An elevator pitch is for every author who wants to talk about their book in a way that makes people pull out their phones and buy it on the spot.
Learning how to pitch your book briefly is very important.
While you may not pitch your book in an actual elevator, you will be asked to talk about it in a concise and compelling way.
Most authors don’t know how to do that.
What is an elevator pitch?
An elevator pitch is a way to quickly tell someone about your book in a way that makes them want to buy it. Authors often want help writing a pitch for an agent or editor, but those are only two people you’ll be pitching. You’ll be talking about your book to regular folks in parks and airplanes for a long time, so a good pitch is essential for as long as you want to sell your book.
It’s also essential for the media. If you want to be interviewed on a podcast, YouTube channel, radio show, or TV, you’ll need a short, persuasive pitch. You’ll talk with the host for 20 minutes or so, and toward the end of the interview, the host will say, “Tell us about your book.” The commercial or outro music is about to roll, and you have a few seconds to make your pitch to their listening audience.
It’s usually one sentence with a maximum of 26 words. You can’t describe multiple characters or plot points. You must pare it all down to one high-concept sentence.
When James L. Rubart pitches his book The Pages of Her Life, he says, “It’s about a woman who stands up for herself for the first time in her life.” That’s his one-sentence, high-concept pitch.
If your pitch is compelling and interesting, the interviewer may say, “Tell us more.” At that point, you can give a short synopsis of about 140 words. Essentially, it’s your back cover copy. You need a short and longer pitch, but today we’ll concentrate on that one-sentence pitch.
Why do you need to prepare a pitch ahead of time?
Giving a Concise summary of your book does not come naturally.
Realize that talking succinctly about your book does not come naturally. Authors often think that when someone asks about their book, the answer will just come. It doesn’t. They stumble over their explanation or give a two-minute answer, and that’s too long.
James L. Rubart was in advertising for 20 years and wrote 15-second ads for his clients. You need to create a mini-ad for your book.
Pitch to Persuade Potential Buyers
Your pitch is important for your reader because it will make them want to buy the book, and they will remember how to explain your book to a friend.
Pitch to Influencers
It’s also important for the influencers you encounter. When you pitch your book to an influencer, you give the influencer the language to talk to their audience about your book. And when they talk about your book on their podcast, show, or blog, they create a word-of-mouth marketing buzz that will result in more sales for you.
A Good Pitch Lasts Forever
A good pitch is a multiplier if you do it right. Take the time to hone and polish your pitch ahead of time because you will use it forever.
When you prepare your pitch in advance, you can and should test it on others. You want to make sure nothing is lost in translation. And most importantly, you want to know whether someone can repeat it easily and accurately.
Some Questions to Ask Yourself While Crafting Your Pitch
Before you craft your sentence, you need to know what you want to say.
Your pitch isn’t a medieval run-on sentence, and you don’t get to use semicolons. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you need to know the essence of your book. Ask yourself, “Why did I write it?” The answer to that question may lead you to the essence of your book.
6 Question to Help you Discover the Core of your Pitch
The following questions will help you determine the “why” of your book.
Question #1: What makes my book different from other similar books?
If you’re traditionally published, you already went through this process when you compiled your comparative analysis in your book proposal. You need to know what makes your book different and why book buyers have historically purchased books like yours.
A list of similar books doesn’t mean there isn’t room for your book. You just need to do the work of determining and explaining how yours is different from the rest.
Clearly articulating your book’s unique angle will also help readers know whether it’s a book they’ll like. And when the right readers review your book, you’ll get great reviews. What appeals to one reader doesn’t appeal to another.
Question #2: What makes my book special?
Another way to ask the first question is to ask yourself what makes your book special. If you write romantic suspense, you need to communicate how your romantic suspense is special (or different). If you can’t articulate the special differences, people won’t take action on your book.
Question #3: What makes you, the author, weird, unique, or appealing?
We’re all weird in some way, but we often feel like we need to hide our quirks. The truth is, your strengths are often found in your “weirdness.” What makes you, as a writer, weird?
Discovering your uniqueness will help with your branding.
Think of the American Idol judges and how they look for “the whole package.” The contest isn’t merely about the music or singing the perfect song. The contestants who succeed are the ones willing to be themselves and throw caution to the wind. To those singers, the judges say, “You’re the total package.” It’s their total performance that makes them unique.
To learn more about creating a brand for yourself and your book, listen to our episode about 10 Classic Branding Blunders Authors Make.
Question #4: What makes my book weird?
Your book needs to be unique, but it can’t be too weird. Readers still want to know that your book is like books that they already enjoy.
Find the right degree of weirdness. If you’re having trouble, post your pitch in the comments of this episode at AuthorMedia.social.
Question #5: Who is my book for?
Change your pitch to accommodate different audiences because different elements draw different readers to a story.
The elements that draw a teenage girl to Twilight differ from what draws a 40-year-old woman to the same book. Both are huge readers of Twilight, but they read for different reasons.
Teenagers identify with the characters because they seem like people from real-life high school, only this story is more exciting because there are vampires. For the 40-year-old woman, Twilight is an escape. She gets to experience an idealized version of high school.
You would pitch the book differently to different age groups. It doesn’t change the book or the story. You just emphasize different features.
Question #6: What is the number-one most interesting thing about my book?
You’ll be tempted to pack multiple aspects of your book into your pitch, but by doing so, you dilute the most interesting part. To make a strong impact, pick the single most interesting point, and make it the basis of your pitch. To add more than one point to your pitch is to subtract from the impact.
