How to Write an Intriguing Elevator Pitch–HINT: Hype it, Baby!


When you transition from writing to marketing, it’s important to be able to talk about your book in a succinct way. You spend three months or three years writing the thing; but you’re lucky to get 30 seconds to pitch it to an editor, agent, or even to a reader. An elevator pitch is a short description–you only have as long as it takes an elevator to go from one floor to another, maybe 30 seconds–that summarizes and entices as the same time. Folks want to know immediately if this is the sort of thing they want to read.

What Do Editors, Agents and Readers Want to Know About Your Book

Genre. When I hear something about World War II and army men, I know it’s not for me, but for my husband. I don’t enjoy military history. When he hears something about space travel and alien civilizations, he knows that I love science fiction and it might be a great book for me. Research says that somewhere around eighth grade, people fall in love with certain genres and pretty much read that genre for life. A good elevator pitch establishes genre.

bookthiefHook. Bait a hook with something interesting or something smelly or something tasty. Elevator pitches really do fish for readers. Given your genre and other particulars of your audience, what interests them? Now, normally, I am not interested in military history, World War II history, etc. But one of my favorite books is THE BOOK THIEF, which is firmly a World War II story. But I wouldn’t rise to that bait. If instead, you tell me that Death is the narrator of the book, I would pause and want a bit more information. That’s a really unusual, but appropriate, twist on a narrator. It’s not enough by itself to get me to pick up the book, but it’s a good start.

Teaser. Leave the reader wanting more! In 30-seconds, you cannot explain the origins of this character, summarize the plot or talk about subplots. Instead, you need to leave the reader wanting more. Editors and agents should ask to see the whole manuscript. Readers should flip to the opening chapter and dip a toe into the waters of this story. 30 seconds, a hundred words or so–you don’t have time for the whole kitchen sink. Instead, tease. What tidbit can you offer that will get a reader wondering about your story?

Creating the Perfect Elevator Hook

Well, you can’t create the absolute perfect elevator hook. Instead, create ten good ones. In tasks like this, it’s a good practice to ask yourself to write multiple iterations and variations. A dozen or so is great because you get past the cliches of the first couple and find yourself doing something unexpected.

Compare. One popular shortcut for a story is to compare it to something popular. Here is the movie trailer for Tom Cruise’s 2014 movie, “Edge of Tomorrow.” Watch the trailer and then try to compare it to a couple other movies.

If you can’t see this movie, click here.

When we saw this trailer recently, my son quipped, “It’s Starship Troopers plus GroundsHog Day.”
That’s apt, easy to remember and a great elevator pitch!

Theme. You may want to concentrate on the story’s theme.

GGGCover-250x387-150For a forthcoming novel, THE GIRL, THE GYPSY AND THE GARGOYLE, here’s my elevator speech:

Michelangelo once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” But what if an unscrupulous sculptor could trap someone inside a block of stone, just so he could carve them?
Find out more about this book here. Coming March, 2014.

Did you click on the “Find Out More” above? Why or why not? This pitch won’t resonate with everyone; you only need the elevator pitch to resonate with the RIGHT readers!

Emotion. You DO want to put some sort of emotional spin on the hook. This is a “heartwarming” story. It’s an “unscrupulous” sculptor. The action-adventure story is a “thrilling” ride. Look for places to replace boring words with something laden with action. Readers go along on the ride a story offers so they can FEEL something. Hint at the overall tone or emotional content of the story by using the right emotional words.

Exaggerate. Finally, don’t be shy. This is the time to pull out the modest hyperboles, to cast your story as something unusual and interesting. Author Dean Wesley Smith recommends that all writers watch the following video, “Five Guys in a Limousine” as an example of how to take something tame and pump it up. It’s hilarious–but instructive. Watch it multiple times!

If you can’t see this video, click here.

In the comments below, leave a short (no more than 3 sentences) elevator pitch for your work-in-progress novel. If you add the words, FEEDBACK PLEASE, we’ll try to give you one person’s reaction to the pitch!

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  • Katie
    December 30, 2013

    Feedback please
    My logline: Facing the flesh-eating giants and soul-stealing spirits that have overrun his kingdom proves easier for a young heir than delivering the girl he loves to her prearranged suitor—his country’s greatest ally and the only leader that can help bring his realm back from collapse.

  • Darcy Pattison
    December 30, 2013

    We definitely know the genre from this brief pitch!There’s definite conflict both external and internal. And the hype is there. For me, I am put off by the “flesh-eating” and somewhat put off by the “soul-stealing.” Do you need those? Or can you reword slightly? IF you can do that, I’d want to know more. And that’s what an elevator pitch should do, make me want more. Great job!


  • Katie
    December 30, 2013

    Thank you, Darcy. I’ll definitely work on rewording those bits. That feedback was very helpful, and your blog posts are always insightful.

  • Lisa D.
    January 5, 2014

    I can’t wait to read “The Girl, The Gypsy, and the Gargoyle.” Please be sure to update us in March when it is available.