Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Elevator Pitch

Recently the dental hygienist was making conversation as she set out the instruments of torture she'd use in cleaning my teeth. (Actually, she was very nice and didn't hurt me at all. Just writer's hyperbole). She asked me about my forthcoming novel. My answer came without hesitation.

"A young doctor goes back to her home town after her world crumbles, but instead of peace she finds conflict when the doctors in town resent her, one of her prescriptions sets up a malpractice suit that could wreck her practice, and someone in town wants her in dead."

Why did I have that ready? Because when I first began working on the novel that was to become Code Blue, I developed an elevator pitch for it.

Each time the date for a major writing conference approaches, the social networking sites are abuzz with the same question: "Do you have your elevator pitch?" The elevator pitch is a distillation of your message into a sentence or two. Here's how it gets its name.

Two people get on an elevator at a writing convention. One is a top-flight editor. We'll call him "TFE." The other is an aspiring writer. He can be "AW." They glance at each other's name badges. Here's the conversation:

TFE: Enjoying the conference?

AW: Yes, very much.

TFE: What are you writing?

(Here's where the elevator pitch comes in. Contrast these two possibilities.)

It's about...I guess you could say it's action. But with some romance. But not too much. This guy is a detective, and he's divorced. And his ex-wife is working in a big office building. And...

Ding.The elevator doors open and TFE exits.

If AW is prepared, it might go like this:

Terrorists take over an office building, but unknown to them a detective is in the building and his wife is one of the hostages.

TFE: Sounds interesting. (Hands AW a card) Send me a proposal.

Of course, AW is describing Die Hard, and in one sentence he's hooked the editor. This is also what's called "high concept." That amounts to describing a story in a few words that allow the listener to sketch out the general structure of the plot in his mind and captures his imagination.

You may not be a writer, but elevator pitches work for everyone. Salesmen have an elevator pitch prepared in case they only have a few seconds of face time with their prospective buyer. Ever wonder why entertainers do so well in interviews? They generaly know what they'll be asked, and the sound bites they give out are often the equivalent of a prepared elevator pitch. What about you. Do you need to have an elevator pitch prepared? Now is the time to work on it--before the elevator door opens.


DL Hammons said...

I'm working on it, along with the query letter and synopsis. It's not easy, in fact its down-right HARD. But I realize its importance, so I continue to tweak. But your right about possibly needing it in unexpected situations, so don't wait.

DL’s Blog

Carol J. Garvin said...

I have an elevator pitch for all of my novels. The problem is, my mind goes blank whenever I'm suddenly faced with a situation where I can use them! I smile and mumble. Not helpful.

yarnbuck said...

Good Rx, Richard. Thanks. I would add . . . Practice it. Out loud, even - people will just think you're bluetoothing.
My son kicked for our HS football team this year. As a coach, I got to hold for him all pre season, every practice and before every game. After the playoffs, the local paper praised his 39 straight - o miss season. He winked at me over the article. "39? Right - more like 39 times 75."