The Elevator Pitch, Third Floor
I hope you’re learning something from this 3-day tutorial on elevator pitches. (I promise, agents and editors will appreciate your efforts!)
Today let’s talk about the process of crafting the elevator pitch. I think your best chance for success is to take it seriously as a multi-step process (because I know you have nothing else to do) and put some time into it. The effort will allow you to overcome shyness, discomfort with verbal presentations, and even nervousness around publishing professionals. Preparation always boosts confidence, and if there’s one thing I see writers struggling with, it’s confidence. So how do you prepare?
8 Steps to the Perfect Pitch
1. Write it. Craft your pitch 10 or 20 different ways and different lengths. Don’t skimp on this step. Challenge yourself to get out of your mental box when it comes to the way you think of your own manuscript. Even if you’ll never use some of your attempts, it will tap your creativity and help you figure out what might make your project interesting to someone else.
2. Record it. Speak all your pitches aloud into a recording device.
3. Wait. Let some time elapse before going back to your recording.
4. Listen. Go back to your recording, and take notes as you listen to each pitch. Which parts work, which don’t? What do you need to improve about your delivery? Piece together the best parts and…
5. Rewrite. Try to come up with at least five good pitches based on what you’ve learned.
6. Record again. And let some time elapse before listening.
7. Final edit. Take one more shot at revising. Finish with at least three good pitches tailored for different situations or audiences.
8. Practice. Now’s the time to begin using the mirror, your spouse, your kids, your friends.
Don’t get so “polished” that you sound unnatural, but DO get to the point where you know your pitch so well you can rattle it off without thinking much.
Rather than offering critiques today, I’m going to highlight a few of your elevator pitches that I felt were almost there. These have a chance of making an agent or editor want to know more:
John UpChurch: As a former atheist, I write with a heart to reach the lost and engage the culture with the gospel in a fresh way. So, my pitch for my novel, The Connection, is: Brent Nelson knows the road home, but he has no idea what waits for him there. When his brother falls under the spell of a New Age guru, Brent, a skeptic, returns to his hometown to shatter religious illusions. Instead, his rationality will be stretched to the breaking point.
It’s a story of suspense with the smarts to stick around and theological chops to please a Christian audience–with the careful attention to detail that I love as an editor. The manuscript is completed and in revision, and I’m praying for God to provide the right venue.
Marla Taviano: 52 Zoos in 52 Weeks. My hubby, 3 young daughters and I hit our first zoo on August 1, 2008 and we’ll end on August 1 of this year. We’ve done 24 already, and we’re having a blast!
The book is a story of our adventures and inspiration to other families to seize the day, live LARGE and do it all on a very small budget. Times are tough, but that doesn’t have to stop you from living a full–and FUN!–life. Don’t waste a single day!
David A. Todd: My book is a baseball thriller, the story of a Kansas farm boy who makes the big leagues, then becomes an unwitting pawn between two Mafia Dons who have a long-term bet involving his team. After persevering through a swirl of strange events orchestrated by the Dons, he finds himself in a cross-fire in Yankee Stadium at the World Series.
Sarah Salter: My story is about a beautiful, intelligent, 22-year-old judge’s daughter named Allie. She has breezed through life, a success at everything she attempts, and the apple of her Daddy’s eye. Her parents push her into law school, but she gets there and realizes that as successful as she is, she’s miserable. In the midst of this realization, Allie’s 16-year-old sister is in a horrific accident and falls into a coma. At her sister’s bedside, Allie has to decide if she’s going to follow her parents’ dreams for her or if she’s going to break out of the mold, find her own dreams, and in the process, maybe inspire her little sister to do the same.
Ralene: My finished novel, The Impossible Choice, explores the impact on faith and family when the opposing beliefs of siblings are challenged by anti-religious terrorists. The practical themes of terrorism and love balance the emotional questions of identity and spirituality in this 75,000 word Christian suspense novel.
