Elevator Pitch Critiques

red_pen-150x150How about some critiques of those elevator pitches? I’m impressed and amazed at how many of you contributed them in the comments to my post last Wednesday. Obviously I won’t be able to critique most of them, but hopefully you’ll get something out of these few that I’m going to address.

A couple things before I start. First, some of you acknowledged that your book is something that I might not represent—that’s fine, and it’s okay to mention that in your conversation. But don’t use it as a reason to avoid pitching—you never know, you could change my mind! If you’re asked what you’re writing, by all means talk about it.

Second, length is an issue for some of the pitches. Keep in mind it takes roughly 30 seconds to deliver about 100 words, which is a nice length for an elevator pitch. Too much longer and you risk being convoluted and losing the attention of your audience. Pay attention to that word count.

Okay, let’s look at some of your pitches, and I’ll share my brief thoughts.

From Michael Seese:

I’m working on a novella called “Udopia.” It’s set in the future…not the “Star Trek” future, but rather ten years from now, in a future which could come to pass. It’s a cautionary tale about what could happen if we as a society let down our guard, and give too much of ourselves to the government and, more critically, the Internet. I could not have written this ten years ago, because there was no Facebook, no Google, no geo-tracking, and no 9/11. But now, thanks to the first three–and others as well–our lives, our actions, our THOUGHTS, our associations, indeed our complete dossiers are online. And because of the fourth, the government has a vested interest–in the name of national security–in owning that treasure trove.

Michael, I like the thinking here and I’m interested in where this is leading, but unfortunately you’ve given us a premise for a story – a foundation or a setup. You haven’t given us an actual story. I don’t have a character, a conflict, anything to care about. I’ve simply been given a setting. You’re going to have to find a way to give the set-up in perhaps one sentence, and use the rest of your time pitching the actual story. Also, in a pitch, avoid editorializing about your story, i.e. “it’s a cautionary tale” and “I couldn’t have written this ten years ago.” Just pitch the story.

From Kimmy:

My book is a middle grade adventure called Trusting Trinity. Thirteen-year-old Trinity Bishop lied about getting abducted by aliens last summer, so when she runs into real ones on vacation, she’s unable to convince her parents she’s telling the truth. Together with her best friends Maya and Nick, Trinity sets out to stop the aliens from attacking her cruise ship. But when the aliens kidnap Nick, Trinity must figure out how to save him and prove she’s not a liar before her next alien abduction story comes true. Would you be interested in reading more?

Kimmy, I read this aloud to my 12 year old (and it took exactly 30 seconds—perfect!) and she said it sounded like a story she wanted to read. I agree with her. I like how you set it up by saying it’s a middle grade adventure, then you go right into the action. You give us three character names, just enough so that we see the story is populated with people, but we never get confused. The only downside to this would be that the story doesn’t sound tremendously original, but it does sound fun, so if I were listening to this pitch, I’d ask to see pages so I could assess your writing. Nice work!

From Joseph Finley:

I’d like to tell you about my historical fantasy novel, Enoch’s Device. It’s the story of two tenth-century monks who journey across Europe to find an angelic device with the power to prevent the Apocalypse, while pursued by a black-robed bishop who’s determined to bring about the End of Days.

Joseph, this is a pretty good, although a bit brief. It’s more like what you’d provide as a one-sentence summary. For an elevator pitch, you’d want to expand it to give your listener a bit more time to become engaged in what you’re saying. I sense the conflict here and obviously the “chase” element, but there’s not quite enough here to truly intrigue me and draw me in. Find a way to make me care about something or someone here. Who am I supposed to root for—the monks? If so, then perhaps focus the pitch in that direction, show me how the monks are in jeopardy, and let me know why I should care about that. I sense potential here but I don’t think you’re quite there yet.

From Lisa Marie:

Hi, Rachelle, it’s nice to finally meet you in person. I have a completed, single-title romance called “See Sabrina Run.” Sabrina’s a Chief of Staff who works for a popular state representative. Scuttlebutt under the dome is that she’s next in line to the Hon. Rep.s’ seat when he retires. But Sabrina has a problem: she’s got payments due on a posh new townhouse she can’t afford. So she takes on a renter: Gage. Radio shock jock. Totally politically incorrect. Totally not her type. Except there’s some serious chemistry between these two. Sabrina wouldn’t mind a “no strings attached” situation – she’s too busy to for a relationship. But there’s a man of substance behind Gage’s outrageous on-air personality. A keeper. And he wants a more traditional relationship with Sabrina — marriage, family. She might have to step off the political fast track if she wants to keep him. Is this something you’d be interested in representing?

