What’s Your Elevator Pitch?

You need an elevator pitch. No matter what you write, you must be able to explain it.

The elevator pitch concept originated in the business world. The thinking goes that when pitching an idea, such as to an investor, you have as much time as you would riding an elevator a few floors before the listener’s attention fades, thus you need a succinct description of your product or service. Such is the case when speaking with a literary agent, publisher, a curious seatmate on an flight, or any other situation where you want to pique one’s interest with a single tidbit. Here are a few hints.

Picture of old hotel elevator
An elevator pitch should last only as long as it would take to ride an elevator a few floors.

Consider Your Time

Movie previews and TV commercials have something in common. Attention spans are short so they are, too. Elevator pitches are typically aimed at people with limited, valuable time, but regardless of the audience, the key to leaving them wanting more is to not overstay your welcome. Elevator pitches should not exceed 60 seconds; I like a 30 second cap. Keep it short and leave them wanting more.

Problem and Solution

Present a problem and immediately offer the solution. In you were an entrepreneur seeking funding, you’d describe the problem your customer has and then your brilliant solution. When you give an elevator pitch for your book it isn’t much different, you need to tell the problem faced by a character (and in there case of nonfiction, that character is a real person) and the story is the solution.

Be a Tease

Make your pitch memorable by throwing in some irresistible detail. Sprinkling in a tad of detail will surely draw in the listener. But, be sure not to give too much away. An effective elevator pitch leaves the listener hungry for more.

Plan Your Exit

Your elevator pitch should be something of a story in three acts. Act I is the problem, Act II is the story, and Act III is the call to action. Instead of telling the listener how the book concludes, use your listener’s interest as an opportunity to all then to engage further.

End with an Ask

Your ask or call to action varies depending on your audience. Some will be quite apparent. When you deliver your pitch to an agent, your ask will be that he or she read your proposal or manuscript. But what about when you are talking with someone at a cocktail party? Here is where you need to do some homework. Figure out in advance what action would help you most. You might be in need of an email list, or maybe you know that your best sales material is your backlist. Make that your ask.

My Try

Imagine that I’m writing a book about a new cancer drug (a topic in familiar with because if my grad school research) and that I’m pitching to someone I just met at a reception. It would go something like this:

“I write about cancer treatments. Did you know that 15% of people will die of cancer? Cancer can be treated in many cases, but the drugs are very toxic and can only be used in limited doses. I am chronicling a new therapeutic approach that is targeted specifically to cancer cells. If you want to learn more about it, check out my author webpage, and be sure to sign up for periodic updates.”

Do you see where I wove in the problem, solution, and call to action? I teased by mentioning a new treatment strategy but didn’t give it away. Then I made a quick exit with my ask, right when they wanted more detail.

Use this approach in conversation and you’ll see resounding interest in your work.


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