Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Ping! How to Pitch your Novel in an Elevator

Image; http://www.bored.com/games/e3d-elevator/

You’re in an elevator. The doors open and Wow! Into the lift walks the agent/editor/novelist you’ve always wanted to meet. Yes– it's Ed Deskman, the editor from Deskman Publishing. Now the doors are closing and the lift is hurtling towards your floor. You have perhaps 30 seconds to pluck up the courage to open a conversation and tell Ed about the book you have just finished writing.
You open your mouth, but it’s as if your tongue has been replaced with a piece of bathroom sponge. You can hardly remember your name, let alone the plot of your novel.
A bad dream?
It should be the most wonderful stroke of luck.
The elevator pitch is known over the business world; how to sell yourself, your idea or your product to the director you bump into and have 30 seconds to impress. But an elevator pitch can work just as well for writers.
You might be thinking that you’ll never need it; even though you have a book to place, you don’t use elevators, and you never meet anyone from the publishing world. 
But you can use an elevator pitch in a lot of different circumstances. When I was writing my children’s novels I went to a Writer’s Workshop. As always, the tutor went around the class asking us what we were writing at that moment. An absolute brain numbing fog came down upon me. Then out of it, I remembered the short synopsis I’d just written about my children’s novel. I dragged it to the front of my mind and delivered its salient points in less than a minute.
“That sounds a really good idea for a children’s story,” the tutor said. At the end of the class she suggested an agent I might like to try. Within a year, that agent had placed Sweet’n’Sour with HarperCollins. So don’t turn your nose up at the much maligned word ‘pitch’. It is simply the verbal form of a business or other plan; the previously prepared presentation of an idea.
Like me, you might think about honing your elevator pitch down from longer presentations, such as the synopsis you may have just finished writing. A synopsis can be anything from 3000 words to 500; anything less than 500 words is best thought of as a ‘blurb’. Here is my 130 word ‘blur’ for latest Shaman Mystery, Beneath the Tor;
which will be released at the end of this year:
On a Midsummer night on the Glastonbury Tor, beautiful Alys Hollingberry dies suddenly after dancing away the night. Sabbie Dare and her friends are in shock, and when her shamanic guru, Wolfsbane, confesses that Alys may have unwittingly taken drugs during his ritual, Sabbie’s shock turns to horror.  

After receiving sinister, anonymous emails about Alys, her grieving husband Brice approaches Sabbie for help. She turns to the spirit world for guidance, but receives only enigmatic replies. She tries seeking some practical help from her boyfriend Detective Inspector Rey Buckley, but he is embroiled in problems of his own. Sabbie feels isolated, and as she heads closer to the truth about Alys’ death, a deranged killer is also heading towards a final victim, and both are closer to Sabbie than she knows.

This will appear on the back cover of the book, but if I recited those words aloud, to someone in an elevator, for instance, they would feel stilted, and they would also feel out of place; word on the cover of a book can fill in the missing blanks with pictures (of Glastonbury Tor) and words (such as The Shaman Mystery Series). So although you can start creating a pitch by paring down your synopsis into a blurb, you need to do more work again when preparing your pitch.
Don’t forget that being prepared is the fundamental point to an elevator pitch; it’s to stop that bathroom-sponge-tongue experience. Knowing what you want to say when asked to say it is impressive in itself; it demonstrates that the book is worthy of a good descriptor.
Turning your blurb into pitch takes a little time and effort. Start by remembering that the pitch needs to be brief, persuasive, memorable and compelling. It should also run off your tongue in a natural way, suggesting that you know your book well, rather than you’ve worked on a pitch!
So look at your synopsis and ask yourself what would grab a professional first. When reading the synopsis, they have already made  made the decision to spend time doing this. For the pitch, you have to think what would hit them verbally; what would stop them checking which floor the lift has reached for just the 30 seconds of their ride. Think about the business phrase, USP; unique selling point/proposition. Every book has a USP. Yours does, even if you don’t already realize that. Think about the story you’ve written and search out that uniqueness. 
The next stage, having written your pitch is to practice it. Practice being confident; if you don’t think your book is good enough to be published, no one else is. Being confident is not the same as being aggressive, however. Practice breathing so you don’t get breathless, getting the tone of your voice just right, and speaking slowly, not gabbling, even though the lift is hurtling upwards towards floor 101. Practice staying on cue, so that you' avoid being still halfway through when the 30 seconds is up. Practice your body language; assertive, confident, but not pushy. Practice both facial expressions and your body language in front of a mirror. Practice getting the delivery to sound natural. You might also like to practice not being so shy you don’t deliver the pitch in the first place. Practice opening gambits with an invisible elevator-companion.
“Can I ask, are you Ed Deskman? Only I’m a fan of Deskman Publishing. Actually, I’ve been thinking of sending you something. It’s about…”
Then deliver that pitch, no more ado. Remember that you'll probably never see Ed again, so it really doesn't matter if he thinks you're a little crazy. In fact, you'll only see Ed again if he likes your pitch, so battle on. Concentrate on two aspects; making Ed care about what you’re saying, and leaving him wanting more. Try not to end by trailing off, gasping for breath, or saying things like, “So…well, you probably think it’s rubbish.…” 
Instead, ask an open, engaging question that can’t be answered with a basic yes or no. “I’m wondering now what I need to do be read by one of your team.” This allows your lift-buddy a bit of lee-way; they can tell you what they’d tell anyone; the route you’d need to take. Okay, this will land you in the slush pile, but now you have a get-out-of-the-slush-pile card to hand; in your covering letter you will be able to say something like:
Dear Ed Deskman. I was delighted to meet you end of the Writers' Conference, last week, and thank you so much for listening to what I had to say about my book, and offering to read the first three chapters. As I said, this book is…
It’s not much, but it is a foot in a door. It will make Ed turn the page, and that's a small writing miracle. 
The lift has reached its destination and Ed the editor will be getting out any second now. Have to hand something you can leave with them; your business card, a bookmark with your contact details and the ‘blurb’ of your new novel. Something that will be later fished out of a pocket, hopefully just as your first 3 chapters are landing on the doormat of Deskman Publishing.


  1. I have just posted my elevator pitch on my blog as I'm doing a Pitching to Publishers Course. After reading your post and the suggestions from some of my readers I think my pitch may be too long and I've given away too much of the story line so I'm going to revamp it.

    1. It's so hard! We spend years and sweat blood getting our novel, script or presentation right, the final push of actually writing about the writing sometimes seems a cruel necessity.