Lisa Marie, I want to like this, but it’s sounding a bit flat to me. Maybe it’s because both characters seem like “types” rather than real people, so it’s hard for me to connect with them. I can’t see them together, so that’s a stumbling block, and I don’t see a real obstacle to their romance except that he might not fit into her political aspirations. I’m missing a sense of real romance, “sparks flying” type stuff, as well as a sense of intrigue. I’d like to see you set it up so that she has a dire choice to make, something I (the listener) care about. It would be nice if you could present some kind of twist as well—say something that makes me think, hmm, that’s different. I’d need this to be a little more exciting in order to want to read your sample.

From Taryn:

I write YA of all genres, and I currently have a high concept, speculative fiction novel. It is set in a future where science and the corruption of man have made religion illegal and laughable. Through a friendship with a girl with religious sympathies, the protagonist discovers a clue that may lead to a secret hidden by the government–a secret which may prove that religion isn’t as dangerous as the public believes. She decides to follow this clue, despite the fact that her journey has the potential to destroy the only goal she’s ever had: the goal to become her society’s idea of a god.

Taryn, this is intriguing on several levels. I think the “future without religion” is a fun, if not totally unique, setting for a YA novel. I’m intrigued by the secret she stumbles upon, and I especially like the last line – this is a protagonist who wants to be a god! That’s very nice. Overall it’s interesting and I’d want to hear more. I’d suggest you smooth out your delivery a bit. Don’t say “the protagonist” because it’s so distant, I don’t care about her if she doesn’t have a name. But it sounds like a good story, and next I’d be interested in checking out your writing.

That’s all the critiques for today! I’ll have more in a couple of days.

Q4U: In reading through everyone’s pitches on last Wednesday’s post, what overall impressions did you have? Are you noticing any common mistakes? How do you think you’d deal with hearing these kinds of pitches over and over, day in and day out?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  9. Douglas L.Thompson on July 30, 2011 at 10:59 PM

    I saw your call for elevator pitches too late to respond in a timely manner. I know your time is valuable, but I hope you will consider reading this one!!!

    Jake Justus, former Navy SEAL, now detective, inherits a cabin on the Oregon Coast and seizes this opportunity as a chance to start over again after struggling as an outspoken Christian in the New Age influenced City of Sedona Arizona.

    As he settles into the sleepy enclave of Bayside, perched above the roaring pacific at the edge of a misty temperate rain forest, he soon discovers controlling his outspoken faith to be the least of his concerns. A body is discovered beneath a pile of stones in an abandoned quarry with clues that strangely link to a twenty-year-old murder case, that while closed, remains unsolved amid the moss, moisture and decay that litters the rainforest floor.

    Armed with his training, discernment and the Holy scriptures, Jake Justus and his uniquely intuitive Corgi, Hardy unravel the mystery, bringing new things to light and shining new light on the past.

  10. Michael Seese on July 30, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    Since Rachelle was gracious enough to indulge in my request ti re-post…

    Here was the original, which Rachelle said lacked story, character, conflict:

    I’m working on a novella called “Udopia.” It’s set in the future…not the “Star Trek” future, but rather ten years from now, in a future which could come to pass. It’s a cautionary tale about what could happen if we as a society let down our guard, and give too much of ourselves to the government and, more critically, the Internet. I could not have written this ten years ago, because there was no Facebook, no Google, no geo-tracking, and no 9/11. But now, thanks to the first three–and others as well–our lives, our actions, our THOUGHTS, our associations, indeed our complete dossiers are online. And because of the fourth, the government has a vested interest–in the name of national security–in owning that treasure trove.

    Here is the updated version:

    Wilson White stares at the cold, hard walls of his prison cell and wonders exactly what he–an unassuming, 80-year-old, retired newspaper man–could have done to wind up here. The reality is, he doesn’t have to wonder; he knows. He had liberal thoughts, and dared to speak them out loud. And in the country that America has become in 2022, liberal thoughts like values and honor and freedom are dangerous. And dangerous people get locked up.

