The Prisoner in the Elevator

My buddy and writing partner Diana Springer shared with me today the blurb for the newnew-york-female-giants-baseball-loc novel forming in her head.

I was hooked, and then I was impressed. Not just by the intriguing plot she’d managed to come up with for her next writing project, but by the relative ease with which she’d developed a pitch for the novel. 

According to conventional business wisdom, an elevator pitch is the short statement or summary in which you deliver the major selling point of your product or service and why it is of value to the person hearing the pitch. The premise is that these are the few words you’ve got to sell your product to the power-broker of your dreams, already standing in the elevator when you get in, and with whom you’ll ride for a few precious minutes.  For writers, it’s the ten sentences you get in which to tell the big agent/publisher/Oprah why your book should be represented/published/on Oprah’s Book Club. What do you say?

I considered this quite a bit when drafting query letters for ‘Getting Some’. I had to decide what made this novel different from the millions of other chicklit books on the market, and why a reader would want to read it. And then I had to decide how to convey that message to the prisoner in the elevator. In other words, it’s not just what you pitch, it’s how.

I don’t claim to be an expert on this but here’s what I learned:

1. Make a popular association: It helps to have an opening which links your book to other books or projects the person might already know. For example, I’ve said that my book is ‘Sex and the City’ meets ‘Waiting to Exhale’.  Making an association with well-known (and successful!) projects helps to give an immediate and intriguing idea of what your book is about. Wouldn’t you want to hear more about a book that claimed to be the love-child of ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’? So would an agent, I’m sure.

2. Paint a riveting mental picture: Use colourful language in your summary. Don’t just summarise your romance with ‘Guy moves to Montana to run dead brother’s business and falls in love with his widow.’ (Awful plot, by the way…) Try saying instead ‘Rebel priest on the verge of laicization hitchhikes to hick town and takes over the operation of his dead brother’s bicycle rental company, much to the chagrin of the deceased’s strong-headed widow…‘ (Still an awful plot, but you get the idea!) A word of caution: don’t resort to verbosity in the effort to paint your picture….

3. Be succinct: It’s a pitch, remember that! The purpose is to get the agent/editor interested enough to ask questions and perhaps request a partial or full manuscript submission. In other words, you want the person to remember you when they get off the elevator so that they’ll request or be open to follow-up contact. Say what you need to say as succinctly as possible with this objective in mind.

4. Fit pitch to purpose: OK, it goes without saying that the purpose is getting your subject interested, but the pitch you deliver in writing as part of your query letter will probably look different to the one you deliver verbally at a writers’ conference. For one thing, the pitch which forms part of a query letter to an agent will probably be longer.

5. No gimmicks: Everyone hates a hard-sell so be passionate, but not overbearing. And try not to be gimmicky – you want to be remembered for your awesome project, not your awful pitch!

Get some advice straight from an agent here. Good luck!

Photo credit: The Library of Congress / Foter

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About gettingsomethenovel

Kiki Terrell is a UK-based author, businesswoman and mother of three. When’s she’s not slouched over her desk writing and laughing her head off, she’s busy playing Sudoku, eating Nutella and exploring her latest business venture (often all at the same time).
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2 Responses to The Prisoner in the Elevator

  1. Thanks for the nice words Kiki! I’m looking forward to working on this one later this year.

  2. Kiki Terrell says:

    And I’m looking forward to reading it!

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