For fiction, you’ll probably focus on your protagonist. You’ll be tempted to name the antagonist and the sidekick, but you don’t have time for that. Choose one interesting protagonist with one interesting challenge. If it’s done well, it’s powerful.
Question #7: Is your pitch is EASY to understand and easy to repeat?
Your pitch must be easy for you to say, but it must also be easy for readers and influencers (and agents and editors) to remember and repeat. If it’s confusing or complex, they won’t be able to repeat it to someone else.
The Subway Pitch
When James L. Rubart starts developing an elevator pitch, he boils it down to one hook—the element of the story that makes people want to know more immediately.
Book: Rooms, by James L. Rubart
Pitch: “It’s about a young Seattle software tycoon who inherits a home on the Oregon coast that turns out to be a physical manifestation of his soul.”
The details provide context. The protagonist is young. He’s in Seattle working in software. But the hook is the house that is a manifestation of his soul. Some readers will say, “Wow! Tell me more,” and others will say, “That sounds too weird.” Either way, the hook connects the right readers to the book.
Sometimes you need a five-second pitch. Maybe the elevator is only going to the second floor, so you need to shorten it. The shortened pitch for the same book is: “It’s about a man who inherits a home that turns out to be a physical manifestation of his soul.”
In the shortened version, Rubart has cut the details about software, Seattle, and the Oregon coast. Even though they add to the first pitch, they’re not imperative in a shortened version. Those details don’t contribute to the most interesting element—the hook of the house being a manifestation of his soul. It’s missing details, but it’s still focused.
To shorten the pitch more, Rubart says, “It’s about a man who walks into the rooms of his own soul.” That’s about as short as it can get. The second version is preferable because the listener understands it’s a physical home, whereas it could be misunderstood as a figurative journey in the shortest version.
Don’t put every worm on the hook.
When you’re fishing, you only need one worm to catch a fish.
You’re trying to catch readers, and you want them to do one thing. If they’re looking at your book in a store, your hook should make them want to read the back cover. If you’re talking to them in person, your hook should make them want to pull out their phone and read more at Amazon or Barnes and Nobel.
You don’t have to provide the romantic interest or the conflict at work. Just use one aspect that will hook the reader.
Use different bait for different fish.
It is ok to have multiple pitches. Adapt your pitch for your listener and test different pitches on various audiences. Learn which versions are most effective. Leave the audience wanting more.
You are an ad agency pitching a product.
In our patrons-only episode, we often get to read pitches and back cover copy, and we provide feedback on how to pitch your book. We often cut characters from the pitch. When you cut multiple characters out of the pitch, you can focus on the hook. If you become a patron, you can submit your copy for feedback.
Practice your pitch. Then practice some more. Practice every time someone asks what you do.
I can almost guarantee that when you say you’re a writer, someone will ask, “What do you write?” That’s your moment to practice your pitch. Say, “I’ve just written a novel about a man who inherits a home that turns out to be a physical manifestation of his soul.”
Watch their faces and see if they enjoy it. How do they respond?
If you’ve written multiple books, pitch the book that has historically piqued people’s interest most often.
You can also practice in our social network for authors at AuthorMedia.social.
The #1 Mistake to Avoid
Don’t be boring. When you see a person’s eyes glaze over, you need to go back and add some sizzle.
Auto Publicist Formula
Auto Publicist offers a formula where novelists can choose strong words to craft a compelling pitch. In two minutes, you’ll have a pitch. It’s just a starting point, but it will get you pointed in the right direction.
Use the “What if?” Motif
The “What if” motif works well for many writers. The following are examples from James L. Rubart’s books:
- What if you were given a chair and told it was made by Jesus Christ and had supernatural healing powers? (The Chair)
- What if you could have a conversation with your 23-year-old self? (The Five Times I Met Myself)
- What if you found a legendary lost corridor at the end of a lake, that if you got through, would give you what you want most in the world? (The Long Journey to Jake Palmer)
- What if you could find God’s Book of Days on earth that tells the past, present, and future of every soul? (Book of Days)
- What if you woke up one morning and the darkest parts of you had vanished? (The Man He Never Was)
Problem, Cause, Solution
Nonfiction usually requires a different kind of template.
Book: Courtship in Crisis, by Thomas Umstattd, Jr.
Pitch: “Courtship in Crisis explains why the marriage rate in America has plummeted and how you can avoid becoming part of that statistic by finding and marrying the love of your life.”
In a theme pitch, you don’t tell about the story. You explain the theme. You can give the theme pitch in three seconds, but it must be intriguing enough to make people interested.
James L. Rubart came up with his theme pitch for Rooms at the American Library Association event in Seattle. His publisher had set up a booth and wanted Jim to help draw librarians to the booth by giving a short, powerful pitch featuring the theme of his book.
That’s when he developed the theme pitch for The Pages of Her Life: “It’s about a woman who stands up for herself for the first time in her life.” It worked because it was focused, short, compelling, and it jelled with the cultural moment.
If your book is hard to pitch, it won’t sell well because you don’t quite know how it connects with the audience. That’s a huge warning you should heed.
Your Pitch Develops Over Time
Developing a great pitch will help you write a better book. You probably won’t get it right the first time. But with practice and feedback, you can develop a very compelling pitch.
Post your elevator pitch as a comment to this episode at AuthorMedia.social.
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