Your manuscript is complete.
You’ve pored over rough drafts.
You’ve put in the late nights, writing well into the early hours of the morning.
You’ve solicited feedback from anyone offering a critical eye, and you’ve hammered every comma, dash, and period into place.
Now comes the real work: pitching your book to prospective literary agents, editors, and publishers.
What’s an Elevator Pitch?
Enter the elevator pitch—a brief promotion that delivers the brass tacks of an investment opportunity in the span of a few seconds.
The elevator pitch is an invaluable marketing device that’s found a home in the publishing industry, where brevity is valued currency, and it functions on multiple levels, succinctly and effectively communicating the crux of your book.
It’s never too early to start honing your book’s marketing strategy, and by mastering the theory and methodology behind composing a strong elevator pitch, you’ll be able to deftly answer that all-important question:
“So what’s your book about?”
Let’s take a look at some key tips for writing your elevator pitch.
Keep It Short and Sweet
When was the last time you read a book’s back cover text or dust jacket?
You’ll notice that back cover copy, similar to a movie trailer, follows a standard format: it draws readers in, teases a few highlights, and offers a small sample of what’s inside the cover.
The same approach can be applied to crafting an elevator pitch.
Much like with writing itself, being concise is the guiding principle here. The goal is to create the maximum effect for readers, using as few words as possible. This is especially true when dealing with agents and publishers, as they’ve listened to more pitches than they care to remember.
Here’s a short exercise to help you write an elevator pitch:
Without exceeding 100 words, sketch the main components of your book.
Here are some tips to help you!
Fiction and Narrative Nonfiction
Establish your main character or subject. Offer a few sensory details so readers can get a glimpse of who he or she is, and allude to why readers will ultimately be invested in this individual and the story in general. Indicate what’s at stake for this character or subject and the source of tension. Provide a sense of how your book will grip readers.
Next, capture the story’s plot. Introduce a few of the prevailing themes the book will explore. From there, offer some additional context. Hint at the world your book has built—the location (real or imagined), the era, and the landscape.
Include only the most notable features of your book: the central conflict, the main characters or subject, the setting, and the primary themes.
Briefly present the book’s thesis. Discuss what topics the book covers and the knowledge readers can expect to walk away with. Touch on how the information your book contains might fit into the framework of their everyday lives or broader cultural issues.
Include a few statements that communicate what makes you qualified to write the book. Cite any professional qualifications and unique insights you have on the field that give your book credibility.
After you’ve outlined the relevant information, add some personality to the blurb.
Tap into the characteristics that make your writing style unique, and let your narrative voice highlight the book’s attributes. Remember, the goal is to deliver a strong pitch in a short amount of space.
Cut the Fluff
For all genres, cut out any clutter and unnecessary phrases. Don’t use generic preambles such as “My book is about …” An elevator pitch shouldn’t last more than 60 seconds, so avoid embellishment and be mindful of word economy.
Ideally, your book’s elevator pitch can be pared down to a single sentence. This kind of promotional text is typically the only thing readers and booksellers have to go on when purchasing new books.
Check out Examples
Look at examples of pitches for successful books for a better idea of what makes a decent elevator pitch.
Here are four write-ups from the New York Times Bestseller list for November 2017, two fiction titles and two nonfiction titles. Review the list and consider the common thread between these pitches: brevity and concision. Consider how you might apply the same style to your own pitch.
“An artist upends a quiet town outside Cleveland.”
—Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere
“Three lives intersect after a car accident in Brooklyn.”
—Isabel Allende, In the Midst of Winter
“A collection of essays that define the historical changes and essential institutions of America to suggest ways to overcome divisions within the country.”
—Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner, What Unites Us
“A straightforward, easy-to-understand introduction to the universe.”
—Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
Practice Makes Perfect
After you’ve penned a few drafts and practiced your pitch daily on your commute or during a few minutes of downtime, it’s time to present it to an agent or publisher and move one step closer to seeing your book in print.
Literary agents and editors listen to countless pitches from authors looking to sell their work, often a few dozen over the course of a single day. So how the heck are you supposed to stand out from the crowd?
The good news is, there are steps you can take to ensure your pitch stands out. It may take several drafts, but keep reworking the text until you’ve got something direct, concise, and punchy.
And be brutally honest with yourself. Read it out loud several times.
Does the pitch sound weak or contrived?
Would it benefit from infusing a little humor?
