Crafting Your Elevator Pitch

a-beautiful-view-939515_640We write our Visionary Fiction manuscript, flesh it out, cut and edit it, refine it, finalize it. And then we are required to summarize our novel in a Synopsis and a back cover blurb. In addition, during this whole process someone inevitably asks, “What is your novel about?” To answer,  we must condense our novel down yet again, into one or two sentences that capture the essence of our creation – called the elevator pitch.

The name elevator pitch reflects the idea that we may fortuitously run into readers, agents, or publishers, in any variety of settings, perhaps an elevator. And when asked what our novel is about, we need to be able to describe it within the time frame of a typical elevator ride.  This gives us approximately thirty seconds to share our hopefully captivating elevator pitch. If our pitch is interesting and impressive, it may result in an agent requesting to see our manuscript, or it may generate a book sale. No pressure. No wonder many of us stare like the proverbial deer caught in headlights when asked what our novel is about.

We all know it is not an easy thing to write a novel. The sports columnist Red Smith summed it up when he said, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” I certainly relate, bloody bandages in hand. Still, I find it even more challenging to distill a novel’s essence into a pithy answer to that inescapable question of, “What is your novel about?” Thus, I wanted to face this dreaded dragon and write an article that might ease the misery of constructing an  elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a brief, uber-abridged summary of your story; two sentences that capture your story’s essence.

Fashioning your novel’s essence is not the same as stating your novel’s theme. A theme is a somewhat philosophical statement of your novel’s message, such as good triumphs evil. The elevator pitch is more of a brief, uber-abridged summary of your story. It can be likened to those one or two sentence descriptions of a television show in a TV guide, or a film in a movie guide. For example, the IMdb movie trailer description from Star Wars: the Force Awakens: ‘Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the resistance.’

 Another, even more concise example comes from author Randy Ingermanson, describing the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone : ‘A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents.’

One of my author projects is to come up with an elevator pitch for my current manuscript that is as engaging and succinct as these two examples. There are many formulas for how to construct your elevator pitch. I will highlight a few of the ones I have found to be useful, and hopefully they will help you in crafting your own elevator pitch.

Scriptologist.com Method

The website Scriptlogist.com offers the suggestion of asking yourself three questions to help formulate your elevator pitch. If you can briefly answer these questions, you have the raw material for your pitch.            writing-336370_640

  1. Who is the main character and what does he or she want?
  2.  Who (villain) or what is standing in the way of the main character?
  3.  What makes this story unique?

Nathan Bransford Formula

Former literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. and author Nathan Bransford gives us a formula for a one-sentence elevator pitch. His blueprint is a fill in the blank sentence: “When [opening conflict] happens to [character(s)], they must [overcome conflict] to [complete their quest].”

C.S. Lakin Process

Livewrite Thrive author and blogger, C.S. Lakin, likens the elevator pitch to a one-sentence story structure. Lakin says every great novel is about someone with passion going after a goal. So, to get the raw material for your elevator pitch, try thinking of your character’s inciting incident, your protagonist’s goal, and the high stakes conflict. These elements create the content of your elevator pitch.

Dwight V. Swain Technique 

One of our own VFA authors and founders, Margaret Duarte, uses a two-sentence approach, attributed to Dwight V. Swain in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer. According to Swain’s technique, sentence one is a statement that establishes the situation, character, and objective. Sentence two is the question that nails down the opponent and disaster. Margaret’s elevator pitch for her soon to be published novel Between Darkness and Dawn succinctly answers those questions, and her elevator pitch looks like this:

‘When a pragmatic Silicon Valley woman begins hearing a voice when no one is there, she wants to make it stop. But can she free herself of the voice without losing connection with her soul?’

My Method    

With my four published novels I have played with using a more free-form approach to create an elevator pitch, building it from scratch.  I have also attempted using my agent query pitch to start and then editing it down until it is only one or two sentences. One idea is not better than the other. I use whatever works. In my current manuscript, The Hidden Abbey, I am using the query/condense, reduce some more method, incorporating my answers to the questions from the methods detailed above. I haven’t arrived at the final elevator pitch, but I have a draft I can work with. My current novel has an added layer of challenge since my story has two timelines. This is what I have thus far:

When King Henry VIII sets out to destroy all of England’s Monasteries, a priestess of Avlaon, Marissa, and her secret lover, Michael, a monk at Glastonbury Abbey, become embroiled in a grand plan to save the most sacred talisman at the heart of ancient Christianity. When their grand plan is thwarted and their love star-crossed, they are reborn into the 21st century, and given one last chance to fulfill their shared destiny.

I know – too many sentences. More editing and condensing needed. But I wanted to give you an idea of an elevator pitch construction in process.

An Invitation to Share and Assist

Now, I invite you to share your elevator pitch for your novel. This can be pitches that are works in progress like mine, or refined and usable elevator pitches, like Margaret’s. Perhaps we can help each other arrive at those attention-grabbing two line sentences that won’t leave us wide-eyed and stammering when someone asks, “What is your novel about?”

So, what is your novel about?

