Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why You Need an Elevator Pitch (even if you're published)

The short, sweet and simple answer: because it will help you sell books.

Now I'm done with the blog and look at that! I have a half hour of free time now to go play with the pup, read a few more pages of a book and get another cup of coffee!!

Okay, I'm kidding. About the second part. The first part is true. You need an elevator pitch to sell your book.

An elevator pitch is a quick overview of your fiction book designed to entice someone to find out more about it.

The first time I ever heard of it was in relation to chance meetings with an agent. For instance, you're standing in an elevator in a hotel after a grueling day at a writer's conference, hoping just to get one of the agents there interested enough to take and read your query, and maybe even request pages. You've resisted following them into the bathroom and sliding pages under the door, or stalking them into the bar and buying them enough drinks to get them tipsy enough to beg for your manuscript, but you haven't found a way to talk to them that doesn't seem on the verge of desperate. Just as you push the button for your floor to go freshen up for dinner, that dream agent steps into the elevator, smiles, and asks the question you have always wanted an agent to ask you:

"Do you write?"

followed closely by, "What's your book about?"

Oh yeah. I rolled my eyes the first time I heard that, because honestly, what were the chances of that happening??

But it does happen, I take it. I've heard stories. Urban legends, maybe, but all the same, a girl can dream. But since I wasn't very many places where I would have happened to run into an agent, I didn't work too hard on perfecting one.  I did the most cursory of research and thought: this looks exactly like the pitch in a query! I've got this down pat!

What I neglected to see was the difference between sending something for an agent to read and actually having a conversation.

Because, as it turns out, my query pitch, which morphed into a back cover blurb, sounds much better on paper than it does as a conversation starter.

And how did I find this out?

I was sitting in a coffee shop last weekend blissfully typing away at my new manuscript when a girl sat down next to me and said, "You working?"


"Yes," I said, glancing up and then trying my best to ignore her and go back to work. One would think the earphones and the frantic typing would have keyed her into the fact that I was perfectly happy being alone.

"Oh. Do you work from home? Do you have your own business?"

Sigh. I took off the earphones.  "I'm a writer."  I can actually say this now. And I'm not afraid of the question which almost always comes next, which did indeed come next.

"Oh. Do you have anything published?"

"YES!!"  Oops. I may have screamed that.

"Really? What's it about?"


It's not like this is the first time I've been asked the question. The thing is, it hasn't really gotten easier to answer because I've never sat down and tried to figure out how to answer it. After all, I wrote the book, right? I've pitched it all over the US. I've sent out queries, talked to publishers, explained to family and friends.  Really, I do know what my book is about.

But here in front of me was a stranger, completely and utterly interested in the fact that she was talking to someone who had written a book, and she wanted to know what it was about. All I had to do was tell her.

It didn't need to be a summary of the book. All it needed to be was a few sentences - maybe not even more than one or two - that might get her to ask questions that could lead us into a great discussion about the book. If only I could think of something that didn't sound... stilted. Prepared. Back of the book-ish.

Luckily for me, she had nothing better to do than sit and talk, and she'd somehow targeted me to engage, so even though I stumbled through the first answer, she asked more questions, and the more we talked the more easily I communicated what the book was about and my passion for it.

Sometimes, though, you don't have that much time, or a person asking who is doing it for more than just being polite.

This weekend I ran into an acquaintance in the movie theatre who had friend in tow. She introduced us and said, "Heidi's a writer. She just had her first book published."  The friend, only mildly interested and probably more just out of niceties, asked, "What's it about?"

This time I was a little better prepared. I gave my one minute conversational elevator pitch. "It's about a mom who's daughter is dying of diabetes. Even though the doctors say she's terminal, the mom finds a risky stem cell trial that might work if it doesn't kill her daughter first. Unfortunately, all the people who have been supporting her during the illness turn against her because they think the stem cell treatment is morally wrong. The tagline of the book is: How far would you go to save someone you love?"

It's not the best... I'm still working on it... but in the two minutes we had to talk before the movie started, I'd given enough information to entice her. And I didn't sound like the back of a book. She asked a bunch of questions that I enthusiastically answered. She bought one right then and there.

Why should YOU have an elevator pitch? Because maybe you'll run into an agent in an elevator someday and she'll ask what your book is about. Or maybe because you've written a book you want people to buy, and out of the blue you'll have a chance to sell it to someone.

Even a stranger in a coffee shop.


  1. Sherrie @ Write About Now has a story on her blog today about a woman who was talking about her novel on a subway (I think), was approached by an agent, and had a deal within a week. You are so right! :-)

  2. Great idea. I get tongue tied all the time when people ask me what my book is about.

  3. Excellent idea! I think you're right on the money here, honey.


  4. Thanks for the reminder, Heidi.
    I've got a one-sentence pitch that I'm working to expand.

  5. yup and trust me you will run into someone who will ask this. I recommend 2 sentences.

  6. Great elevator or theater pitch. And it worked if she bought one!

  7. Great advice, and we don't hear it too often. I think it makes the writer look better too, to have a solid few sentences to say, without hesitation.

  8. Very true. For me it's so hard to boil everything down to one line or two. I'm working on it though. . .

  9. Shannon - that's incredible! the urban myth is real! I'll have to go check that out!

    patti - I still get tongue tied, although it's more like I'm embarrassed to say I've written something than talk about the book. I'm not good at promoting myself yet.

    It's not so much just condensing, either. It's condensing to make them ask more. It's not so much a summary as a hook.

  10. That is an excellent point! I do have a little pitch prepared, but it makes me feel self-conscious to tell some people what my book is about. But only people who I know are going to give it the raised eyebrow, like my grandmother. Strangers are fine!