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.
Thank you Rachelle. Given me a great place to start from. My first pitch.
[…] Your Verbal Pitch […]
[…] Another useful website is called “10 Tips for a Winning Elevator Pitch” by Rachelle Gardner (nope, no relation). Particularly useful is her helpful advice on the importance of distinguishing the verbal pitch from a written pitch. Her blog can be found at http://rachellegardner.flywheelsites.com/2011/07/your-verbal-pitch/. […]
[…] Hey I found a great hint for the upcoming conference from Rachelle Gardner […]
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[…] that I found helpful in preparing for my pitch sessions, one from Literary agent,Rachelle Gardner on “10 Tips for a Winning Elevator Pitch” and one from a 2011 WDC conference participant, Karen Booth […]
[…] Literary Management had posts with tips on how to pitch a project. Rachelle did a series with Crafting your Elevator Pitch, Your Verbal Pitch, and Pitching your Novel where she invited readers to leave their pitches in […]
So helpful! And well timed. I’m regaining the enthusiasm I lost simply by hammering out an elevator pitch.
(btw – you had me laughing out loud with ‘helloooo … you write dialogue!’ bit.
Yikes. What I meant to say was that, by writing an elevator pitch, I’m regaining the enthusiasm I had lost.
The elevator pitch did not cause me to lose my enthusiasm… 😛
[…] Gardner on Rachelle Gardner 10 Tips for a Winning Elevator Pitch “The purpose of your elevator pitch is to get someone to want to hear more. That’s IT. […]
I thought your post series from the last few days on pitches was so great I linked to it on my blog. Just wanted you to know, and thank you for sharing valuable information. 🙂
For me, it’s just getting over my nerves! 🙂
My biggest challenge in making a pitch is that the words in my mind have trouble emerging from my mouth. It matters not if I practiced or not. I’ll swap the order of two words or substitute another word for the one I want. The result is that what could have been a powerful moment ends up being an awkward disaster.
(Okay, perhaps that is an exaggeration, but that’s how it feels.)
The biggest challenge I used to have was having a canned “speech” ready. The person I came in contact with asked different questions and I was not able to deviate from my canned response without tripping over my own inadequacy. I learned to not memorize my pitch. That works for me.
Ouch. At 24 words, it looks like my pitch needs improvement. Thanks for the pointers.
Just remember that old bit of “equalizing” advice: just picture yourself naked and…wait, that’s not right!
The hardest part of pitching is being able to express the heart of your writing in less than one minute. Meeting editors and publishers at conferences can seem casual but you have to remember you are there for business and you need to get to the point quickly. Find a way to connect to him/her within 15 seconds.
Is this where we post our pitch? Or do we post it somewhere else?
I was forced to give up my index cards when I did a pitch last year. It went quite well and I got some great feedback on how to improve on my protagonist’s motivation.
That was at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference. The year before, Rachelle was our featured speaker. You are a really cool lady, Rachelle. BTW, haven’t I seen you on that show about following a crime investigation? (Sorry, can’t remember the name.) 😉 <3
I can’t wait! I just finished my pitch this past weekend. I’d LOVE to have it critiqued. I’m looking forward to the opportunity!
The hardest part for me, as for many introverted writers, is to “put on my GAME FACE:” the part of me that repeats, “It is not about me,” and just approach the agent or editor as if they are an interesting person I want to talk with. I say something quick and specific to let them know I think they are important. Example: to Gloria Jacobs, then Editor in Chief of the Feminist Press, “I see you are publishing a lot of memoirs this season.” To Rafe Sagalyn (lit agent) “My friend, (his client) book does not get the same display space as (competing book)–why is that?” Then I listened to their answers, and just keyed my pitches to fit in with their interest –much like a good salesperson (like Susan above) would do. I used the ONE SENTENCE description of my book that I give to friends and everyone else who asks me what I am writing. Mainly, I pretend to be confident, pretend that I do not care about their response (“MY GAME FACE”) and try to connect with them as a memorable person. Then, whether they ask for more or not, when I do query I can remind them of our conversation and where we met. BTW, Jacobs asked to see my proposal, even though, as she told me at the time, my topic was out of the scope of what they publish. Sagalyn was also open to seeing something from me, but I had nothing to send him at the time.
My one attempt at this had me stuttering, stammering and escaping in tears. I was quite a bit younger than I am now. I probably wouldn’t get *that* emotional. 🙂 I’m not a good public speaker.