 

 

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About Jodine Turner

Jodine Turner is an award-winning, best-selling Visionary Fiction and magical realism author, Adorata Practitioner, therapist, and consecrated priestess. She writes about how the most potent transformative power – Embodied Love – is the next step in the evolution of humankind. Through story, Jodine takes you on an initiatory journey into the Goddess, as well as the Sacred Union of the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine within. Jodine authored “The Awakening: Rebirth of Atlantis” and “The Keys to Remember”, followed by “Carry on the Flame: Destiny’s Call”, and “Carry on the Flame: Ultimate Magic.”

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23 Responses to Crafting Your Elevator Pitch

  1. Eleni Papanou says:

    It’s interesting how there are so many methods, yet they all lead to a similar approach. I always liked the simplitcity of how an elevator pitch was explained by my screenwriting mentor, Hal Croasmun. He said if you can’t condense your story into few words, there’s something wrong with your structure. So an elevator pitch is also helpful in uncovering structural problems. Although with books, there’s a little more flexibility than in film. Great post!

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  2. thanks, Eleni. I really like the idea of how structural problems will be revealed if you can’t condense your story into a few words. Makes good sense. Thank you, Hal Croasmun!

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  3. tuilorraine says:

    I tried Nathan Bransford’s method for my “Haunted Dolphin” WIP and immediately came up with this first draft of an elevator pitch.
    “When a dolphin musician is haunted by the spectre of her dead baby she must communicate with humanity if she is ever to overcome grief and reclaim her natural gifts.”
    Hmmm.

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    • This is so good, Tui! I could be way off here, but in the interest of helping each other as my post encouraged, a question rose up for me – why must she communicate with humanity to ease her grief? Why may not be important , but the question arose.

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      • tuilorraine says:

        Thanks Jodine. If I somehow work in that it was humans who killed her baby it might work better, maybe something like,

        “When a dolphin musician is haunted by the spectre of her dead baby, she must communicate with the humans who killed him if she is ever to overcome her grief and reclaim her natural gifts.”

        Trouble with that is, it sounds like its going to be a preachy story. That’s the last thing I want. Back to the drawing board. This is fun. 🙂

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  4. Thank you, Jodine, for putting all this information into one post. My dream is to be able to answer the question, “What’s your book about,” in such a way that the questioners’ eyes light up rather than dull. Where they look into my eyes rather than over my shoulder. Where they ask for my business card and immediately use their phone or notebook to find my book online and buy it! Now, that would be the ultimate PITCH.

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    • Victor Smith says:

      Agreed that this is the greatest. Happened to me the other day with my landlady, She just asked me what my novels were about (the “reincarnation” got her) and asked where she could get copies. No problem there, and real nice to pocket a couple of $20s in the process. Uh, now to remember what I said to make the sale–the elevator speech.

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  5. Robin says:

    Thank you, Jodine. The elevator pitch, next to deciding on a title, is one of the hardest things for me as a writer. I love what you offered here. Blake Snyder also says in his screenwriting book SAVE THE CAT that a pitch that possesses irony really gets people’s attention. For example, Tui’s pitch might be:

    A dolphin musician must contact humans who killed her baby in order to regain her supernatural powers.

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    • I like the irony suggestion. Robin. And your take on Tui’s elevator pitch is very enticing! Did you see this, Tui?

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    • tuilorraine says:

      Robin, that reads well but it is not the ones who killed her baby in particular she needs to contact – just humanity in general and it is not any supernatural powers she wants to regain but just her own natural gifts as a musical composer. I’m intrigued you took interest to suggest this. THANK-YOU.

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      • Feedback is exactly what I was hoping we could do for each other’s elevator pitch! Even if it doesn’t hit the mark, it helps clarify and refine further, doesn’t it?

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        • tuilorraine says:

          Absolutely Jodine. Feedback I’ve received above is amazingly helpful. I’m surprised others haven’t jumped in and posted theirs. Come on everyone!

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  6. tuilorraine says:

    One other thing, when I was in Frankfurt Book Fair, I actually got to practice my elevator pitch for real. (I hasten to add it was not this one but the one for my previous novel.) You meet important book people everywhere at Frankfurt and the elevator pitch is your most used marketing tool.
    When one person there asked me what my book was about, I spouted the pitch in 10 seconds flat and he said, “That brings me out in Goose Bumps” so I felt it had succeeded. Wish I could get this one to work as well but it’s just matter of focusing on it.

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  7. Victor Smith says:

    Excellent post and dialog, Jodine, on a very important selling tool that requires a lot of thought and experimentation to get it right. I differentiate between the log line (very pithy: “Even death cannot stop two hearts that beat as one” for my recent novel Channel of the Grail) and the elevator speech as you described. They serve different purposes. The log line draws the eye and the elevator speech captures the interest.
    Great stuff to be discussing these tools and sharing how we put them to use.

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  8. I like how you differentiate the two – log line and elevator pitch.

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  9. tuilorraine says:

    Victor, the “log line” is something I’ve never given any thought to. Interesting idea! I’m thinking about it now.

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  10. drstephenw says:

    VFA, you continue to be a great resource. I have my first live event this weekend, 50 indie authors with booths at a local library. I came across this post and it’s a godsend! Thank you, Jodine, and thank you writers for your discussion. Phew!

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