How to Develop an Elevator Pitch for Your Book

book descriptionWriting your book is isn’t the only part of being a writer, and it may not be the hardest part or the most important.Your unquestionable eloquence aside, it’s precious little good to write a fascinating book if you can’t get anyone interested enough to read the damn thing.

Did anyone ever come up to you and ask, “So, what is your book about?”

In response, you find yourself stumbling and stammering, “Oh. Well, it’s about this guy – it’s set some time in the future, you see. Anyway, he works at a glass-blowing factory in Manchester. He’s poor, you know, but his wife wants a fur coat. So anyway, he decides to raise chinchillas…”

“Uh-huh, uh-huh…” He/she looks over your shoulder and says something like, “Sounds interesting. Hey, there’s no one at the taco bar. Excuse me.” And off they scamper, spending the rest of the evening avoiding you.

What you need for such occasions is an elevator pitch.

The elevator pitch is nothing more than your book distilled down to its essential hook – the core premise, situation, or theme the rest of the story is built around. It should be much shorter than a book description (perhaps two sentences and only about 50 words). Most critically, it should be something that both intrigues and is easily memorizable.

It is difficult enough for most authors to write a coherent book description. Writing an elevator pitch seems to be an even greater challenge. I believe a part of the reason for this is that we come to these tasks fresh from the arduous work of writing our books. We have spent months or perhaps years crafting complex and intricate plots, painstakingly-developed characters, and rich, sharp dialogue. Forcing ourselves to peel away all that we have worked so hard to produce is counter-intuitive. Everything in the story seems so essential, so important. How can we possibly encapsulate all that within the scope of a mere few words? I think this is why many book descriptions seem to try to incorporate every character, every challenge, every peril; all the while, doing none of them justice.

But starting at the completed story and working backward to create the book description,  elevator pitch, and tagline is reverse-engineering. When you started writing your book, you started with an idea, a situation, or a question. Your book sprang from that starting point:

Future civilization is ruled by vampires who have enslaved and genetically altered the majority of mankind. The captive humans are like farm animals who produce too much blood and would die on their own, but one girl yearns for freedom. Can a wildling boy help her escape?

That’s 47 words. That’s a hook. But then, you write the book, and man, does it have some subplots in it. See, the captive humans are well-fed and cared for by the vampires, but the wildlings are always near starvation, afflicted with disease, and warring with each other. Don’t forget the forbidden romance between the wildling boy and the captive girl. There is probably also a traitor among the wildlings, feeding information to the vampires in return for food or medicine. Oh my goodness, all kinds of interesting subplots spring up once you start writing. And, it’s all so good.

All that stuff won’t fit into an elevator pitch. That stuff needs more elbow room. You can address the other elements in the book description. Don’t feel like you have to cram everything in.

When you craft your elevator pitch, go all the way back to the beginning, to where you first had the thought for the book. Write down that thought. Play with it. Simplify. Simplify again. Shrink it down mercilessly to its vital essence. Bounce it off a few people.you trust. When they say, now, that sounds like a book I’d want to read, STOP. You have your elevator pitch.

So, here is my advice for what it’s worth: When writing your elevator pitch don’t work back from the vantage point of having written the whole book. Go back to the beginning.

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

33 thoughts on “How to Develop an Elevator Pitch for Your Book”

  1. Elevator pitches are soooo hard. I still haven’t got the hang of it. Thanks Stephen. Maybe I’ll nail it next time round.

  2. Thanks for the tip, I surely could use this the next time anyone that I speak to about my books. The turning away occurs most of the time when I start to speak of them. I just have to pick one book most likely my latest one and work up a line. A.G.

  3. And here I was looking for tips on how to throw your book in an elevator.

    Well, your explanation of an elevator pitch makes much more sense, anyway, as elevators seem poor venues for baseball and books don’t really have the best aerodynamics for pitching.

    All kidding aside, good post. Pitches are hard, as condensing a masterpiece into a sentence takes a different skills et from creating said masterpiece. Going back to the beginning is a very good place to start. (It worked for both the Von Trapp kids in their singing and Inigo in the Princess Bride.)

    1. Thanks, RJ. I do think it is easier to focus on the original idea that gave birth to the book than the whole, finished book – providing of course, the book stayed true to the original idea. 😉

  4. It’s hard… and never have your characters raise chinchillas!

    My shortest pitch for what my book is about: “A deadly, silent invasion that leaves survivors befuddled, wary, and broken. A First Contact and an Apocalypse with roots millions of years old.”

    1. Massimo, try the pitch out on someone who has not read your book and ask them two questions:
      1. What do you think the book is about; and
      2. Does it make you want to know more?
      You’re heading in the right direction. 🙂

  5. Thanks, Stephen.

    Another tip: Enter the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction challenge every week. The process teaches you how to tighten up your writing. If you can cut a plot down to 250 words, you should be able to use the same technique to produce a 50-word elevator pitch.

    1. Kathy, thanks for bringing up the flash fiction challenge. This is an excellent point. The discipline needed to convey big ideas in a few words is a transferable skill that will help with writing book descriptions and elevator pitches.

  6. Stephen, excellent post and reminder. I can’t tell you how many book descriptions I’ve seen (both on Amazon and on the back of books) that try to tell waaaaay too much in one paragraph. Pare it down to its core; the rest is details. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. I made my pitch for Thailand take Two in 126 words (over the 50 recommended) but it seems to work as I sought to answer 3 basic questions. What is the book about? Who should read It? How is it different?

    It gets a conversation going.

  8. Stephen: I was merrily rolling along @4000words into my new WIP. An ‘elevator pitch’ was a long way into the future – until your post inspired me to get it done now.
    I stayed up really, really late last night and finally whittled down my pitch to 40 words. Thank you.

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