    White reflects on how we as a society let down our guard, and gave too much of ourselves to the government and, more critically, to the Internet. When he was a young man, there was no Facebook, no Google, no geo-tracking, and no 9/11. But somehow, thanks to the first three, our lives, our actions, our THOUGHTS, our associations, indeed our complete dossiers went online. And because of the fourth, the government decided it had a vested interest–-in the name of national security-–in owning that digital treasure trove.

    UDOPIA is a novella, complete at 35,000 words.


    I’m grateful for any and all comments.

    • Natasha Crozier on July 30, 2011 at 8:08 PM

      Way more catchy start with the character to relate to! I like that but I feel like I’m still missing a sense of where the story is going to go? Is it going to flashback and show how he winds up in jail at the end or is he in jail at the beginning and about to fight his way out and change the world? The second paragraph is still too much set up. I think you could get away with something like, “Google and Facebook were a windfall for a government tightening national security. Until government spying spiraled out of control”

      Just my two cents. Hope it helps! 🙂

  11. Debbie Baskin on July 29, 2011 at 5:33 PM


    My overall impressions were that I liked the succinct pitches best and that I needed to be wowed fast. Maybe, I have ADD or perhaps I am used to living with a man who clicks the remote after listening to about one sentence of a program. Consequently, I have learned to listen fast and form an opinion hastily so that I can slap the remote out of his hand when something catches my fancy.

    This made me realize that verbosity in a pitch is probably a detriment and a common mistake among those of us who love words!

    Honestly, I think that I would probably enjoy hearing the good pitches. My fear would be that I might miss a diamond in the rough if someone didn’t grab my attention quickly.

  12. Emily Wenstrom on July 29, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    Pitch/manuscript feedback is one of my favorite kinds of blogs to read. I’m still developing my manuscript so I’m not quite at this stage yet, but seeing real pitches and construction feedback for them is still incredibly helpful! Pitching seems less intimidating when you have practical how-to knowledge to work with going in.

  13. Claude Nougat on July 29, 2011 at 6:33 AM

    Excellent critiques, as always. But how depressing for authors! And perhaps, in some subtle way, it’s depressing for the agent too!

    Reading one after another – and here we only have 4 pitches! -, I begin to see the agent’s problem: it’s just one more story to have to listen to, and in the end, they all come down to standard plots…Oh, to find the unexpected gem!

  14. Lisa Marie on July 29, 2011 at 4:40 AM

    Rachelle, thanks so much for your comments. And yes, I was holding out on you! There is a critical choice to make on my MFC’s behalf that boils down to choosing her career or the man she really loves — but I didn’t lay the specifics for you.

    Mea culpa. 🙁

    I’ve been working with an editor and my critique group on how to polish my pitch so that the *real* conflict comes across. This is difficult because writers are told not to tip their hands so all the cards show. So frustrating. It’s hard to know what needs to be said and what needs to be left alone.

  15. Crafty Mama on July 29, 2011 at 12:44 AM

    This has been lots of fun to follow! I enjoyed reading all of the pitches. A lot of them needed polishing, but most of them sounded interesting! I think I’d LOVE constantly hearing pitches; I find a strange enjoyment from critiquing them. ;D Hmm, now I have to decide if I’d rather be an acquisitions editor or an agent! 😉

  16. Donna Hole on July 29, 2011 at 12:17 AM

    I guess I haven’t stopped by in a while Rachelle; I love the new blog look.

    I read through quite a few of them, and I noticed that many do not name the MC. They also spend a lot of time on beginnings like: my story is based on – – and reads like an – – and is about this person who has a problem with . .
    The pitches also focus too much on setting and backstory, and not enough on the specific plot/characters.

    Unfortunately, after looking at my own elevator pitch, I fit these molds too.

    Thanks for hosting this series Rachelle, and for all the pitch tips. I need to get back to work on the pitch 🙂


  17. Alisha Gabriel on July 28, 2011 at 11:29 PM

    Thanks for posting comments about the pitches and explaining your reasoning. It’s helpful no matter the age level we write for!

  18. Susan on July 28, 2011 at 10:50 PM

    Sorry, I forgot you asked how we would handle hearing pitches all day.

    I feel that I would become keen at recognizing something special.

