Please welcome guest blogger Kristi Helvig! She's here to talk about the Basics of an Elevator Pitch but make sure to drop by her group blog, Sisters in Scribe, where she's been talking about the Dreaded Synopsis and other great writing topics.
I was fortunate enough to attend an SCBWI talk hosted by talented author Hilari Bell and author/illustrator Anna-Maria Crum. The topic: how to give a brief pitch to agents/editors. Even if you're not doing a scheduled pitch appointment at a conference, a pitch is something you should have ready in case an editor or agent happens to ask, "What's your book about?" That's assuming you'd rather have a more coherent response than "Um, well, there's this guy and he goes to this museum, and there's this um, secret society..."
Wouldn't you rather say (well, if you were Dan Brown):
"A murder in the silent after-hour halls of the Louvre museum reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected by a clandestine society since the days of Christ." (I found this summary of The DaVinci Code online -- doesn't it have more 'flow' than the first one.)
What is an elevator pitch?
It's one or two sentences (three max) giving an overall summary of your book -- sentences that are compelling enough to make the editor/agent ask more questions. I know, right? Anyway, Hilari and Anna Maria were masters at it. They listened to attendees read part of their query letter or give a description of their book, and within minutes, they'd distilled it into a few succinct sentences. It was amazing to watch. I listened and learned, and here are a few tidbits I picked up along the way. NOTE: All examples below are fabricated by moi, so blame me if they suck.
Be Specific/Don't Be Cliche
Bad Example: When the space monkey arrived, her whole world turned upside down.
Better Example: When the six-foot space monkey landed in her bedroom, ten-year-old Sarah Connor knew she’d finally found the topic for her science fair project.
Use Strong Verbs/Active Voice
Bad Example: When six-year-old Ben was given a black eye by the school bully, he looked for a way to get back at him.
Better Example: When the school bully pops six-year-old Ben in the eye, Ben exacts revenge the only way he knows how -- with peanut butter and a Nerf gun.
Other tip: the main character (MC) should be identified in the pitch as well as the obstacle they face, though it can be implied rather than obvious. There are exceptions to this but wait until you're famous to break the rules.
Nathan Bransford also has an amazingly comprehensive post on one sentence, one paragraph, and two paragraph pitches.
So there you have it. Any questions? Now get out there and pitch.