Pitching 101: The Elevator Pitch

Do a quick search for “elevator pitch” on the Internet, and most of the information will say it is a 60-second pitch of yourself or your product (in the case of writers, your book). But seriously, 60 seconds? What elevator takes that long? Unless you do this:
elevator-Elf-buttons-pushedDo NOT do this. Or this:

elevator threatAfter all, you don’t want the person you’re pitching to to feel like this is happening to them:

elevator scene - Harry Potter

So today in Pitching 101, I’m going to give you some tips on making your elevator pitch as succinct, appealing and not scary – for you or the listener – as possible.

Elevator Pitch tips

Of course, an elevator pitch is not just for that serendipitous moment when you happen to find yourself in an elevator with a top-notch acquisitions editor, it’s handy anywhere and anytime someone asks you what your book is about. Hey, you never know who has connections in the publishing industry! That random dude at a party might be the son of a big shot editor! But dreaming aside, the more likely scenario writers find themselves in is a 5-minute speed pitch with an agent at a writer conference. Which brings us to the first tip…

#1 – Keep it under 30 seconds.

What? But you have five minutes! Is the agent just going to stare at you for the remaining 4 and a half minutes? Hopefully not, but I’ll get to that in the final tip. First, know this: the purpose of an elevator pitch is just to get the listener’s attention, NOT to tell your story from start to finish. That’s good, right? Way less scary to plan – and remember – a short 30 second pitch than a daunting 5 minute presentation!

#2 – Start with the Hook.

Quickly state the book title, genre and audience, then get right to the hook. What is the most intriguing thing about this story? Express that in one sentence. Hint: the Hook is probably not the story world or backstory or plot. More likely, it is a problem that needs to be solved. It is the “if this happened, what would we do?” question. That said, the hook can be the story world if that world has an inherent problem built into it.

#3 – Introduce the MC.

I almost didn’t put this in the list because it’s so obvious! But then I realized I have something to say about it after all, and that is if your MC is not the hook, you must introduce them immediately after that hook sentence. Don’t make the mistake of setting up the story / problem / world without first giving the listener a person to connect to. You need that or you can’t do the next step…   

#4 – Target emotions.

The best way to get someone’s attention is to connect on an emotional level. So pick the emotion you want to convey and get the listener on your protagonist’s side. If your story is a comedy, make them laugh and cringe at the situation the hero finds himself in, but make sure the listener empathizes with the hero too so they care what happens next. If your story is a horror, make sure the pitch sends chills down the listener’s spine as they imagine what it would be like to be the hero in your scary tale.

#5 – Leave them wanting more.

So what happens when your quick elevator pitch is over? Well, hopefully a conversation begins about your book! If your pitch presented an intriguing protagonist with a problem, your audience should want to know what happens to them and how they approach the problem. In short, design your pitch to prompt the listener to ask for more information about your novel. Then relax – you’re no longer pitching, you’re just chatting with someone who’s keen to know all about your book!

Not that scary, right? What about you guys – do you have tips on nailing an elevator pitch?


Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

8 thoughts on “Pitching 101: The Elevator Pitch”

  1. After working on my historical novel for nearly so many years now and with the final draft finally coming to a close, I have had the most difficult time with this! Thanks so much for this. It helps a lot!

  2. Ah, the elevator pitch. Now that I’m as close as I’ve ever been to having to do this, I know I can’t. I don’t have a genre or audience (at least that I know of). I know. I’m doomed. But, I will keep writing. 🙂

      1. I’ve looked through that already thinking my book must be here somewhere. Alas, I’m genre-free. (Especially if you take into account the agents who say certain genres aren’t “real”. Like speculative fiction, which mine is closest to.) I’ll take a peek again, though. Thanks. 🙂

        1. Some agents say spec fic isn’t a real genre? That’s weird! I wonder if there’s an agent chat somewhere that helps novelists define their books genre. Either way, hope you figure it out.

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