So What’s Your Book About?, or, Creating the Perfect Elevator Pitch

jennie-nash

You may think that elevator pitches are only for high-tech startups, job hunters, or Hollywood screenwriters, but being able to succinctly summarize your book in a very short space is a skill that every writer must master. The elevator pitch is a powerful marketing tool that you can put to use when enticing readers, reaching out to potential marketing partners, and when you meet people at a conference who ask, “So what’s your book about?”
Here are six simple steps to help you develop an elevator pitch, as well as some ideas for how to use it:

1. Write down what your book is about in no more than 50 words. Think in terms of character and conflict – the basic elements of story.

Example: It’s a story about a woman who becomes part of the first father–daughter pair in the Senate, except she’s on one side of the aisle and he’s on the other, and they don’t agree on anything.

worldbuilding, elevator pitch, pitching to an agent, writing a summary

2. Add something about the context or the world of the story to ground people in time and space. If there’s a way to talk about your genre in relation to something going on in the news, or with a current hit book or movie, you might consider referring to that.

Example: Set in a post-Trump future when partisan politics has reached its extreme expression, this story is about a woman who becomes part of the first father–daughter pair in the Senate — except she’s on one side of the aisle and he’s on the other, and they don’t agree on anything.

3. Mention the genre so people get a sense whether it’s sci-fi dystopian fantasy, historical romance, or contemporary women’s fiction.

Example: It’s women’s fiction set in a post-Trump future when partisan politics has reached its extreme expression. It’s the story about a woman who becomes part of the first father–daughter pair in the Senate — except she’s on one sideof the aisle and he’s on the other, and they don’t agree on anything.

context, theme, current events, making readers care

4. Add something about why readers might care. Remember that readers come to fiction for a million reasons – for solace, education, entertainment, escape. Give your audience a sense what they will get from your story, not just what happens in it. This is a particularly important tactic when approaching agents. They will be thinking about why readers might buy your book, so they will be thinking about why it matters, why it resonates. Help them see it.

Example: It’s women’s fiction set in a post-Trump future when partisan politics has reached its extreme expression. It’s a story about a woman who becomes part of the first father–daughter pair in the Senate — except she’s on one side of the aisle and he’s on the other, and they don’t agree on anything. It proves that politics is always personal, and offers hope for a future where what happens in Washington is far from business as usual.

5. Make it snappy. Polish your description to a high shine by adding texture, details and rhythm. Allow your unique voice to shine through so that your audience can get a real sense for you and what your book is really about. These words can form the foundation of a query letter.

Example: It’s women’s fiction set in a post-Trump future, where Washington is gridlocked because neither party will budge an inch on anything — from what to serve in the Senate dining room to who will protect the people from agricultural toxins threatening the fertility of an entire generation. The hopes of a nation are resting on the Senate’s first father–daughter duo – but he’s on one side of the aisle and she’s on the other. Politics is about to get very personal.

If you are using your pitch in a Twitter contest, this is the version you would use to whittle it down to 280 characters:

In post-Trump DC, the hopes of a nation slipping towards civil war rest on the first father-daughter Senator pair, but she’s on one side of aisle and he’s on other. When he runs for POTUS and her party asks her to bring him down, politics gets very personal. Women’s Fiction

6. Practice saying it out loud. Remember that when you talk about your book in person, you’re not ever actually giving a pitch or a speech. You’re starting a discussion. You want to entice your listener to respond or react in some way, not make them feel like they are pinned in a corner. Practice saying your book description in different ways, in response to various imaginary conversational prompts, and consider the best places to break or to pause.

Example 1 – Conversation with Another Writer:

Them: “What’s your book about?”

You: It’s women’s fiction set in a post-Trump future, where Washington is gridlocked because neither party will budge an inch on anything — from what to serve in the Senate dining room to who will stop agricultural toxins from threatening the fertility of an entire generation.

Them: [laughs.] Sounds like that’s NON-fiction.

You: I tried to raise the stakes far higher than real life – which has been a bit of a moving target. My main character is the daughter of a long-time conservative Senator who is appointed Senator of the nation’s most liberal state and that’s a reality we haven’t yet seen.

Them: Ohhh that’s good

You: Thank you! What genre are you working in?

Example 2 – Conversation with an Agent in Line at Breakfast:

You: I enjoyed your panel on the pitch process.

Them: Thank you. Are you signed up for the pitch event on Sunday?

You: I am. I didn’t get a slot with you, but I’m working on what you suggested we do in terms of getting to the point right away.

Them: That’s great – let’s hear what you’ve got.

You: Right here?

Them: No time like the present!

You: I’m writing women’s fiction set in a post-Trump future. My main characters is the daughter of a long-time conservative Senator who is appointed Senator of the nation’s most liberal state.

Them: Oh wow, sparks are going to fly!

You: [laughs]. Exactly. I imagined a Washington so gridlocked that neither party will budge an inch on anything — from what to serve in the Senate dining room to who will protect the people from agricultural toxins threatening an entire generation’s fertility. Politics is going to get very personal.

Them: Is the manuscript complete?

You: It is. I’ve been working with a book coach for the last year on a revision. My goal was to have it ready for this conference and I made it!

Them: Here’s my card. Send me a query and your first chapter.

You: Thank you! I appreciate the offer. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Being able to speak clearly about your book will help you be confident when you find yourself face-to-face with a potential reader or agent. Instead of panic, you’ll feel the possibility of being able to invite people into your imaginary world.

jennie-nash_framedJennie has worked in publishing for more than 30 years. She is the author of four novels, three memoirs, and The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat. An instructor at the UCLA Extension Writing Program for 10 years, she is also the founder and chief creative officer of Author Accelerator, an online program that offers affordable, customized book coaching so you can write your best book. Find out more about Jennie here, visit her blog, discover the resources and coaching available at her Author Accelerator website, and connect online.

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6 Responses to So What’s Your Book About?, or, Creating the Perfect Elevator Pitch

  1. Elias says:

    As hard as writing a coherent, cohesive story is, this, (promotion, self-promotion, etc) is SO much harder. Thanks, on the tip-side, Ms. Nash.

  2. I also love the tips for incorporating your pitch into various conversations. I know that when I work on a pitch or log line, I get it just right, then if anyone asks about it, I sound like SIRI, regurgitating the facts I memorized. The verbal part of the pitch is JUST as important as the written part, imo, and people don’t tend to talk about how to do that part well. So thank you, Jennie!

  3. Once again, excellent advice, Jennie. Thanks so much, Angela and Jennie, for sharing this knowledge with writers. I wish you both every happiness at this holiday season.

  4. I love the scenario examples here and the focus on being able to pitch the story in a natural way. Some writers get too focused on memorizing a single delivery that comes across as mechanical because they forget it IS just a conversation.

    Some of the best advice I’ve ever received was to pretend you’re sharing what your story is about with a friend who cares about you and finds the whole writer thing you do fascinating, but isn’t involved in the industry in any way. Zero pressure, and the focus is communicating the story with enthusiasm in a way that gets them interested and asking questions.

    Thanks so much, Jennie. 🙂

  5. this one’s a saver and keeper ya’ll! will print it out even!

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