Sending a written query is nerve-racking enough. But imagine being face to face with an agent with only a few minutes to wow them with your book concept. While an elevator pitch won’t alleviate all your nerves, it can prepare you to deliver a concise and captivating book description that could intrigue the agent.
What is an Elevator Pitch?
At its essence, an elevator pitch is a concise and compelling summary of your book or manuscript that can be delivered within the span of an elevator ride. An elevator pitch typically includes key elements of your book, such as the protagonist, central conflict, stakes, genre, and a hook that grabs the listener’s attention. For nonfiction it would include the topic, unique hook, and brief summary of the core message of, target audience and benefits to the target audience, and why you’re the one to deliver the message (your expertise/platform). Its purpose is to generate interest and curiosity in your book and entice the agent to want to learn more and potentially explore further opportunities for representation.
Why should you have an elevator pitch?
The obvious reason to have an elevator pitch is to use it at a pitch session offered by many writer conferences. Especially in this case, in which nerves can get to you, having a crafted and well-practiced pitch can make the session go smoothly.
But other places you can use your pitch are at networking events with people in the publishing industry and at book events talking to readers.
Elements of your Elevator Pitch
If you thought whittling down your book into a synopsis or blurb was hard, you’ll enjoy the challenge of the ultrashort elevator pitch. You have very little time (30 to 50 words or 30-60 seconds) to deliver all the elements to intrigue an agent, so you need to make each word count and only deliver the most important elements of your book. Think short and snappy.
This is what I look for when taking pitches. We’ll start with the elements and then how to put the pitch together.
Fiction Elevator Pitch
Hook: Capture attention with a captivating hook. It could be an intriguing twist, a shocking revelation, a unique concept, or a tantalizing mystery that sets your story apart.
Protagonist: Introduce the main character or characters of your story including their goal.
Setting: Where and when does your story occur?
Central Conflict: What is the core conflict or challenge that the protagonist faces?
Stakes: What’s at stake if the protagonist fails or succeeds?
Genre and Word Count: State the genre and subgenre, and word count.
Nonfiction Elevator Pitch
Hook: Provide your unique selling proposition or compelling hook.
Brief summary of the core message and wordcount: What is your book trying to say, especially how is it saying it differently from other books in that topic?
Target Audience: Who is the book geared for and how will your book benefit them?
Why are you the person to write this book?: Share your expertise and/or experience in the topic. Also include information about your platform, an important requirement in pitching nonfiction.
Crafting Your Elevator Pitch
Now we’ll take the elements above and put together a 30-to-50-word, or a 30-60 second to a minute elevator pitch.
To create your pitch, you have a few structure options:
- Answer who, what, when, where, when, why, and how?
- Use your premise: character>goal>conflict.
- Use inciting event>character>action>stakes.
For example, here are pitches for Pride and Prejudice
- Who? Elizabeth Bennet, a spirited and outgoing woman
- What? Overcomes preconceptions and judgements
- Where? English countryside
- When? Regency period
- Why? Social norms dictate she is of marriage age, and without marriage, her family is at risk losing their home as women can’t inherit.
- How? Through her interactions with the proud Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth Bennet, an intelligent and spirited young woman from Regency era England, crosses paths with the proud Mr. Darcy in a dance of wit, attraction, and misunderstandings. (27 words)
Or using the premise
Elizabeth Bennett, an intelligent and spirited young woman from Regency era England, navigates the societal expectations of her time when she crosses paths with the enigmatic and proud Mr. Darcy in a dance of wit, attraction, and misunderstandings. (38 words)
Or Inciting Event, character, action, stakes (catastrophe)
When two eligible bachelors come to Elizabeth Bennet’s small regency era English village, she must overcome her prejudice against the proud Mr. Darcy to secure happiness for herself and security for her family. (33 words)
You also need to include genre/subgenre and word count. You can put it up front or the end, but many agents prefer up front.
Pride and Prejudice is a 122,000-word historical regency-era romance in which Elizabeth Bennet, an intelligent and spirited young woman from England, crosses paths with the proud Mr. Darcy in a dance of wit, attraction, and misunderstandings. (36 words)
Elizabeth Bennett, an intelligent and spirited young woman from regency era England, navigates the societal expectations of her time when she crosses paths with the enigmatic and proud Mr. Darcy in a dance of wit, attraction, and misunderstandings, in Pride and Prejudice, a 122,000 word historical romance novel. (47 words)
When structuring your nonfiction pitch, the goal is to show the book’s benefits to the reader and that there is a market for the book. Using a basic business elevator pitch is a great way to do this.
- What is the problem your book will solve?
- What is the solution (the message your book)
- How will this benefit the reader?
- Why are you different from all the other books on the same topic?
You know how people feel trapped by their habits and routines that keep them from living their best lives? Get Yourself Sorted is an 80,000-word how-to productivity book that gives readers tangible, doable tips on breaking out of a rut and doing more of what they love, without using fancy planners, block scheduling or the other same old tools that don’t work for many. I’ve used these techniques to run five business, work only 20 hours a week so I can be with my family of five, and play in a band in my spare time, plus I’ve helped others through my blog, my 50,000-subscriber email list, and one-million social media followers.
Note that this sample is longer than 50 words, but it covers all the points and doesn’t take long to say.
Here’s another sample:
Did you know that 81% of people say they have a book in them, but most of them never write it? Most report that time is what keeps them from getting butt-in-chair. Write Now is an 80,000-word motivational and productivity book that helps would-be authors find the time, space, and inspiration to write. I have used these techniques to write over fifty books in four years and have helped 50,000 others get their books written through my Substack newsletter and over 1,000 workshops.
Tips for Your Elevator Pitch
- Capture the mood and style of your book in your pitch. If your book is light or humorous, your pitch should be do. If it’s serious or dark, your pitch should match that.
- Practice your pitch until you have memorized it
- Be enthusiastic about the work, but don’t expect emotional appeals to sway an agent
- At a pitch event, if you’re practicing, let the agent know. That way they know to give you tips instead of requesting or rejecting the book.
- Avoid rambling, vague descriptions, and excessive jargon. Keep it focused and clear.
You’ve Given Your Pitch, Now What?
If you’re in an elevator, the next step would hopefully be that the agent shows interest, and you can hand over your card and let them know you’ll be submitting.
If you’re at a pitch event, you have 3 to 10 minutes with an agent. After your elevator pitch, the agent will likely ask questions which could be anything from:
- Is the book finished?
- Have you written or been published before?
- Are you working with or have you worked with an agent before?
- Why did you decide to write this book?
- Tell me about you.
- What are your writing goals?
- Do you have an author platform?
- What questions do you have for me?