Hopefully, I will never have to do a one-on-one pitch, because I don’t want to shoot more nerves than I must. It continues to sound terrible. 🙁
Elevator pitches get easier with practice! The challenge is putting yourself out there enough to feel like you’ve gotten that practice. Great tips, Rachelle.
Wow, super tips! I’m remembering this for ACFW! 🙂
Rachelle, what’s your opinion of reading your pitch from a notecard? I’ve heard from a pitch clinic that it’s ok to ask, “Can I tell you about what I’m working on?” and after the ok, then to ask “Do you mind if I read it?” It sounds above like you really prefer the conversational pitch without notes. Can you say more about that?
I can give a ten minute speech — no problem. Ask me to lead a three-hour workshop–love it. But if I try to talk with a real, live agent at a conference, my brain turns to mush and my mouth fills with cotton.
I look forward to posting my pitch in your comments soon and I hope you choose it to critique–especially since my query is in your slush pile and you are my “dream agent.” 🙂
I’m heading to SCBWI LA and I would love to hear your feedback on my pitch. Do you think you’ll be having the pitch contest before August 4th?
I’ll be embarking on writing and practicing my various pitches soon. Thank you for this. I’ll return to this post as I write them.
This may seem silly but the scariest thing about the verbal pitch is the fact that I’m having to speak. I’m a nervous talker. In my writing I feel that I’m a lot more expressive. When speaking I’m still a quirky soul but things come off wrong a lot of times.
I plan on practicing with friends and then attending a few writer meetings to get my feet wet. I figure we’ll start small and work our way up!
Great post though!
My problem with quick pitches is knowing when to cut out details. I’m pretty good at pitches about engineering projects/collaborations/etc. you know, the stuff I do for work. But my writing is a different matter. I want to provide enough detail but not too much. Usually I fall into the trap you mentioned the other day about telling the theme rather than the story.
My current work in progress is a literary science fiction work that uses four forms of faster than light travel as metaphors for the four major religions as described by CS Lewis. Abe Hannah weaves through from one form to the ultimate form describing along the way the need for grace and faith in many different ways. Ultimately he did find the only travel method that leads to eternal life instead of eternal death that eliminates the Trouble With Travel (my working title).
I think the most challenging aspect (or prospect, in my case) of presenting a pitch would be not getting carried away. I really need to sit and organize my thoughts–come up with a mental checklist of things I need to say about the novel. When I talk about things I’m passionate about, I tend to go on a bit. 🙂
I wonder if Rachelle’s worst nightmare is finding herself at a conference trapped in an elevator full of aspiring novelists. Hmmm… that could make for an interesting short story… 🙂
#7 seems the most important. I have heard this one a lot and it totally makes sense that agents would want to hear pitches that are passionate. After all, if a writer can’t get excited about their novel now when it’s still their baby, how will they be able to build excitement for it in the year or two after it sells and before it hits the bookstore shelves? Plus, if it sounds boring in a pitch, it makes sense it wouldn’t be an exciting read. So the challenge is, not being so focused on details or so shy that you can’t convey that spark of muse you felt writing the book when pitching.
I have a new goal, it’s to write one comment on Rachelle’s blog without an error. Here goes!
I love this blog. I think Rachelle is providing her readers with fantastic information every single day.
I sent a link to this blog to my daughter recently. She loved it and finally understood why it’s the one and only writing blog that I read everyday.
There’s one thing that stands out about this particular post. It’s the energy that Rachelle describes that agents hope to hear regarding a pitch.
I have a strong sales background. I was a successful salesperson in advertising because I believed in what I was selling.
That’s how I envision agents want us to feel about our pitch. If we feel excited about our work we should be able to convey this in a pitch that immediately captures the listener’s attention and leaves them longing for more.
That’s how each page of our book should be for the reader. They should be longing to hear more about the story and not want to put the book down.
Rachelle, you’re awesome and your information is written in a clear easy to understand manner.
Oh, dear. My tallest hurdle is keeping myself from chatting too much. “Oh, I love those earrings–they are the perfect shade to match your eyes! Where did you find them; please don’t tell me three summers ago on a cruise ship to Alaska.” Ten minutes into my fifteen minute interview, I panic and blurt, “I am so excited about my book called You Can Tame Your Tongue in Ten Easy Lessons. Would you like to see the One Sheet?”
