If you’re an author, the most common question you’ll hear is, “What’s your book about?” If you’re not properly prepared, that single question can be cause for panic — especially if the person asking it is an agent or publisher. You want to have a clear, concise, yet enticing answer that draws them in and makes them want to know more.
Your best course of action is to be prepared. Writing an elevator pitch — a 30-second-or-less summary of your work memorized that you can rattle off on a moment’s notice — allows you to answer that dreaded question about your book with confidence and poise.
In order to deliver a winning elevator pitch, you need to write and memorize a passage that hits the high points of your book while staying mindful of your audience’s time. The elevator pitch is longer than a log line, but typically shorter than the back cover copy. And most importantly, it’s conversational. You don’t want to sound like someone hit your playback button when you deliver your elevator pitch!
In other words, your pitch can be harder to write than the book itself. Here are some practical steps you can take to break your book down, determine the critical components, and build a pitch that’s worthy of any 30-second elevator ride with your dream agent.
Step 1: Break it down
Turning 400 pages into a 30-second pitch is no easy task. You’re going to want to start by breaking down the key elements of your book. Start by listing the top 10 most important points, facts, or plot elements in your book. For novels, think about your characters, their motives, and how each character changes and grows through the story. For non-fiction, list the top take-aways your book teaches.
Don’t worry about copy length in these first cuts; just get the words out. That said, make sure each of your top-10 points encompasses a single idea.
Now, cross out half of those. Get rid of anything that’s encompassed by another phrase. Combine if you have to. Come up with five, single-subject statements that capture the essence of your book.
Now, cross out two more.
Yes. For real.
You should be left with the three most important aspects of your story. If you feel like the three you have aren’t quite right, go through the process again.
Once you have your list of three, arrange them in order of importance.
Step 2: Write a 100-word summary
Starting with your top three points, conduct a word audit. This stage isn’t a comprehensive edit. You just want to strike through any unnecessary words. Remember, you want to keep your pitch high level, so if you find you’ve gone too deep, cut those words.
Top 3 Tips for Writing a Compelling Pitch:
- Make it conversational. You don’t want to sound like someone hit your playback button when you deliver your pitch.
- Start with the basics. For novels, make sure you lead with the genre and main character’s name. For non-fiction, don’t forget the topic and perhaps even a reason why you’re qualified to write your book.
- End with intrigue. The purpose of your pitch is to generate interest. Give them a reason to ask for more.
Using your slightly polished top three, start with the most important idea and write a summary of your book. Again, try not to overthink at this stage. Get a summary on paper (or screen). Keep it to about 100 words.
Now, write it again, ending with the most important idea. Keep rewriting it, switching the ideas around, until you have five to ten versions of your summary.
Step 3: Cut your summaries in half
When it comes to pitching, the old adage “less is more” rings true.
Once you have five to ten versions of your pitch, it’s time to edit and tighten with reckless abandon. Go through each of your pitches and cut the fluff. Kill your darlings. Make every single word count. Your final pitch length should be right around 50 words.
Keep in mind the top three tips above while you’re turning your summary into a conversational elevator pitch. Is it conversational, or do you sound like a robot? Are you telling your prospective audience what they need to know in terms of genre, character, or subject? Is your listener properly intrigued by the end?
Keep plugging away at your pitches until you have five to ten polished versions.
Step 4: Choose your top three and give them a final polish
Read it out loud to yourself. Record yourself and play it back. See if you sound like you’re having a conversation with another human being, or if you’re reading from a book jacket. Keep tinkering until you have three tight pitches that you almost don’t hate. Seriously, at this point, you’ll probably hate all three. It’s okay… they’re better than you think they are.
Step 5: Test them out on real people and pick your winning pitch
Ask friends, family and your writers’ network to listen to your pitch and solicit feedback. It helps to test with both people who are familiar with your work and people who haven’t read a single word. Ask which of the three is their favorite, and solicit specific feedback:
- Which was most interesting?
- Which of the three failed to capture their attention?
- Are they too long? Too short?
- And most importantly: which pitch leaves them longing for more? What was it about your pitch makes them want to read your book?
Bonus: It’s Okay to Have More Than One
If you boil your pitches down to two or three and you just can’t pick, that’s okay. Different pitches work better with different audiences. Have a few in your back pocket that you can pull out on short notice. Know which pitches work well with certain types of people (men vs. women, in-genre readers vs. general readers, old vs. young, etc.)
Now get out there and work it!
The only way to know if your pitch is truly effective is to use it. Give yourself ample opportunities to get out there and pitch your book. Attend a local writer’s workshop, trade fair or networking event. Talk to co-workers, friends, family and random strangers on the bus if the opportunity presents itself. You might not want to lead with your pitch in every social situation (in fact, please don’t), but be ready to deliver whenever someone asks.
And by all means, if you find yourself on the elevator with the agent of your dreams, pitch away!
Need help crafting the perfect pitch? Having a second set of eyes on your copy or a fresh brainstorming perspective can help. Contact us to learn about our services for authors.