    I don’t think I’d judge harshly if a person stumbled slightly during their delivery. I realize people get excited when put in a pressured situation. I do know I would need to hear something special to take the interview to the next step.

    I’m pretty blunt but I would try my best to say something, anything, positive to offer a sign of encouragement if I were not interested in a project.

  19. Susan on July 28, 2011 at 10:39 PM

    I enjoyed reading the pitches.

    It was a great idea and I felt there were some good examples.

    I couldn’t submit my pitch because my book is not finished.

    I came close to doing it in spite of my book not being complete but I felt uncomfortable putting my title and pitch out there at this time.

    I would love to see what your response would be.

  20. otin on July 28, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    Did I miss something? I didn’t send you one. Is it too late?

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 30, 2011 at 12:01 AM

      Yes, it’s too late. I have 150 elevator pitches and I’m only going to be able to critique a dozen or so.

  21. Michael Seese on July 28, 2011 at 7:28 PM

    PS: If you, Rachelle, don’t want to do the re-critiquing, that’s OK. I’m perfectly content with letting my peers engage in the discussion.

    But I certainly don’t want to usurp your blog.

  22. Michael Seese on July 28, 2011 at 7:11 PM

    Rachelle, thank you for picking mine out and offering your comments. Before I *do* I will ask…since this is a learning experience for all of us, would it be out of place for me to take your suggestions, re-do it, and re-post it as a comment in this space?

    If not, OK.

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 30, 2011 at 12:00 AM

      That would be fine but I’m not sure how many people (besides me) will see it!

  23. Beth MacKinney on July 28, 2011 at 7:09 PM

    Hope I’m not too late. I posted my pitch today. If I am, I’m still enjoying reading the pitches of the other authors and finding what makes them work.

    : )

  24. Jared Garrett on July 28, 2011 at 7:01 PM

    Rachelle, thanks for this. I had planned on 1 minute for 16 floors. 30 seconds is hard!

    I appreciate you doing this and hope good karma follows you for it. May you find a great deal on a parasol, sun dress, or Brazilian lemonade in the coming weeks!

  25. Colin Smith on July 28, 2011 at 3:01 PM

    I echo the kudos already given to those who submitted their pitches for critique. I was not so bold. 🙂

    Based on Rachelle’s comments and other advice I have read, the two things it seems that people (including me) need to bear in mind are: 1) brevity–you only have 30 seconds to pitch, and 2) pitch the novel, not the theme(s), your motivation, or anything else. It’s the story that matters.

    How would I handle listening to pitches all day? I don’t know. Part of me imagines it would be both a pleasure and a privilege to have writers offer me the fruit of their labors. Perhaps a little scary too, knowing that a bad pitch might have a great novel behind it. I suppose it takes a seasoned (and talented) agent to see beyond such a pitch and request pages anyway.

    Thanks for doing this, Rachelle. I look forward to reading (and studying) your critiques as you post them.

  26. HopefulLeigh on July 28, 2011 at 1:12 PM

    Very helpful! A lot of the pitches were lengthy when I scrolled through the comments and didn’t get at the actual plot. Because I know an elevator pitch is supposed to be short, I skimmed or skipped anything that was more than a paragraph. I can’t imagine hearing such long pitches all the time!

  27. Loree Huebner on July 28, 2011 at 12:54 PM

    Personally, I thought the exercise was challenging. I give a nod to everyone who put their pitch out there.

    I think it would be hard to deal with these pitches, day in and day out. I don’t know how you do it.

  28. Jackie Ley on July 28, 2011 at 12:23 PM

    Wow, this is challenging – think I might take the stairs in future!

  29. Taryn on July 28, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    Thanks, Rachelle! I’ve never done anything resembling an elevator pitch, so I’m glad what I have works. This was a great opportunity.

  30. Beth K. Vogt on July 28, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    I admire all the writers for putting their stuff out their for feedback–bravo. Each story idea had merit –and I appreciated the passion behind each of them and the work. Reading them made me want to sit down and talk them out more.
    A thought: You want your elevator pitch to make the editor or agent want to punch the “Stop” button on the elevator so they can give you their complete attention. How do you do this? Hook ’em. (Yeah, you’ve all heard this before when we talk about a synopsis or a proposal–it’s true for an elevator pitch too.) So: Is there a question you can toss out there to set up your story? Or a statement that will grab the editor’s attention? Use it.
    Here’s an example from my pitch I used for my romance novel, Wish You Were Here, which comes out May 2012: Can the wrong kiss lead to Mr. Right?

