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Think Fast! 10 Minutes to the Perfect Elevator Pitch

Picture this: you’re chilling in an elevator, minding your own business, when Matt Lauer (host of the Today Show and my favorite celebrity example) hops onboard. He’s yammering away on his phone, lamenting the loss of an author guest. As the doors close, he tells the person on the other end to find a replacement quickly and hangs up.

He turns toward you and catches your eye, prompting him to ask, jokingly, if you’re an author. Your heart leaps! This is your moment, your chance to make it big!

You clear your throat and say, “Actually, I am an author.”

“Really?!” he exclaims. “What’s the name of your book? What’s it about?

Crap. Your mind goes blank. How can you possibly condense the merits of an 80,000 word novel into a few sentences? How can you convince him to learn more? Before you know it, 20 seconds of silence have elapsed and your floor is rapidly approaching. You rush to get the words out.

“Well, ahem, see, there’s this, well, girl — and, um, she –” *ding*

The elevator arrives at your floor.

Matt gives you a wary look as you step out, sheepishly. Your moment, your golden opportunity, is gone.

What’s My Book About? Excellent Question!

How would you react when faced with such a situation? Or, maybe you’ve been there already — have you struggled to find the words when asked to describe your book? You’re not alone! Many authors don’t know how to describe their book in a way that not only keeps the listener’s attention, but makes them want to learn more.

Being asked what your book is about can make you feel like you’re under those Law and Order-type interrogation lights. It’s totally understandable — it’s an overwhelming and pressure-filled situation, for sure. But it’s imperative not only that you have an answer, but a stellar one. This is THE #1 question authors are asked. So, how do you prepare?

Mind Blanking Be GONE — Craft Your Elevator Pitch

You may or may not realize this, but when you’re asked to describe your book, the answer you give is called an “elevator pitch.” This is the formal name for any quick, catchy pitch you can deliver in the time it takes for an elevator to reach its destination (like in the example with Matt). By preparing your elevator pitch in advance, you’re ready for whenever (and wherever) this question comes up! The best part? We can craft that winning pitch in just ten minutes.

Minute 1

Decide on the goal of your pitch. Do you want the listener to visit your website? Follow you on Twitter? Send you an e-mail? Google your book? Choose what your pitch will convince the listener to do. Remember, you’re probably not going to make a book sale right there in the elevator. Focus on what you want the listener’s next step to be!

Minutes 2-4

Brainstorm 3 potential opening lines. If one of your opening lines is “It’s about this (girl/boy/man/woman) named ____…” cross it out and try again. Similar to the beginning of a blog post (or your novel), you want something attention-grabbing that will grant you the listener’s attention for the rest of your pitch.

Minutes 5-7

Write a 20-30 second pitch. Any shorter and you’ll sound like an advertisement, longer and you’ll lose your listener. Keep your goal in mind! Use your skill as a writer and passion for your book to craft your pitch in such a way that piques the listener’s interest, encouraging them to learn more. Focus on being compelling and intriguing but DON’T overthink it!

As for your pitch’s content, every pitch is unique, but some of the questions your pitch can answer include:

  • What is your book about?
  • Who is your book for?
  • Is there a particular genre or author you can compare or contrast your work to?
  • Have you received any awards or glowing reviews from famous reviewers?

Minute 8

Decide on a closing line. Make it an active call to action, perhaps a question. It can be something as simple as, “Does it sound like something you’d be interested in?” This is the final step in guiding the listener toward your goal.

Minute 9

Edit your pitch. Focus on removing unnecessary words and making it sound natural. Read it out loud and be sure it’s in your natural speaking voice, not your writing voice! Ensure it is clearly directed toward your goal.

Minute 10

Make your pitch work even harder by including any of the following (if you can do it in a way that doesn’t sound forced): your website address, Twitter username, email address, etc. Alternately, consider carrying a business card or bookmark with information about you and your book. Make it easy to hand out at a moment’s notice!

Pitch, Rinse, Repeat

Remember, your pitch won’t be perfect the first time. Every time you give it, however, you can refine your pitch and make it even more effective. I definitely recommend practicing on friends and family first! They’ll give you feedback you hadn’t thought of and help you work out any jitters BEFORE you meet Matt in that elevator.

Talk Back!

Now that you have a pitch in hand, we want to know: have you ever had an opportunity to espouse about your book? How did it go? Or, if you’ve been using an elevator pitch for years, tell us: how has it evolved? Has it helped you sell books? Share your experience in the comments below!

