveying the voice elements of the ms. I got a full request out of that. That particular meeting didn’t evolve into anything further, but it did give me the confidence I needed for future pitches.
I never had the chance to pitch NOT A DROP TO DRINK in person, but I was incredibly lucky when it came to the hook for my query. It also happened to be the first line of my book – “Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond.” And that sentence landed in my head one night out of nowhere. Thank you muse!!!
Claire M. Caterer
THE KEY & THE FLAME
When I went to my first SCBWI conference in January 2012, I met my agent, Chris Richman, for the first time in person. Chris is a great champion of my work and had just sold my novel to Ruta Rimas of Simon & Schuster. He introduced me to another author at the cocktail party and out came the dreaded question: “So, what’s your book about?”
I stood there with a stupid grin, assuming Chris would answer for me. But he said, “You have to learn to do this. I want to hear how you phrase it.” So I said what I’d rehearsed: “It’s a middle-grade fantasy about a group of kids who travel to a magical kingdom where magic is outlawed. The story involves the way they try to restore magic to its rightful place, incorporating elements of Celtic folklore and classic fantasy.”
My agent nodded and said, “Yeah. Not bad!” The other author said, “That sounds great!” I still felt like a dork saying it, and I was grateful that the muted lighting in the room hid my neckline-to-forehead blush.
There you have it! The word on elevator pitches from eight amazing authors! And you know what? Although everyone has different experiences and different methods of dealing with the dreaded pitch, everyone shares similar emotions. As writer’s we’re all in the same boat, dreaming of the day our ship will come in. While we’re waiting, isn’t wonderful to share experiences and learn from one another? That’s what Crashing the Gate is all about!