Justine: The Evolution of an Elevator Pitch

eight ladies writing, elevator pitch, RWAWell, it’s nearly conference time (I’m likely en route as you read this…or getting ready, anyway) and I’m eagerly looking forward to RWA Nationals. In preparation for my agent appointment on Friday (and the inevitable question from strangers, “What are you working on?”), I’ve been honing my elevator pitch (also knows as “describe-your-book-in-about-45-seconds-or-less”).

The (dreaded) elevator pitch (also called a log line) is a short blurb about your book that you can spew out in the time it takes you to go from the 35th floor to the lobby, and that’s not talking like a radio announcer who does all the legal jargon at the end of a car commercial. Your elevator pitch should be short, descriptive, and include the basic GMC for your main character, as well as setting and, if you have time, what sets your book apart from others. Save the discussion of your other characters and subplots for when your new elevator friend invites you to join them for a drink at the bar.

While my pitch may not be perfect, I thought it’d be helpful to show you its evolution. (Ya’ll know I’m not afraid to show you my work in progress — see Five Weeks of Analyzing Common Mistakes.)

To write my pitch, I borrowed the first step from Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. He says to write a one-sentence summary of your novel. (Other sites about writing elevator pitches say to make it 2-4 sentences, but I’m going for absolute brevity.) His advice:

  • Think short…very short. Randy suggests trying for fewer than 15 words, but I changed this to 50 or less — I’m going for an elevator pitch, not the copy you read on the NYT Bestseller List
  • No character names; instead, use descriptive words for your character. Randy’s example: “a handicapped trapeze artist” says much more than “Jane Doe.” (Advice I’ve seen on other websites about writing a log line says to mention the main character’s name, but I actually like Randy’s approach better, because it forces me to identify my main character in a very concise way. What sort of person is he? What makes him tick?)
  • Mention the big picture, as well as your main character’s personal investment in the story. What does she what? What does she have to lose?

In order to write the pitch for my new WIP (currently titled Guy’s Book — yeah, that’ll probably change), I had to identify the two main characters’ GMC. The story is Guy’s and will be told from his POV (a new challenge for me to only have one POV, but I’ll rant on that later). Again, I’m borrowing from Randy Ingermanson here…this is step 3 from his Snowflake Method (brief character summary and GMC). I think it’s important for you-the-reader to know this so you have a basic sense of my story (and can hopefully tell me how to improve my pitch!).

Guy

  • Name: Sir Guy Tradwick
  • One-sentence summary of his storyline: A career-minded spy/lothario’s heart is swayed by the dogged determination of a mother in search of her child
  • Motivation: promotion and advancement within the Home Office
  • Goal: Go to France, find Miss Catherine (Catie) Delaray, and return her to her father in England
  • Conflict: Catie won’t go without her child
  • Guy’s Epiphany: strength of human connection (?); family is important; women are for more than entertainment

Catie

  • Name: Miss Catherine Delaray (Catie)
  • One-sentence summary of storyline: A flighty, social butterfly grows up very fast when the child she births in secret and out-of-wedlock is sold without her consent.
  • Motivation: She wants her child back; the motherhood switch flipped “on” in Catie when she has her baby
  • Goal: Find her child and take him back
  • Conflict: The baby has been sold without her consent to an unknown buyer
  • Catie’s Epiphany: bond of motherhood; she can trust people again (men in particular)

Like Jilly, I bought myself a Moleskine and have been jotting down thoughts and ideas that have filtered into my brain. I also used it one afternoon while my son was at tae kwon do practice to work on the pitch for Guy’s Book. What’s below is EVERY note I jotted down while brainstorming this pitch, including my strikethroughs. I found tracing the evolution of my thinking as I worked on this pitch to be quite valuable, plus being able to go back and see the different ways I described a character or situation helped me gain focus and clarity as I went along. You don’t always get that if you write your pitch on the computer and delete/type over as you go. As you’ll see, there are a few incomplete thoughts and notes to help me figure out how to describe the main characters.

Here goes!

A womanizing/driven/motivated spy gets more than he bargained for when he agrees to return a young lady to English soil.