    My two cents … Can you tell I have fun with elevator pitches? 😉

  31. Nancy A on July 28, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    I’m new to the blog but loving it–lots of help and support here. My thanks also to all who posted pitches; I’ve learned from reading them.

    I’d feel really overwhelmed if I had to hear pitches all day long. Too much info and not enough emotional grab. So I’d say it’s important to remember to tell the story, not to tell about the story, which is easier said than done.

    A question on last Wednesday’s post (or a suggestion for another): You mention crafting different pitches for different audiences. Other than agents/publishers, who are some of those other audiences and why do they need a different pitch?

  32. Sarah Thomas on July 28, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    I was amazed by how wide your audience is, Rachelle. I would have guessed most of your readers were publishing in the genres you represent, but quite a few aren’t. As for dealing with pitches all day, every day? I think my head would implode.

  33. Richard W. Schlueter on July 28, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    RG, it is hard enough to write a novel, the promotion seems too daunting and mysterious. Your examples w/ explanations helps me greatly remove that mystery. Please keep it up and you may see my book published someday. Thanks, Dickie

  34. Joseph Finley on July 28, 2011 at 8:14 AM

    Thanks, Rachelle, for the critique! I suppose it was more like logline than a pitch. I had posted a revised version later that day, but suspect it may be too brief as well. I guess these pitches are something i between a one line description and the summary one might put in a written query.

  35. Kimmy on July 28, 2011 at 7:24 AM

    Thank you so much Rachelle! The feedback is quite helpful to me. Since you like it but it doesn’t sound unique enough, it tells me I need to come at my query from a different angle to ramp up the newness factor.
    I know you are not taking on middle grade for now, but I would be happy to send it to you so your 12 year old could read it! She would be the very first of my target audience! Thanks again. I really appreciate this opportunity to get your opinion on my work.

    • Julie Nilson on July 28, 2011 at 1:53 PM

      I hope you get a taker, Kimmy, because my 2nd-grader is a budding sci-fi fan, and I think she would eat that story UP. She’s still a little bit young for your target audience, so that gives you a couple of years to get that book out. 🙂

      • Kimmy on July 29, 2011 at 5:19 PM

        Thanks Julie! I’m very hopeful that Trinity’s story will make it out into the world!

  36. Debbie Moorhouse on July 28, 2011 at 7:07 AM

    I think Michael could save a lot of words just by saying that his novel is set in the near future. That’s a phrase anyone familiar with SFF would understand.

    I confess I had a problem with Taryn describing religion as being considered both laughable and dangerous in her society. Those adjectives conjure up such different ideas in my head that it’s hard to see them co-existing.

    • Natasha Crozier on July 28, 2011 at 4:58 PM

      I was thrown off by “laughable” as well – illegal and dangerous yes – but laughable made me question why it would need to be illegal. Love the idea!

  37. Research Paper on July 28, 2011 at 4:29 AM

    Your post include great detail of information yet you managed to keep it understandable.

  38. Alli on July 28, 2011 at 2:40 AM

    Thanks Rachelle and the brave writers who offered their pitches for critiquing. I really enjoyed reading through the pitches and it was great to see such a variety. For me, I felt some of the pitches were way too long and as a result, had too much information. I do admire anyone who can reel off such a long pitch perfectly because I don’t think my brain or mouth would connect well enough in an elevator pitch situation!

    Some of the pitches spent too much time on setup and not enough on the story. If I was in the room with the person I’d have to ask questions to get more information. There were also some great examples of pitches that cut to the chase, so to speak, and if I were an agent, I most definitely would have asked for pages!

    As for hearing pitches day in, day out, hmmmm…. how do you do it? I’m a pitch coordinator for a national conference in Australia in August, and I’ve made sure the editors and agents get a reasonable break and don’t spend all their time taking pitches in formal appointments. I don’t think anyone, no matter how keen, has the stamina to listen to pitches all day every day.

    As for me, I’m not sure how I’d cope hearing so many pitches on a regular basis. I like the idea of it, but I’m not sure how much my gray matter can retain. 🙂

    I’m interested to know if seasoned agents and editors are able to tell within the first line of a pitch if the story is for them.