Lady Glamis: “I’m writing a novel about Monarch butterflies and terrorists. I know that sounds weird, but it’s really fun! My main character is a CIA agent who was double crossed by his friend in the DEA. Nick, the CIA agent, is in love with a lady in West Virginia who is hiding his two daughters for him. You know, since terrorists are out to kill him. He’s been pinned for murder, and even the CIA is after him now. Sound interesting? It’s a mix of suspense, romance, and things that explode.”
Bryan Allain: “It’s called Prayers For Blowouts – The Christian’s Guide To The Frequent Collisions of Sports and Faith. It’s a humorous book that covers everything from a biblical history of sports to a Christian’s guide to playing Fantasy Football to the athletes who love to namedrop Jesus after a big win. There’s also some great stories from my life in sports that readers will relate to – from not making my little league team to where I am now as a sports parent for my two children. It’s a book that will hopefully leave readers entertained and encouraged that sports are more than just a trivial distraction to their spirituality.”
Jennifer @ Conversion Diary: I was raised in an atheist family and was a militant atheist most of my adult life. Now I’m an orthodox Catholic. I’m writing a memoir about that.
You can tell that each of these is unique and they don’t all fit an exact “formula.” But they each have some element that is intriguing. Even Jennifer’s (the last one), which is too short and should be expanded by a couple of sentences, has a nugget of interest for me.
For all of you whose pitches I didn’t critique:
→ If it was a one-liner, sounding like a tagline and less than about 50 words, chances are it’s too brief to incite interest, and it may sound “canned.” Work on expanding it to at least 30 seconds of verbal delivery.
→If your pitch was longer than about 150 words, it’s probably too long and too detailed or convoluted, so that a listener wouldn’t be able to follow your plot. Work on paring it down to 30-60 seconds, and remember that you don’t have to tell the whole story.
Thanks for contributing your pitches and submitting yourselves to my (always subjective) opinions! I hope you take this to heart and make the elevator pitch something you’re really good at.
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent who really enjoys hearing your pitches!
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So, what are you writing about?
Well, let’s see. I’ve just finished a story that’s set in northern England in 1850. It’s about a workhouse girl–the lowliest of the low–who tries to steal a peach from an Earl’s garden. She gets caught, but she’s mistaken for a boy and talks her way into a job scrubbing pots.
The garden seems like paradise to her, especially when she falls in with a charming apprentice who wants the head gardener’s job. He sneaks her into the glass-houses to get peaches, helps her feel like she belongs, makes her skin prickle. But there’s a problem. He thinks she’s a boy. And she can’t tell him otherwise.
When he stumbles on her secret, and learns she’s getting tutored by the head gardener himself, danger slithers into paradise. And the girl must risk losing everything she’s come to love in order to set things right.
I’ve written it for girls twelve and up; are you currently considering manuscripts for that age group?
>Recording your pitch is a great idea! Especially if you don’t have a live person to bounce it off of, like Camille said.
It’s like rehearsing for a play. You read through the story, highlight your lines and practice, practice, practice. When the curtain goes up, you’re nervous but you can do it because you know it inside and out.
Thanks, Rachelle. This is tough, but if we’re prepared, we’ll get through it without feeling like we blew it. 🙂
>I need this so much. Every time someone asks me what I am writing my introversion takes over. I have copied these lessons and will study them at length.
>Thanks so much, Rachelle. You put a lot of effort into your blog, I so appreciate it!!
>This was so, so practical and helpful. Just reading the elevator pitches these past few days helped get my brain geared toward thinking of my novel in those terms. And I appreciate your instructions on how to work on one. I’ll be taking my approach to those “chance” encounters much more seriously now.
>Thanks, as always, for the insights. When you show us the path, and light it with clear examples, you give us that greatest gift, hope.
>Thanks, Rachelle, for taking the time to spell out the specifics for us. I’m attending the Florida Christian Writers Conference at the end of February and will soon be 100% prepared for potential elevator moments. Perfect timing!
>Internet sevice just restored after the ice storm.
Thanks, Rachelle, for looking at my pitch–and all the other pitches. This was a nice service, and your comments on all of them will be helpful.
>Thanks for the worthy tips. By the way, will you be elevator hopping in eastern NC anytime soon? Just thinking ahead…
>Rachelle, what a tough exercise this is!!