A ladies man must find return a woman to her homeland, but she refuses to leave without the child she had in secret.

A driven, ladies man spy

A career spy

A ladies man womanizing spy intent on career advancement must return an English miss a young lady to England.

Young lady

English Miss

Out of wedlock mother

Return a woman

hired to fetch a woman from France who will not go without her missing child

A womanizing spy gets more than he faces his strongest biggest challenge when tasked to find and return a young miss to England a young English miss with secrets to hide.

A womanizing/motivated/career spy faces his biggest challenge when tasked to find a young an English miss with secrets to hide whose child has been sold.

A career-minded spy faces his biggest is challenged is tasked must find an English miss whose out-of-wedlock child has been sold to the French.

A career-minded spy must find an English miss whose out-of-wedlock child has been sold to intent on finding recovering her child sold to the French.

A career-minded spy must find an English miss searching for her child which has been sold.

A career-minded spy must find return to England a young miss who won’t go without her child, sold to strangers.

A career spy must return to England a young miss searching for her child, sold to strangers.

A career spy must return to England a young miss in search searching for her child, which who was sold to strangers.

A career spy must bring back to England a young miss searching for her child, born out of wedlock and sold to strangers.

A career career spy must find a young miss searching for her own child, who has been sold to strangers.

A ladies man

A career spy must return bring back to England a young lady single young lady searching for in desperate search of her child baby, who has been sold to strangers.

A career spy must bring back to England a single young lady in search desperately searching for her baby, who has been sold to strangers.

A career spy and ladies man must bring back to England a young lady miss desperately searching for her baby, born out-of-wedlock and sold to strangers.

A career spy and ladies man must bring back to England a young miss once flighty socialite who won’t go without the child she bore out-of-wedlock, who was sold to strangers without her knowledge consent.

A career-minded spy and ladies man must bring back to England a once flighty socialite now desperately searching for the child she bore out-of-wedlock, and who was sold to strangers without her consent.

Well, that last one is what I have so far (it’s still evolving). If you have any suggestions for improvement, please tell me! I’ll take them. And if you’re at Nationals and you see me in the elevator, ask me what I’m currently working on. I’d be happy to share and to learn what you’re working on, too!

9 thoughts on “Justine: The Evolution of an Elevator Pitch

  1. Good luck with your pitch, Justine! I agree with Michaeline that you should include the genre. And if you don’t include info about whether it’s finished and how long it is, I’d say expect that those will be the first questions from your agent/editor.

  2. I love this Justine. My favourite, for what it’s worth, is this one:
    A womanizing spy faces his biggest challenge when tasked to find a young English miss with secrets to hide.

    I love that – think it sounds really compelling.

    Also, just to say that when I did pitches (and listened to talks) at the RNA in England just recently, what they all seemed to be mad on was if you were able to say something like: it’s like x story (ideally wildly popular) with a twist OR, it’s like x meets y (where the combination is something surprising and arresting). More than something that summed up the story, they were really more interested in what would be a catchy way to sell it to jaded retail buyers.

    Of course that’s England not America, so might well be different, but I found that very interesting. What it seemed that they were looking for was:

    – something different but not too different (a great concept)
    – something the marketing team could get behind
    – great voice (don’t you hate that one) and writing (though, to be honest, they told everyone their writing was good as far as I could tell)
    – strong characters

    These things seemed to be a million times more important than plot because (and this hadn’t occurred to me at all before the conference) the actual plot was pretty much always fixable during the editing process. I only mention this because I was very focused on conveying the plot (ie trying to tell them what the story was) and they weren’t that interested in that at all.

    • Rachel, I’ve also heard that for quick elevator pitches, editors and agents like that “x meets y” marketing approach that you’re describing, similar yet different, like “Jane Austen in Jurassic Park!” or whatever. The last two agents/editors I pitched just asked me questions—they didn’t want me to give my little talk at all. So I guess everybody’s different.

      • I’ve heard that as well. So far, it’s “Philomena meets ___________”. That’s where I draw a blank. I need to think of what Guy’s side of the story is. A man career-minded and suave with women who suddenly falls for one. Thinking…thinking…

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