Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Writing an elevator pitch for your novel

What do you say when someone asks what your novel is about?

I've been thinking lately about our ability to summarize what we're writing into a single sentence (or two), often called an elevator pitch. To submit to PageToFame, I was limited to a two sentence summary to accompany that first page.  I certainly want to be able to encapsulate the heart of my novel to any agents I might ever happen to corner in, well, an elevator, or the ladies' room, or wherever (ha ha, not that I would ever do that).  It's an important skill for all of us, even if only to be able to explain to mothers, friends and significant others what we're so tied up with.

I liked The Story Sensei's explanation of writing an elevator pitch. Camy says that it includes the following elements: Sentence one gives character, situation and objective. Sentence two presents the question of whether the character can overcome the opponent and disaster (the climax of the novel).

Here's the foundation for my two sentence pitch for SHARDS:

Character: A girl who, at seventeen, helped her terminally-ill father commit suicide

Situation: Her father's suicide is exposed

Objective: To keep her life intact and finally heal from the effects of Dad's suicide

Opponent: herself -- her chronic lying

Disaster: Potential expulsion from medical school, legal suit from the life insurance company, losing her fragile relationships with mother and boyfriend

And the pitch? 

At seventeen, April Mitchell helps her terminally-ill father commit suicide; six years later, she seems to have the perfect life, but can't put the death behind her. When the truth is exposed, April could lose her seat at medical school, be charged with life insurance fraud, and lose her perfect boyfriend -- and she might finally start healing.

I've been writing similar pitches for all my ideas, because it also helps me focus on the very core of my story.

The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes:  Lauren Reed is a happy college sophomore until the disempowered Greek goddess of vengeance, Nemeses, borrows her body to punish unchecked wrongdoing and save those in danger, throwing Lauren's life into disarray. Lauren wants her body back to herself, but can she turn her back on justice and find a way to evict Nemeses, or is there another way to live with the angry Goddess?

Bodie's Men: After disappointing her parents since birth, Rachael Bodie finds one more way to infuriate them: by becoming a Marine Corps officer. As she falls for - and loses - her first love, leads the men in her platoon, and serves in combat, Bodie discovers she's so much more than just the unsatisfactory youngest daughter - even to her parents.

Of course, the problem with the two sentence pitch is that it gets me started worrying about how, erm, quirky my tales are and their marketability. But that, my friends, is a post for another day.

So now it's your turn. Do you have a two-sentence pitch for your WIP or finished piece? Feel free to post it in the comments, or link to a blog post about it... I'm curious to read (and learn) more about the elevator pitch!


Jen said...

I'm actually in the middle of doing an elevator pitch, and I believe that two sentences would be plenty and a lot easier to share. I'll let you know when I have it! I'm loving yours though!

Tara said...

I do not have one, but I will be working on it today. Yours is wonderful and you've made it seem so easy. Thank you :)

Tess said...

well done! I do have a two second pitch, but it is more like four sentences. it's not perfect and always being revised. I like this template very much.

Shelley Sly said...

Thanks so much for this advice on how to write an elevator pitch. I don't have mine done yet, but I will certainly use this as a guideline. Your books sound so interesting, I'd definitely read all of them!

Summer said...

No pitch for me either, but I love yours! I'm with Shelley--I would definitely read all three. :-)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Great post! Very informative, Guinevere. I'm printing this one. :-)

laurel said...

Your pitches sound very polished. Great work!

The formula you've provided looks really helpful. Thanks! I'm abysmal at doing these sorts of big-picture summaries.

Tere Kirkland said...

Two sentence pitches are often difficult for me, but I've been working on them. Your tips are very helpful, thanks!

Julie Dao said...

I think your pitches are fantastic! They definitely make me want to read the book. This is such a good idea and such good practice on how to be succinct and still get all the necessary information across. I'll have to try writing elevator pitches for my WIPs!

Guinevere said...

Thanks Jen, I definitely want to read yours when you finish!

Tara and Tess, I'm glad you found this helpful! I learned a lot working on this post, honestly.

Aww thanks, Shelley and Summer! I always worry if my stories are very marketable, so that's nice to hear.

Thanks, Shannon! That's good to hear. :)

Laurel, I really struggle with the "big picture" stuff too. It's hard to strip out all my subplots and focus on the core of the story.

You're welcome, Tere, and good luck!

Have fun, Julie! It really is a blast once you get the hang of it. :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

Pitches are hard- I found mine while editing my WIP one day.

BTW- I left an award for you on my blog!

Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you! I've been so desperate for a formulaic approach to the pitch. I've been working on it FOREVER.

Your pitch is great. Can't wait to try this out on my novel.