I tried it again – hope this is a little better. . .
I’m polishing up a historical novel, Hope Springs Eternal. It’s set in rural Maine, 1816, “the year there was no summer”, during a time of famine and hardship. In my story Rachel, who emigrated from regency England, loses her husband and baby. Micah is a hunter and trader who served in the militia during the war of 1812. He hates the English, with good reason. Micah loses his wife in childbirth and now only Rachel can help his infant live. She’s overcome with grief and blames him for her husband’s death. When she’s injured he takes her in. She feels trapped, but finally relents insisting he send her back to England in the spring. Micah’s heart is cold and Rachel’s is frozen with fear, but they manage to move beyond survival to hope – and eventually love.
Here’s my one-sheet if you’d like to learn more.
(logged in before as carlaspathways)
>Thanks for all the pitching advice. You’re moving us from Little League to the big Leagues. (pun intended).
>Just a few editing comments –
John UpChurch: Try to avoid sentences with lots of commas in a verbal pitch. “…of a New Age guru, Brent, a skeptic, returns…” might read okay, but might lose a listener. Move the “skeptic” into your first sentence introducing Brent, and the later sentence will remind the audience of that characteristic because of how Brent acts.
Also, I’d delete the whole final sentence for most target audiences.
Sarah Salter: I’d suggest you start pulling items out of your pitch until you get to the heart of your story. Is the story about Allie’s beauty? Her age? Her intelligence? Her not being challenged (“breezes”=cliche)? Her relationship with her father (“apple”=cliche)?
And where does the novel really start, did you actually start with pages and pages of Allie breezing through life? If not, what is the conflict that starts the book?
Finally, wasn’t there a 1990’s TV series with a young lawyer named Allie?
>Rachelle: Thank you for this tutorial, and your overall willingness to help us succeed in our writing, even those of us you are not representing– wow!
>I learned at a conference that verbalizing what I’d only communicated on paper at that point forced me to think differently, maybe use a different part of the ol’ brain. Also, as I ‘practiced’ my pitch on fellow writers, I found out what elements of the story sparked the least and most interest, realized what made their eyes light up were the parts of the story Ishould focus on when nailing down what to include in a real pitch or summary. It was much harder than I expected to take what I’d so painstakingly prepared and turn it into a verbal presentation.
Definitely practice talking about your story with live people, and face to face is a bonus for that initial reaction, like delight, confusion, boredom, emotional impact, etc.
>Rachelle, this was an incredibly helpful string of posts. THANK YOU!
I’m excited that my pitch incited some interest. Explosions are always good, aren’t they? And butterflies. Who can resist those?
Great job, everybody! So many stories and ideas out there. It’s incredible!
>I enjoyed the pitch lessons. Thank you so much, Rachelle. Off to practice. 🙂
>Thanks for all the extra work this week you threw into helping us with this.
>Great end to the pitches series, Rachelle.
One thing I’ve tried is having my crit partners randomly call me on the phone and ask, “So what are you writing?”
That helps because it was random. I never knew when the call would come. It helped with the nerves.
Now I’ll use all your tips to help refine what I say when that random call comes.
>Thanks, Rachelle. I’m amazed by the time and energy you devote to this blog. What a blessing!
>Rachelle, thanks so much for the tips and guidance on this type of pitch. I have come here every day, to this little box, typed and typed, and then… DELETE! I think that I've finally got it.
So I'm hoping that today you'll still take some time to look at a newbie's last attempt. please? 🙂
–> Echoes is the book I wish I’d had as a teen. It’s a YA realistic fiction about a girl who goes to church regularly, but doesn’t really believe in God. She tries to live the double life, all the while growing more isolated, more frustrated, and eventually, suicidal. So few Christians are willing to talk about suicide. Echoes is based on MY story – my journey to salvation – and how I fought the echoes of that experience to find peace.
>What a great idea. Once we get it recorded to where we’re happy with, we can just keep it on our MP3 players and patch it into the elevator’s speaker system when we think we’ll encounter an agent.
>Thanks Rachelle, your help and guidance has been invaluable.