Sigh. A little timidity would be a welcome change here…
That’s too funny! In my work I often tour people around our children’s ministry, so my JOB is to make conversation. Plus, I just really like talking to people. I can see how this might be a danger!
Not much time to comment here…off to work, but great post!
In answer to your question…for me, the most challenging part of the pitch would be – the fact that I am a nervous speaker. When my nerves are frazzled, they get me tongue-tied. When I’m calm, it’s a whole different ball game. Sitting with an agent or editor – pitching my book would be exciting and scary all at the same time.
I share the shyness gene with most writers. But I have learned to get to know agents and then send a written query. I have so much to learn and so little time. Sigh.
But it is all in God’s timing and I am enjoying the journey.
This is my first attempt at one of these..
Thomas Hayden was a quiet man with a new life until his past caught up with him in the form of a letter from his estranged father. He was dying, the impending death of the name Thomas bore drove him to London where his father spoke of a mysterious past. This unknowingly propelled Thomas into a whirlwind of mystery, murder and one secret society with unspeakable power. Does Thomas face his past or cower in the darkness?
It would be difficult for me to start the pitch because I’m so shy. I practice and practice, but on the spot, my throat tightens and I go red as a beet!
Oh, I’m a blusher, too. I’ve found that if you just keep talking through the blush people are very nice to ignore it.
I recently joined a Toastmasters International club, and that’s helped me learn a lot about the mechanics of speaking – both prepared speeches and extemporaneous speaking – as well as the difference between written and verbal communication. I get immediate feedback from 10-15 people each time I give a speech, mostly from editors/publishers. It’s like getting mowed down by a machine gun of rejection! It’s awesome!
ha ha ha …. you said soon- not now. Apparently, I can’t read at 11:30 at night!
I’m glad you can’t, Rochelle. I posted a comment saying I’d like to see an example, and next comment down – there it was! Thank-you.
Unfortunately, I can’t say if its an example of one that would work. I haven’t ever tried it. But if it helps I am glad. 🙂
I’ve written a murder mystery in the plot driven style of Agatha Christie. It takes place in modern day Montana, at the Miss Montana Pageant. The pageant director is killed and my protagonist, who is a pageant coach, is dragged into solving the mystery, because her client, the newly crowned Miss Montana is implicated. I’d love to send it to you, if you think you might be interested.
How is that? My first attempt at even thinking about this, because my impulse is to say “I bet you get tired of people trying to pitch you in the elevator, huh?”
I’m glad you addressed the difference between a written pitch and a verbal one. I do like to write out the pitch I’m going to speak, and then I memorize it-not word for word- but just the main points and that way, like you said, it comes across more naturally and flows better.
Love the advice to show your excitement! So true. I’m looking forward to some examples…
Me too. I’d love to see some examples of verbal pitches that work.
If we want to post a pitch, does it have to be for a genre you represent, or can it be any genre? I would like to post one, just for fun you know.
For me the hardest thing is remembering it while nervously approaching someone who I’d like to have a ‘significant’ conversation with.
I’d love a proper opinion on my pitch, look forward to the post.
I would not be able to say anything. I would chicken out. I am shy. If spoken to I would mention the weather or something lame like that.
I think I may have mentioned this before…but since I write historical romance with high stakes, my pitches convey the same drama of my novel. My most difficult thing to do, is pitch with that same level of intensity. I feel awkward, like I’m a really bad actress! What are your thoughts on tone? Should we not use words that are less “literature-oriented” and more part of our everyday speech (for ex. I use the words “savage beast”…never would use that in 2011 speak!)
Angie, this is hard for me too- it can get tricky, but I tend to lean toward more natural language- for me, saying something that feels corny or canned just pulls people out of the story/pitch instead of drawing them in. But when it comes down to it, I think if you’re natural and comfortable saying it- then they’ll feel comfortable hearing it–
The mere thought of pestering an agent on an elevator seriously leaves me anxious…especially as a newbie. Even though they expect it, and even though it’s something I will have to do, it leaves me pretty nervous-and I’m not even in the elevator yet.
I so feel the same as you, Jenny!!
What do you think of:
A Sappy Piece of Crap is a romance set in rural Bucks County Pennsylvania. Beth Erev, whose name means “Daughter of the Evening,” a young lady stops at the home of a young farmer and asks for permission to live on the back of his large property. Neither Beth Erev, nor the farmer, Ben Boker, can foresee the consequences of this humble act. Please consider a Sappy Piece of Crap.