Practice your pitch on friends, family, coworkers, or even complete strangers (although this can get a little awkward—maybe just use it at your next dinner party). The more you give your pitch, the more feedback you can get on what’s working and what isn’t.
What don’t people understand?
What are you talking about too much?
Use this to refine your pitch even more.
How to Deliver a Great Elevator Pitch
Crafting a great pitch is crucial.
Delivering your pitch well is just as important.
How you deliver your pitch can make a big difference in how you’re perceived by an agent, editor, or potential reader—you need to be confident and comfortable speaking about your book and giving your pitch.
Here are 4 useful techniques to help commit your pitch to memory:
1. Record your pitch
Practicing how you deliver your pitch is nearly as essential as polishing the content.
Recite your pitch aloud into a recording device and listen critically.
Take notes as you listen to each pitch and identify what’s working and what might need some slight adjustment.
2. Rewrite as needed
Try to come up with at least five good pitches based on what you’ve learned from giving your pitch out loud.
Give yourself time to process each draft, and let some time pass before making a new recording.
3. Cut your drafts down to three solid pitches
Tailor each pitch for a distinct audience.
It is important to have a different pitch for various situations.
How you might pitch your book to a would-be reader at a convention or dinner party will differ from the pitch you’d deliver to an agent or publisher.
4. Keep calm and relax
Try to sound natural when delivering your pitch, though you’ll want to strike a balance between casual and professional.
Commit your pitch to memory to the point that it’s practically second nature for you to share it with others.
Know Your Market
In an aggressively author-driven market, readers almost exclusively follow a handful of authors.
Many readers will only venture outside their comfort zones to pick up books by authors similar to those household names and proverbial bestsellers riddled across social media and bookstore fronts.
Know Your Genre
That’s why it’s crucial that your work have a defined genre—a way for readers to immediately recognize whether the book will appeal to their interests.
It’s even more crucial that newer authors possess the understanding and self-awareness to know where their work fits in such a crowded market.
Know Your Agent and Publisher
Literary agents and editors are looking for titles that will sell.
Your book will be acquired and sold to publishers and readers on the merits of the idea and concept behind it as much as the quality of the prose. Without a gripping hook to generate interest, your title is not going to make it past the initial pitch.
Know Your Reader
Have a firm understanding of who your book will appeal to.
The foundation of developing a strong elevator pitch is knowing how to describe your work stylistically and managing expectations—remain confident yet grounded when assessing your work, but don’t place your writing in a singular unattainable category.
It’s hard to write the Great American Novel or the next mega bestseller—and that’s okay. By asserting a clearly defined genre, you can present to a prospective agent or publisher exactly where your book fits in a competitive market.
The harsh truth is that publishers are working in an industry where it is increasingly challenging to turn a profit.
By using your pitch to convey your book’s genre and target audience, you demonstrate that you have consciously thought about your book’s marketability and possess what it takes to be successful in your stated genre.
Keep in mind throughout this process that the publishing business is a business. The more resources you invest into your book’s marketing efforts, the more attractive it will be to potential publishers and literary agents.
Your elevator pitch can get you in the door with a reader, agent, or editor.
From there, you have to be ready to provide the additional information they need to get hooked on your book.
When approaching an agent or editor, your pitch should capture the storytelling elements or professional expertise that sets your book apart.
After that comes the more detailed information. Once your elevator pitch has gotten someone’s interest, be sure to have your book’s information on hand:
- Know the exact word count or page count
- Know your specific genre and subgenre
- Know which age group the book is written for
- Know if the book will be part of a series, and if so, how many books there will be in the series
- Know at least three authors and three books that are similar to yours
It’s important to know a list of similar authors and books so that people who have never read your work can immediately understand what your book is about and where it fits in the market.
This allows agents and publishers to draw parallels and better connect with your book, resulting in a higher likelihood that your book will be understood and marketed to the appropriate target readership.
An elevator pitch, at its core, is a conversation.
It creates an opportunity to encapsulate what your book is about and who you are as a writer in a matter of seconds.
As an author, you are your book’s strongest advocate. Give your book the best possible chance to succeed—commit to the process of crafting a sound pitch.
So tell us: What’s your book about?
For more on pitching your book, check out these articles:
- How to Write a Query Letter: The Formula for Great Results
- How to Write an Outreach Email (plus a bonus email template)
- How to Get a Literary Agent