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Guest Blogger Kristi Helvig: Basics of an Elevator Pitch


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.


SJ Stone said...

Here's mine:

In the 24th century, a new world order society mercilessly eradicates the last victims of the Blood Virus. "Vampyres", constantly in fear of discovery and persecution, live and walk among humans as ordinary people with an extraordinary reality and a haunting past; a deal to save the last vampyres is struck, but deception and betrayal ensure that while the sun will rise tomorrow, no one knows who will live to see it.

Jonathon Arntson said...

This is great! It helps when the book is far from completion because I tend to stumble over my words when the book is grossly unfinished and non-writer folks look at you like you're insane.

Simon Kewin said...

Invaluable advice. I do struggle with this!

Unknown said...

Thanks for having me over, Casey!

Jonathon - I agree and find it's best to do it when you start writing the book. That's when I do my query too. :)

Tahereh said...

this is so helpful!

you never know when people are going to ask about your book, and the worst is trying to explain it by saying "yea, i know it sounds weird, but i'm not very good at describing it. it's actually REALLY GOOD I SWEAR" and the other person thinking, "uhh.. i thought being a writer meant it was your JOB to describe things well."


haha yeaaaa i have to work on my pitch.

Unknown said...

Yeah, the "pitch" is something I'm constantly refining. I really like your pitch, reading. writing. revolution. (need your name on your blog somewhere, btw). One small critique, though. The last line (which could be clearer if it was its own sentence) does border a bit on the cliche side Kristi mentioned. Perhaps using more turn-of-phrase? Something about sun rising and vampires... the bones of it is there already, but something more overt would work better, I think. Just a thought!

Here is one version of my current pitch (comments welcome!):

16-year-old Taylor Keaton’s introduction into the magical world of elves didn’t exactly get off to a great start. Sure, she was recruited to attend S.P.R.I.T.E., an elite international school of espionage, where she’d train to become a “magical spy,” but when the spies that recruited you get themselves killed saving your life... it can kinda put a damper on the whole thing. When a dying agent begs her to find out all she can about a project codenamed Excalibur, she decides she owes it to him, and herself, to see it through despite the risk... if the traitor known only as "The Teacher" doesn't stop her first.

PJ Hoover said...

This is excellent advice for anyone in the process! Thanks!

SJ Stone said...

@Kyle -- Thanks!!! It never occurred to me that I didn't have my own name on my own blog! haha! Ok, fixed that.

Yeah, I get what you mean about the last line. I'll work on it. It's going to be on the back cover of the novel next month, but I still have time to fix it.

"Dying Light" 0-- available in July everywhere. Check FB or http://dyinglightthenovel.blogspot.com/

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for posting this. I think you also posted this on another blog and I used it to help revise my elevator pitch. And yes, Nathan Bransford's examples were super helpful too. Thanks.

Beth said...

Great comments, and a very useful post. I had to laugh at stumbling through the description of our own books. Why is it that I can write so well, yet struggle with speaking about something so close to me?

Jo Schaffer Layton said...

GREAT advice. Still working on my elevator pitch. Finally got a decent query...I think.

Carolyn V. said...

Oh, excellent advice! I love it! Thanks Casey. =)

Martina Boone said...

Krisi provides sound advice here. Heading into conference season, this is perfectly timed! Can we link this piece for our Friday blog round-up?

Thanks Kristi and Casey!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

These short pitches are so hard, but I loved the examples. Thanks!

karen yuan said...

Wonderful, solid advice. Thank you <3! Pitches just wouldn't be pitches without being so tricky, huh. Would it be alright for me to add this to my pitch resources post?

Christina Farley said...

I love the tip to use strong vivid verbs. Thank you!

Lisa Nowak said...

Wow, nice succinct advice.

Christine Hammar said...

Thank you for your advice!

Here's mine (comments are welcomed): "When the recently divorced fifty-something Mrs. Alisa Rask leaves her old life behind and moves back to her childhood village, she soon starts feeling like Alice down a rabbit hole. All the village has to offer is the local Red Cross Chapter, the Congregation and the ACWL (The Associated Country Women of Larvala). She joins the ACWL to avoid going barmy and to connect with her old friends.

After falling in the river on an ACWL reed collecting outing, Alisa is both sweaty, irked and wet. Her irritation quickly turns to horror as she stares into the dead eyes of her former classmate.

With time on her hands - and an inquisitive mind, Alisa starts to look into the death herself and soon clashes with her childhood sweetheart, now a police detective.

Her investigations lead her to a murder committed thirty-six years earlier. She has her hands full with problems of her younger sister when she realizes that her sister is next on the killer's list.

Can Alisa uncover the killer’s identity before her sister becomes the next victim?”

Regards from Finland