Your Verbal Pitch
10 Tips for a Winning Elevator Pitch
Continuing on our theme of pitching your book… today I’m going to give a few tips on creating a brief verbal pitch for your book.
1. Remember that you are going to be talking to someone. While many of these tips can apply to written pitches, pay attention to the fact that there are differences between verbal and written pitches. There’s a huge difference between the way people speak and the way they write. Many people have trouble with this and I start hearing the “we’re writers, not speakers” bit. Hellooooo, as writers, you need to be able to capture on the page the way people speak. It’s called dialogue.
2. The purpose of your elevator pitch is to get someone to want to hear more. That’s IT. There is no other purpose. The corollaries to that are: (1) You most likely won’t get someone to request more if your pitch is less than 40 words and it sounds like a canned tagline from your proposal; and (2) You most likely won’t get someone to request more if your pitch is too detailed, too long, and their eyes glaze over after 15 seconds.
3. Craft your pitch appropriately. It should be 30 to 60 seconds, and it needs to end with a question, “call to action” or other appropriate closer.
4. Content is as important as your delivery. Of course, if the content of a pitch is uninspiring or uninteresting, it won’t matter if it’s well-delivered and the perfect length. Sometimes an uninspiring pitch is merely evidence that you haven’t figured out how to convey the unique and exciting essence of your book in a few words. This is a solvable problem. Unfortunately, if it’s due to an uninteresting book, there’s not much you can do to save it. Bummer, but true.
5. Always be prepared. You never know when you’re going to come across someone who will ask, “So what’s your book about?” At conferences, there are mealtimes, hallway chatting times, elevator times, and countless other times when someone might ask you The Question. Or, you might not even be at a conference. You could be like my new friend Tara who was sitting next to me at our kids’ volleyball game. Although neither of us realized it, at that very moment I had a query from her in my inbox. She didn’t even know I was an agent. We chatted and finally put it together (“OMG! You’re an agent? You’re Rachelle?”) and I asked her The Question. She did a pretty good job with her pitch. Always have yours ready, too!
6. Know your goal. I already mentioned you should end your pitch appropriately. Remember, you’re speaking with someone. So know your desired outcome, and craft your closing line accordingly. If you’re just trying to interest someone, consider a generic closer such as, “Does that sound like something you’d look at?” That lets the listener know you’re finished speaking and avoids the awkward silence that can follow an abruptly ending pitch. It lets the listener respond however they’d like, and if they’re interested, they’ll ask questions.
7. Show your passion. Act like a parent showing off pictures of their newborn or their star little league pitcher. If you’re not excited about your project, nobody else will be.
8. Use your time wisely. Agents and editors are just like you—they’re way too busy and constantly overloaded with information. They have to make quick decisions about what deserves their attention and what doesn’t. Your job is to immediately grab their attention and don’t let it go. Work hard at making your pitch as compelling or intriguing as possible.
9. Don’t get ahead of yourself. The purpose of an elevator pitch is not to close a deal. It’s to interest your audience in continuing to talk. I’ve been in situations where I received an elevator pitch and immediately responded, “Do you have time for a cup of coffee?” That’s what you want.
10. Act natural. I’m not buying anyone’s excuses about the difficulty of trying to “sound natural” when you’ve practiced your pitch to death. The point is to get your pitch down so that you understand the basics of what to convey in a brief amount of time. Learn the difference between telling too much and not enough. Avoid taglines that sound “canned.” Once you’ve gotten the feel for how a verbal pitch works, try writing a few variations of yours. Then when the time comes, you’ll be able to rattle it off naturally because you’re not only comfortable with the format, you’re comfortable with your project. Plus it will be easy to vary your pitch depending on your audience. You may never be totally at ease with a verbal pitch, but you can become comfortable enough that your conversation flows naturally. I’ve heard enough successful pitches from shy introverted writers that I know it’s possible.
What’s the most challenging aspect of creating a verbal pitch?
Start thinking about your pitch… soon I’m going to ask you to post one here in the comments and I’ll be choosing some to critique on the blog.