The idea of the elevator pitch comes from the old Hollywood days. Back then, a writer might happen to find themselves on an elevator with a studio exec. The wisdom was, you should always have a pitch for a movie ready when that happened. You have the executive stuck in the elevator with you for 30 seconds… what brilliant idea are you going to tell them?
Of course, these days pitches happen much differently, and besides, an elevator is not how most novelists get their ideas into the world. But have you ever been in a casual social conversation where someone asks “what are you writing?” and gotten a little tongue-tied? Or been asked “what is it about” and been worried about boring them with a long description?
It’s time to write your elevator pitch! And just know…your elevator pitch isn’t even for those other people’s benefit. It’s for your own.
Why an Elevator Pitch?
So, what we’re talking about here is a two or three-sentence blurb that encapsulates a few elements of your story, giving the big picture while also conveying the point. But first, let’s talk about why this is useful…and trust me, it goes far beyond cocktail parties and elevators.
Having a clear, concise, and short description of your work in progress is one element in a strong foundation for writing a book. It helps you zero in on the most important elements, and gives you something to refer back to when you feel yourself beginning to veer off into the woods.
Also, a 50-word plot summary is easier to tinker with than a manuscript once you are thousands of words in. Let’s say that you didn’t have this clear idea in mind, and you just started writing. You take a break from your text for a few days and, upon revisiting it, realize that you are going in a million different directions and aren’t quite sure what to do. Now you have to rip apart the 300 pages you’ve written and put it back together, still with no clear map in mind. But if you’d had that plot summary, you could revisit it and play with it. What if you follow path A? What if you follow path B? Or C? Once you settle on the answer, you can return to your revision with a clear focus.
What’s In the Pitch?
For whatever you’re currently working on, whether it is a book-length project or something shorter, write a 50-word plot summary. We want the essence of what happens, not a beat-by-beat retelling. We also want to incorporate what we are trying to say in this book, the point we are trying to make.
Here is how we might do this for a well-known book:
Harry Potter is drawn from his world into a world of wizardry he never knew he belonged in. As he begins to learn more about it and develops his skills, he also learns more about his own past and the power he has inside him.
The first half of this summary glosses over what happens in the book, while the second half is really what the book is about: Harry learning to be who he was meant to be.
Here’s my working summary for my current work-in-progress:
It is a about three 8th grade girls who have been friends for years, and whose friendship is tested by their inability to listen to one another. When one of them goes missing, they have to work through their miscommunications and misunderstandings to understand who they are, both together and separately.
It’s not perfect, but again, the first half is about what happens and the second half is about why it is happening.
Give this a try with your own work-in-progress, no matter where you are in the process. Remember try to keep it at 50 words (which is, of course, harder than it sounds). Having a short elevator pitch for your book that briefly explains what your book is about and what you are trying to say, is a powerful way to bring focus to the story you are writing. It will bring a new clarity and understanding to what it is you are trying to create. And, bonus, you’ll have something to say the next time someone asks you!
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