Creating an Elevator Pitch

Every writer has probably heard of the elevator pitch, but basically: if you find yourself in an elevator with your dream agent or editor, how would you explain your story in a couple of sentences?

As I mentioned earlier, PitchSlam starts soon (tomorrow, actually!) PitchSlam is a query contest that lets writers receive feedback along the way and gives them the opportunity to resubmit their work before the agents see it. The first round requires that writers submit a 35-word pitch. So, how do you condense your 100,000 words of beautiful prose into just 35 words?

  1. Boil your plot down to the basics. What happens? If we don’t know what happens, we can’t tell you if we want to read more.
  2. Character, conflict, stakes. This is the same as what agents want to see in a Twitter pitch (and a query letter). Who is the story about? What happens? What does that character need to accomplish? And what happens if things go wrong?
    But try to personalize it.
  3. Genre. You don’t need to come out and say “This is a work of science fiction,” but your pitch should show the elements that make it science fiction. Is it set in space? Does it have humanoid robots? You don’t want to write a pitch all about a skateboard writing slacker who’s friends with a scientist and forget to mention the time-traveling Delorian.  
  4. Voice. I realize this is a tall order, but once you’ve got all the rest, try to inject some of your character’s voice. Use words your character would use. If your character is an impoverished ten-year-old girl in the middle ages, the pitch shouldn’t read like it was written by a thirty-year-old man with a master’s degree.
  5. Avoid rhetorical questions. No, seriously. I know we’ve all seen them on the back of book jackets, but they’re not appropriate for pitch contests. 

Here are a couple of examples of pitches I used for my manuscript.

Disillusioned with life after college, Jen applies for a reality show seeking young adults to compete for a $250,000 prize. She’s looking for adventure, but finds herself battling another woman for a fellow contestant’s love.

Disillusioned with life after college, Jen moves into a fishbowl-shaped house for a reality show where 20-somethings compete for $250,000. When she stumbles into a love triangle, Jen must decide what matters most.

What pitches worked for you? Let me know in the comments.

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  1. I'm still working on mine. Victorian scientist Charles Rothbart seeks to find a way to fix his daughter's scarred face so he trolls the cemeteries of East End London to steal the skin of corpses when he stumbles into the latest victim of Jack the Ripper, now he's accused of being the killer.

  2. I prefer the first. The second threw me with "fish-bowl shaped house" and seemed unnecessary for a pitch that needs to be precise. First one makes me want to know more without feeling confused.
    Kathleen you're getting there! Try "seeks to fix his daughters face" … "Trolling the cementaries…"
    "…corpses. When he stumbles upon Jack the Ripper's latest victim, he's accused of being the killer." Good luck!

  3. I like your first one the best. The thing I'm struggling with is that my stakes are not a love interest or some mad race against time, but something quieter, like peace in yourself and your family. This is sooo hard!! GAH!!!

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