To make it up to you, my loyal readers, I've decided to make this week's post extra juicy. This week, I thought we'd take a look at the dreaded "elevator pitch."
Also called a "pitch line," an elevator pitch is a very short description of your story used to quickly and succulently entice an agent or editor (or anyone else who may be interested) into reading your story. You know, like when you're at a writers' conference and the agent of your dreams walks up to you and says, "So, what's your book about?" and you, the unprepared author, begin stammering nonsensical things about how it's kind of funny but also kind of tragic because it's about a dog who loses his fur due to a mysterious illness, who then tries to find a coat so he won't freeze to death in winter, only to discover that he's allergic to wool, cotton, and polyester blends, and then (pause for massive inhale) because of a severe allergic reaction he ends up in a dog hospital with a really nasty rash that mars his handsome features and then he falls in love with his nurse, who is part poodle and part basset hound and not pretty at all (aside from her gorgeous poodle hairdo), so the dog (his name is Doug) tries to hide his love because he doesn't think his family will approve of his having a crossbreed girlfriend (even tough she accepted him when he was all scabby and icky---totally hypocritical. Can you see how that's super hypocritical?), but then winter comes and Doug nearly dies, so to save Doug's life, the poodle cross (her name is Sandy) shaves her own fur and knits Doug (did I tell you already that his name is Doug---the furless dog?) a sweater and it ends up that he's not allergic to Sandy's fur, so because of Sandy's sweater, Doug is able to remain in Iceland with his family (I think I forgot to mention that the story takes place in Iceland) and then Doug and Sandy decide to get married but Doug's family still won't accept her, and then Doug's long-lost uncle comes to town and---
It's right about then that you pass out from lack of oxygen and the agent begins to cry (and the tears are not because your story pitch is so touching or because she fears for your health).
With the advent of the Internet, wondrous thing that it is, some of these looking-like-a-boob-and-blowing-my-one-and-only-shot fears have been reduced. For example, back in April, I (and many, many, many other authors) participated in something called Pitch Madness on Twitter. Basically, within the allotted number of letters Twitter gives you to make a tweet, using a specific hashtag, authors were invited to pitch their stories during a twelve hour period to an alarmingly large host of agents and editors who sat back and read the pitches as they came in (and they came in alright, at the rate of several dozen per second!). This sort of thing reduces some stress for introverted authors who do not do well pitching in person (ahem!) but it accentuates the need for a really kick-ass elevator pitch.
A furless dog with mysterious health problems finds love and a cure all rolled into one expertly coiffured package.
How's that for our story about Doug?
There are some things you should include in your elevator pitch, and some things you should leave out. Obviously, the main theme of your story needs to go in (in the case of our story about Doug, "love conquers all" is the theme). You should add in a hint of the conflict (here, it's Doug's mysterious health problems) and if you can do it without dissolving the hook, include a bit of the resolution (Doug finds love and a cure!).
Things that do not need to go into an elevator pitch are names (UNLESS your story is about John Lennon or someone else equally as well-known) locations (again, unless the story's location is vital to the plot) and leading questions (leave your readers asking questions, don't do the asking for them). Here is an example of a terrible elevator pitch: Zolfar needs to save his world, a far-off planet called Doldus, but at what cost?
Elevator pitches are almost always in the present tense, even if the story they are describing is not. This next bit takes some practice, but if you can manage to get your writing "voice" into your pitch, you are well on your way to having a stand-out pitch. Leave your pitchee asking questions that absolutely MUST be answered by including a really great hook. Oh, and try to keep it under 30 words if you can, even for your 200k word epic fantasy.
Easy, yes? (No?)
Now, I'd like to hear your elevator pitch. In the comments section, I invite you to test your chops. If you're having trouble, that's okay. We can work on it together.