  • Great post. Really makes you think about the true meat of your story. I frequently get lost in the details.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Ava! Have you been able to work on your pitch?

  • Great post Toni!  It is so crucial to have a great elevator pitch in your back pocket, no matter what you do.  I certainly appreciate the importance of practicing your pitch, as we’ve seen that working out the kinks now will pay dividends later!

    • Thanks, John! Practicing the pitch really is important — it’s one thing to think you’ve got it down in your head, but quite another to effectively use it when the time comes. I know I’m especially prone to freezing when put in the spotlight unless I’ve put in lots of practice (but that might be my crazy introvertedness speaking)!

  • Sally Wiener Grotta

    Well-thought out post and very useful. Yes, I’ve developed several different elevator pitches through my career (as a non-fiction writer and photographer), and for the most part, they’ve given me some great opporturnities and entres. However, when it comes to pitching my fiction, I’ve found it much more difficult. I’m too emotionally tied to my stories and novels. You’ve inspired me to rethink my approach re my fiction pitches. Thank you. ( I’m sharing this post in my social networks, because I feel it would help others, too.)

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Sally! We’d love for you to come back and share your pitch once you’ve perfected it :-)

  • I’ve read a lot of how-to’s for crafting an elevator pitch, and this is by-far my favorite! Thanks, guys :) The steps you lay out are fantastic. I’ve mostly only had the opportunity to pitch my book through emails, but writing those has actually been great practice in crafting the elevator speech, using the same principles you outline here.

    • Thanks, Dana! I’m so glad you found it helpful. And, even if it’s only through email, the more practice you can get, the better!

  • Jack Morgan

    Here goes:
    “It’s (Faithfully) about the degradation of morality in America seen through the eyes of a middle-aged man who lost his wife to cancer and struggles with a choice, to have an affair with his high school sweetheart, or to remain faithful to his wife forever, even though she’s dead.”
    -forced pause-
    “Does that sound like something you’d be interested in?”

    How does that sound?

    • Sounds great, Jack! I especially like that you included the “ask” at the end. *high-five*

  • Great post! I had never thought to add a call-to-actiony bit at the end; I like it! It gets rid of the dead air /after/ you’ve finished your blurb, so that the asker isn’t stuck saying something dull (“oh”) or automatic (“that sounds neat”). I think it makes the pitch into a discussion more than an advertisement, which is nice :) Thanks!

    • Yes, it naturally leads into more of a conversation, which is nice. Makes the whole thing a bit less awkward, right? Thanks for commenting, Madison!

  • Dana Rae

    This post helped me to explore the deeper issues and point of my main WIP. I discovered themes about my story and characters that I hadn’t even realized. Thanks!

  • So helpful, hard to sell a book if you don’t know how to promote it. My book is a raw journey about teens, foster care, adoption and finding family. It tackles a lot of issues and that makes it hard to wrap it up into a quick overview but I have done it. Getting better and better at the elevator approach.

  • oneohone1@comcast.net

    helped me get to the point of the pitch! thx, HGB

  • R.M.S

    Great tips but I’m afraid I still struggle with my pitch. Do you have any advice on what to do when you have a plot within a plot? To clarify, my book (Araman) starts with an alliance between two Kingdoms that requires a Knight to kill a unicorn for its horn but is also about a plot to use a ritual called the ‘sinner’s pledge’ that allows the ‘sinner’ to control the will of an Araman and use her power to heal and hurt however he wishes. Very long winded and doesn’t make much sense. .. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated ^_^ r.m.s

  • Caitsly

    Go writers! I’m an actor but love reading writer’s blogs because, well, they’re well- written. Here goes a pitch
    what do i want them to do?
    think of me a professional, an up and comer, and tell people about my work or keep me in mind.

    Opening line:
    I create fantastic characters that have appeal and work for people who have compelling, relateable stories to tell.
    The meat:
    I’ve trained in acting and study the market as well as the audience, so I can present the right package that captivates an audience.
    Closing:
    Big movies are my thing, like Star Wars, but now I’m doing spokesperson work, tons of theater, and hunt down the best indie films.

    as an optional closer
    Do you know any film industry folks?

    Now I just have to practice it! thanks!

  • Don Ledger

    I like this posting. Marketing my indie novel #Blood Shock is a priority, but I often get asked that question and am usually stymied in coming up with a good, short description of Blood Shock.