Imagine you’re in the elevator at a conference and a brilliant children’s editor (like say me) and her handler get in the elevator too. This brilliant, amazing editor (like me) turns to you and introduces herself and after learning you are an author asks you what you are working on now. What do you do, author? What. Do. You Do.
Why, you launch into your elevator pitch, of course.
An elevator pitch is almost identical to what a bookseller does when he/she handsells a children’s book to a customer. It’s a small paragraph that teases the potential reader whether it is an editor or a 12-year-old kid into wanting to read the book. This is not the same as a book’s jacket copy. Again, this is much vaguer than a synopsis or jacket copy. Like a one-sentence pitch you still want to make sure that you tell what the genre and audience is, but that’s where the similarities end. In this type of pitch you want interesting sentences that tell more about the beginning of the book rather than the overall plot. This is your chance to make your book sound as appealing as possible in the shortest amount of time. After all, you would only have around 15 seconds in an elevator ride.
Here’s a sample of the difference between jacket copy and an elevator pitch:
Jacket copy for the Book of Nonsense:
The book is ancient, ravaged and full of utter nonsense. But the moment it enters Daphna and Dexter’s lives, bizarre things begin to happen. Why is their father, who found the book, suddenly so distant? Is the old man who took it from him some kind of hypnotist? Why is a giant, red-eyed boy menacing them? And what does their thirteenth birthday have to do with all this? Daphna and Dexter can’t stand each other, but they’ll have to work together to learn the truth about the Book of Nonsense – before their lives come apart completely.
Elevator Pitch for the Book of Nonsense:
This is my newest midgrade fantasy book, The Book of Nonsense. In it, the father of a pair of twins discovers a book that can’t be read because the words constantly move. It turns out the book is magical, and that an ancient man wants it so he can control the world. After he steals the book from their father, the twins have to get the book back and save their father from the old man’s spell.
This is literally the pitch that I used on every librarian at TLA when giving out copies of the reader. It must have worked because very few gave me the reader back.
Despite the similarity in length, you can see the difference between the two. The first does not work as a pitch because of all of the questions and the level of detail. In the actual spoken pitch, all but the most major plot arcs are eliminated. There is industry jargon that is unnecessary for a jacket summary. We still don’t name any characters or give details of place unless necessary. But we still have enough stuff to pique interest and intrigue the reader to want to hear or discuss in more detail.
Since you now know how to formulate your pitch, start writing one now, even if your book isn’t quite ready to be submitted. You still always want to have your elevator pitch ready and on the tip of your tongue. Admittedly, the chances of you actually being in an elevator with an editor or agent is pretty slim, but this is the perfect length pitch for most situations. When you are the lucky person designated to pick up the editor/agent from the airport, this is the perfect pitch to start the conversation about your books. If you happen to end up at a table with an editor or agent at a dinner or luncheon, again, find a way to work in your pitch.
Basically, your elevator pitch is your number one way to introduce (in person) your work to the gatekeepers of the publishing world. Work it in every opportunity you have although do make sure that it is at least tangentially germane to the conversation. You want to wow the agent/editor in question with your witty conversation not jar them with your random book pitch. Try to never miss an opportunity to bring your book to a gatekeeper’s attention.
Now that I’ve whipped you into a frenzy of pitching, let’s discuss the proper etiquette for pitching. After all, even the most brilliant pitch will fall on deaf ears if you are acting in an unprofessional, rude, or flat out annoying manner. Like everything in this world, there is a time and a place for pitching. Here are the times and places where a pitch is always welcome.
Feel free to pitch me (and other editors and agents) . . .
- At conferences — One of the main reason we go to conferences is to meet new authors and be pitched new and exciting projects. After our sessions and during pre-arranged pitch sessions, we expect and anticipate being pitched. Don’t disappoint us or miss your chance.
- During a meeting you’ve set up with us. If you’ve gone to the trouble to arrange the meeting, and we’ve agreed to meet with you, don’t chicken out. Come prepared to pitch. The exception would be if we’ve arranged to meet over something else like a newspaper article on an upcoming book or for some charity. Then, it could be inappropriate and awkward for you to throw in your pitch.
And, that’s pretty much it. You’re limited to conferences and workplace meetings, should you be able to make one. This is why your pitch needs to be so dynamic and well-rehearsed. You don’t get many in person chances to lob your book at an editor or agent. You have to make the most of it.
Now let’s look at the times and places that it is never appropriate to pitch.
Never pitch to me (or anyone else) if I’m . . .
- In the bathroom — No matter how public a restroom, what you do in there is (in my opinion at least) a very private thing. I don’t care if I’m just washing my hands, I do not want to hear about your book. It could be an 80k word YA novel that sets entirely in the bathroom of a truck stop, and I’m still not going to want to hear about it in a bathroom. Find me in a more appropriate place.
- In the middle of a conversation — I know this one should be common sense, but I still have people interrupt other people so they can get in their book pitch. Let’s face it. It’s rude and annoying. Just wait your turn like everyone else.
- I’m on the phone — this goes with not interrupting conversations. Just be polite and wait for the call to end. During conference hours, a call has to be pretty important for me or one of my colleagues to take it. Let us talk to our boss or spouse or kid in peace.
- Working — I, like most people, do not generally wait until I’m in public to do my work. I try to find a nice quiet secluded place to hole up and get stuff done. If I’m frantically scribbling or typing or reading in public, I’m probably in some sort of terrific time crunch and can’t spare a second for an interruption, not even for the book that will make my professional career. So, don’t interrupt. Even if I’m polite, there’s no way I’m giving you the attention you and your book deserve.
- Working at my other job — Okay, so obviously this is NOT a problem for most of the other agents and editors on this planet since they all tend to only have one job and work in nice offices in glass buildings where the random author can’t wander in off the street and accost them. I do not have that luxury, and I find it awkward and uncomfortable to be pitched stuff when I was just trying to handsell you a book seconds before.
- Having a personal life — Admittedly, agents and editors are not celebrities. Most people don’t know our names, let alone our faces. We are not stalked by the paparazzi and we don’t get asked for autographs during dinner. But people do meet us at places and business meetings, even ones in our home town. And then there is always the chance we will run into them again. Don’t get me wrong, I like to talk about books and writing and to discuss stuff with authors in my free time. I’m happy to say hi or exchange harmless chit chat. Just don’t pitch me your book when I’m in the middle of a movie or at dinner with my husband.
- Incapacitated in some way — Let’s face it, if I’m having a nervous breakdown, crying, drunk, or something, there is absolutely no point in pitching to me or anyone else in a similar state. Generally that sort of stuff is rare at conferences but it can happen. I personally can get motion sick in pretty much every vehicle known to man including roller coasters, elevators, and golf carts. When this happens and I find myself thinking that the sweet oblivion of death cannot come soon enough, I’m probably not going to have much interest in your book. (Yes, I appreciate the irony that I’m generally so nauseous in an elevator that I’m not able to properly attend to elevator pitches.)