In this article, you will learn how to use a brief summary of your book to communicate the essence of your work in the most concise manner possible. Using the Elevator Pitch technique will help you to avoid agents and publishers misunderstanding the nature of your book.
In the previous chapter, you learned the importance of a tag line and how a tag line can be used to communicate the essence of your book. In this chapter, you will learn how this technique can be expanded to produce an Elevator Pitch, which is a brief summary of your book’s content.
What is an Elevator Pitch?
The job of the tag line is to grab the agent or publisher’s attention, using established schema to short cut to the heart of the book. The job of the elevator pitch is to build on this foundation.
If you use the elevator pitch in the way that I am going to teach it will allow you to clearly communicate the ‘essence’ of your book, and in the process help you to avoid any potential misunderstanding about your novel and its meaning.
The elevator pitch is a concept borrowed from the business world.
Imagine you are an entrepreneur who is looking for investment for a new business. You have arranged a meeting with potential investors, but their office is on the top floor of a large building. You wait for the elevator to arrive. After what feels like an eternity the doors slide open and you step into the elevator. The doors close and you look to your right to see the unmistakable image of Donald Trump. You know, weird hair, killing glances.
Now’s your chance to impress — this is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You have the length of the elevator ride to pitch your idea, secure his investment and live happily ever after…
This is fine, but you are not seeking investment. You are pitching a book, not a business. However, the concept remains that you have just a few sentences to explain the concept of your novel, whilst capturing the attention of an agent or publisher.
The Five Element Approach
There are a number of ways to write elevator pitches. Some people start with a mass of information, describing their novel in the finest detail and then work backwards, cutting and shaving until they have the bare bones. Other writers do the opposite, starting with the smallest nuggets of information and then adding only the essence until they are left with the outline.
I suggest that you don’t leave this process to chance.
The technique I am about to teach you will avoid hours of painful thought and procrastination and instead show you how to construct an effective, focused and complete summary of your novel in the fastest time possible.
For the past few years, I have taught writers to use a method for writing elevator pitches that I developed from Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Concept.
Randy Ingermanson is a physicist turned successful novelist. He is, unsurprisingly given his past, an advocate of planning in writing. He states on his site that, ‘good fiction doesn’t just happen, it is designed.’ He goes on to explain that when writing a novel, ‘you start small, and then build stuff up until it looks like a story’.
This is fine, but how’s it going to help you with an elevator pitch?
The answer is that you can take the outline of Randy’s Snowflake methodology and use it to deconstruct your novel’s narrative and themes. Then once this is done, you can rebuild the parts to form a coherent summary of your book.
You can deconstruct your novel by asking yourself five questions. The answer to each question represents one of the five key elements of your book.
Here are the five questions:
- Who’s the main character?
- What is the situation that is forcing the main character to take action?
- What is the main character’s aim?
- What is stopping the character from achieving their goal?
- What is the pinnacle of the story, the moment at which the character’s goal may be lost forever?
Before you move onto the next section, go find a piece of paper and a pen and write out the answer to each of the questions above. Please don’t skip this stage since it’s an essential part of the process. In fact, these five questions will even go on to form the backbone of your synopsis!
The next step towards writing your elevator pitch is to take the answers for all of the questions above and write them into a single coherent paragraph. This process is not easy and may take you a few attempts to get it right. Don’t worry, that’s part of the process.
The aim is to produce what is, in essence, a tight outline of your book’s plot. Once you have this in a single paragraph, you can then chip away at it and force it into just a couple of sentences.
As an example, I have taken the popular children’s fairy tale, The Three Little Pigs. Below you will see the steps I have taken to form an elevator pitch for this well-known tale.
- Who’s the main character? The Three Little Pigs.
- What is the situation that is forcing the main character to take action? Pigs have left home and need to make their own way in the world.
- What is the main character’s aim? Build three new houses.
- What is stopping the character from achieving their goal? Big Bad Wolf will ‘huff and puff’ and kill the pigs.
- What is the pinnacle of the story, the moment at which the character’s goal may be lost forever? Two pigs are killed and a third needs to escape.
Using the answers to the questions, I then combined the five key elements to get:
Three little pigs venture out into the world, looking to make a new home. However, vicious serial killer, the Big Bag Wolf, is on the prowl. After a terrible killing spree, can the last little pig — who is left with just a pile of bricks — escape?
Before progressing to the next chapter, you should have a workable one-paragraph summary of your novel. It may take you days, or weeks, to get to this stage, but don’t worry. Remember, this one paragraph will HOOK the agent or publishers, frame the book and force them to keep reading.
The final step is to trim the paragraph down to just a couple of sentences. I can offer little help at this point. You need to just bite the bullet and get trimming. To help you out, here’s what I managed produce for The Three Little Pigs:
With his brothers already devoured by a serial killer known only as The Big Bad Wolf, and with just a pile of bricks between him and certain death, the third pig fights for his life.
- A novel can be deconstructed with five key questions.
- These key questions provide the skeleton for your elevator pitch.
- An elevator pitch takes time to get right.
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