Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Elevator Pitch

Photo by Dirk Anger
Years ago I went to a writers conference in New York City. The experience was amazing. Hundreds of writers were taking classes, meeting with editors and agents, and in general learning more about their craft and how to sell their stories.

At the time I had a New York agent, whom I'd never met. This was my chance to see her face-to-face. She had me meet her at her room and walk with her to her next appointment. And guess what? As we got on the elevator she asked me what I was working on next. Talk about uncanny! There I was giving my agent an "elevator pitch" (a shortened pitch about your story) in an elevator. I tell you this because, yes it does happen. AND it can happen to you, so you should be prepared.

I thought I'd share with you what I do to craft an "elevator pitch" on a manuscript I'm trying to sell.

1) Pull out the one page synopsis of your story. (If you haven't written one, do it. You're going to need it. In fact do several. For each book I generally have an 8 to 10 page synopsis, a 4 to 5 page synopsis, and a one-page, single-spaced synopsis. Why so many? I use the 8 to 10 page synopsis to help me write my manuscript. It has the bare bones. The 4 to 5 page synopsis helps me streamline the story for my editor, and the one page synopsis helps agents/editors/the art department/promotion and etc.) Now that you have your one page synopsis in hand read through it and look for the three things that makes your story tick: characters, plot, and what is unique.

2) Now that you know the 3 main things think of what would make your reader/agent/editor want to learn more about your book. Work on the opening sentence--the  hook--of your pitch. It can be a question or a sentence, but it should always have a hook.

For example here's the pitch I used for The Stone Traveler--It's about a sixteen-year-old boy who has been struggling with life when he is given a stone that sends him back through time to Samuel the Lamanite's daughter.

Here's an example of the pitch I used for An Angel on Main Street--It's about an eleven-year-old boy, who finds a Nativity being build in the center of town, but no one knows who is building. 

Here's a pitch for my manuscript, Chasing the Star--Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be have been in Rome when Christ was born or to have been one of the shepherds when the heavens filled with angels proclaiming Christ's birth? 

3) Once you feel good about the opening sentence/question, work on making the next sentence an element of surprise that shows how your story is unique.
 
For example, the next sentence in my pitch for The Stone Traveler is--I don't know if Samuel the Lamanite had a daughter, but in my book he does, and she's on a mission to find her father. (Samuel the Lamanite was a prophet in the Book of Mormon. Many of my readers know about this prophet and when I tell them this they always smile and are eager to learn more about my book).

For An Angel on Main Street--He tells his sick little sister about the Nativity and she tells him she knows who is building it. (This always peaks people's interest and makes them want to know more.)

For Chasing the Star it's a little different because I started with a question so my next line gives information about characters and plot--This is the story about a brother and sister who after a tragic accident killed their parents were each given a stone that sent them back in time when Christ was born, except the sister ends up with a Roman soldier and the brother finds himself with a shepherd family in Bethlehem.

4) This is the wrap up for an "elevator pitch". If you're pitching to an agent/editor the wrap up should show them that you know how to finish a book, but if you are pitching to a reader don't give away key information.  

For The Stone Traveler:
Agent/editor--The boy joins her in her quest, they are captured by King Jacob, thrown into prison, and strapped to a sacrificial altar when a violent storm erupts. This is when Christ was crucified and the earth was thrown into upheaval. The boy and Samuel the Lamanite's daughter escape and through the course of the rest of the story they learn about the atonement of Christ.
Reader--The boy joins her in her quest, they are captured by King Jacob, thrown into prison, and strapped to a sacrificial altar when a violent storm erupts. I'm not going to tell  you the rest. (This always hooks them) But know that this happens at the time Christ was crucified.

For An Angel on Main Street:
Agent/editor--He asks who she thinks it is and his sister tells him an angel is building it and when the baby Jesus comes he'll make her better. The boy doesn't believe in angels, but this starts him on a mission to find the Nativity builder and bring the baby Jesus to his sister. Along the way he learns angels are closer than he thinks. And with celestial guidance, he is able to find the one person who can save his sister.
Reader--He asks who she thinks it is and his sister tells him an angel is building it and when the baby Jesus comes he'll make her better. The boy doesn't believe in angels, but this starts him on a mission to find the Nativity builder and bring the baby Jesus to his sister. Along the way he learns angels are closer than he thinks.

For Chasing the Star:
Agent/editor--The sister meets Augustus Caesar, witnesses a chariot race, and after running for her life finds there is hope in finding her brother when she sees the star of Bethlehem. Unable to speak, the brother can't remember what happened to his parents, but after hearing the angels sing and racing to see the Christ child his memory returns. As he lays eyes on the infant he is at peace. His sister chases after the star to find her brother. Along the way, she meets the wise men, King Herod, and is given a choice to stay or go home with her brother.
Reader--The sister meets Augustus Caesar, witnesses a chariot race, and after running for her life finds there is hope in finding her brother when she sees the star of Bethlehem. Unable to speak, the brother can't remember what happened to his parents, but after hearing the angels sing and going to see the Christ child, his memory returns but doesn't know if he dares to be in Jesus's presence. Meanwhile his sister races to find her brother.

You may have noticed that for the reader not as much information has been given. And that the added information I'd give to an agent/editor could also be told to a reader. But here's the deal . . . most prospective readers don't stand still very long when an author is telling them about a novel. I don't know if it's because they are nervous, or just don't have the time or what. Some will most likely walk away after the first few sentences leave your mouth.  If I'm impressed to tell them more, I do. But it's good to have a shortened version. If the hook of your pitch has done the job, many times after the writer leaves, a prospective reader will come back and read the back cover blurb of the book. It's true. I've seen it happen time after time.

Elevator pitches need to be short, hook the person you're trying to sell your story to, and also leave them with a yearning to know more. For an agent/editor it also needs to let them know that you know what you're doing and that the story resolves.

Have you written an elevator pitch? What did you find most difficult? Do you have a tip that will help others?



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