Elevator Pitches – Knock ‘Em Out of the Park!

With the summer season upon us, many authors have started polishing “elevator pitches” for conference use.

For those not in the know, the term “elevator pitch” refers to a thirty-second(-ish) hook-and-logline for a novel (or other creative project) which a writer presents to an editor, agent, or other third party who ends up trapped in an elevator with said author. (That’s a joke, people. I hope you laughed.)

More seriously, it’s the author’s pitch for the novel – and an author needs one whether the novel is published, unpublished, or still a work in progress. It’s the author’s response to “What are you writing/what do you write/why are you licking the icing off my dessert?” (OK, maybe not that last one. Truth is, I just wanted the icing…)

Your pitch should be short, distinctive, and make the listener want to know more.

Websites, seminars, books and workshops exist help authors prepare these pitches. You can even find one-on-one coaching at some conferences (as it happens, I’m teaching one-on-one “confidence pitching” sessions at RMFW’s Colorado Gold conference in September 2013 – attendees can sign up as part of the registration process, and I’m looking forward to helping authors tailor their pitches before their editor-agent appointments!). The next three weeks of Wednesday posts will take a look at the various aspects of building a viable elevator pitch.

Today’s topic? CONQUERING FEAR.

Most authors find pitching scary, and some find it nearly paralyzing. The kind of fear that keeps a writer silent until the elevator doors glide shut behind the departing agent–after an awkward ten-story ride in silence during which the author barely managed not to faint. Only after the agent departs do the writer’s fear-iced lips thaw out enough to pitch that novel – to anyone except for the people whose ears most need to hear it.

For many authors, editors, agents, and even readers might as well be drooling Cerberian hell-hounds out to devour an author’s soul and gnaw the shattered bones of her dearest dreams. Or something like that.

Not so. Most people want to hear your pitch, as long as it’s short and sweet.

Over the years, I’ve found an image that worked for me, and from what I can tell it works well for others too. Before you get into that elevator or walk in the door for the conference one-on-one, remind yourself that the [insert appropriate noun, be it editor, agent, or readers’ group] put on her pants the same way you did this morning, except that hopefully she used her own pants, because if you walk in there and discover she’s wearing yours this will be rather creepy, as meetings go.

Don’t imagine the agent without any pants (as some people advise). Imagine her wearing YOUR PANTS…and ask yourself how she might have obtained them. The absurdity of an agent going SPY VS SPY on your trousers will lessen your stress and probably make you smile.

Especially if the agent or editor’s gender is different from yours.

For the record, the old cliche about “putting on pants one leg at a time” does little to calm the butterfly carnival in your stomach. The creepiness of a total stranger hiring someone to sneak into your room and steal your pants, however, tends to prompt a smile.

Walk into that room. Give your pitch. And remember…that editor or agent did get dressed the same way you did (mileage may vary slightly) – except that, in truth, she used her own pants.

Because after all … using yours would be creepy.

Now, get out there and nail that pitch.

And remember: if you leave a comment on this post, or any #Publishing Law Wednesday post in the month of June (meaning any post tagged as #Publishing Law and dated from now until June 30) I will enter you in a drawing to win a signed ARC of my upcoming shinobi mystery novel, Claws of the Cat!

And, of course, the legalese: To be eligible to win, you must be at least 18 years old, leave a valid name and email address in the comments and and live or have a mailing address in the US or Canada. No purchase necessary to win. Odds of winning vary with entries received. One entry per household. One winner will be drawn at random from eligible comments.

4 thoughts on “Elevator Pitches – Knock ‘Em Out of the Park!

  • June 5, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Great post Susan. As you already know, pitching is not my biggest strength (unless you count babbling like a drooling idiot a pitch). Loved the spy vs. spy idea. I’ll have to try it next time, although they might wonder why I keep starring at their pants..

    • June 5, 2013 at 11:32 am

      Thanks Chuck! You’ll be a pro at it in no time! Pitching was hard for me at first too – but practice (and a little spy vs spy) works wonders!

  • June 12, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Good advice, although I agree that staring at the agent’s pants during the presentation, even repeated glances at them, might raise a few red flags of their own.
    I’d add, “Always be prepared.” Elevator pitches don’t just come in handy when you have an agent or editor appointment. I was called on to give one when an editor and I were both waiting for our bagels to toast at a national writing conference. I choked (and not on a bagel), he laughed, and we’ve been friends since.

    • June 12, 2013 at 10:52 pm

      A good point Richard. Staring at the pants is not recommended. 🙂 And you’re absolutely right about being prepared – I didn’t have an appointment to pitch my agent at the conference where I met her, even though I’d come intending to find a way to make the meeting happen. I found her alone at a table as a banquet was dispersing, screwed up my courage and asked her if I could have a minute of her time. She said yes, I gave my pitch, and she requested the full on the spot – but if I hadn’t had my pitch prepared, I would have missed my big moment altogether!

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