Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Elevator Pitch: What It Is and Why You Need One

Every author dreams of finding themselves talking to a publisher who's a big deal. The kind of person who could open up a cell phone, call an assistant, and have a five-figure contract in your hands by tomorrow if he likes your idea. Maybe you're at a cocktail party and you just said something really witty, and he wipes a tear from his eye, gives you a smile, and says, "So, tell me about your book." This is it, the moment when you get a chance to hook that big fish, but you can see someone else making a beeline for him. You know you've got thirty seconds, maybe a minute, before the big deal's attention will move on and you'll be lost in the shuffle.

So what do you say?

The Elevator Pitch

The term elevator pitch has been used for decades because it refers to the scenario where you and the aforementioned important publisher are in an elevator. He's going up to his floor and you have between now and the time he gets there to sell him on your book. What you don't want is to be reaching for a good explanation, tossing in buzzwords, or rambling through the entire plot. You want something short, sweet, concise, and engaging.

In short, you want a hook.

Tell me more.
That's the whole point of your elevator pitch; you want your audience hooked on what you just said. You could go on at length about how your main character is a demon who is summoned by a young girl and bound into service to help her find a mysterious artifact of power, and how your lead has to contend with other persons who want the same item, but you'll start losing the thread of the tale and your listener will wander away. Instead you should say something like this:

"My novel is a gritty crime thriller in the spirit of The Maltese Falcon, if Sam Spade was a demon."

Whether modern fantasy is your genre or not, that is the kind of line that is going to make people stop and blink for a second or two. That's the reaction you want.

Elevator Pitches Are For More Than Just Publishers

Getting your book published is just the first step; you're going to have to help sell it too. That's why you don't want to hang up your elevator pitch just because your book is newly minted and breathing on the shelves. If it worked once then there's no reason it won't work again. And again. And again.

So what is this thing about?
The number of times you are going to be asked by people what your book is about is legion. Casual acquaintances, complete strangers, and everyone in between is going to ask you some variation of the question within ten minutes of learning you've had a book published. If your elevator pitch got a professional publisher interested then it should work great when you're being interviewed, when you're trying to hand sell your book at a convention, or when you just want to leave someone with an itch in their head to know more about what your book is really about.

Your book is an infinitely complex tale, and everyone is going to have a favorite character, moment, or scene. Your job is to be the travel agent and to find the hook that gets every reader to want to travel to this mythical land you've created.

Speaking of which, would you like to read a story about a budding romance between two young journalists forced onto a knife edge in the flickering light of the silver screen? Then check out Double Feature, my contribution to American Nightmare.

You know you want to...
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