Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pitch, Please! – Three Tips to Improve Your Elevator Pitch

By Tiffany Reisz, @tiffanyreisz

At seemingly random intervals on Twitter, a PitchFest will break out. Agents and editors are on the alert that aspiring authors will be pitching their books via Twitter. It’s the new version of the elevator pitch.

What is an elevator pitch, you ask? It’s your book summed up in about 30 seconds or less, twenty-five words or less, or in the case of Twitter PitchFests—140 characters or less.

The problem with these PitchFests is that most writers don’t pitch very well. THERE! I said it. Your book might be fabulous, but if your pitch is boring it'll go splat. You’re trying to get an agent’s attention in 140 characters or less, so it’s going to have to be good. So good that when the agent or editor reads it, they hear the “IN A WORLD…” voiceover guy reading your pitch to a crowded movie theater and an ominous DUN-DUN!!! at the end.

Does your pitch pass the DUN-DUN!!! test? If not, here are three tips to help you ride your elevator pitch all the way to the top.

Pitch Tip #1 – Keep it simple.

If your book was a movie, your elevator pitch (also known as a logline) is the movie poster. It has to focus on one single image that will catch the viewer’s eye. What writers do wrong in tagline pitches is try to tell too much. You aren’t throwing spaghetti at the wall hoping some sticks. You're shooting an arrow into the heart.

Let’s take a look at a famous book. How about Twilight?

Here’s a bad pitch for Twilight.
Bella moves to new state, starts a new school, and discovers there are vampires in her high school. She falls in love with one of them.
Okay, yes, that’s all true. But it’s too much. What’s the heart of the story—the one single thing that will hook a reader? Is it a story about a girl in a new school? A fish out of water story? Is it a book about vampires and their culture? Is it a love story or a horror story? Is it a coming-of-age story? All these plot details cloud the real thrust of the Twilight story.

Here’s a better pitch for Twilight.
A teenage vampire never wanted to drink a human’s blood so much in his life, but instead of killing her, he falls in love with her.
That’s the hook of Twilight—a vampire who both wants and can kill this fragile human being, but falls in love with and protects her instead. The book is about the challenge of loving and being loved by someone dangerous and deadly. It doesn’t matter that Bella’s at a new high school. Edward could have been the new kid at her school instead of the other way around. It's doesn’t matter that there are other vampires at the school. It doesn’t matter that she’s in a new state or that her parents are divorced, etc.

The best pitches will focus on the main hook of the story and not all the extraneous details.

Pitch Tip #2—Twist it up.

The best movie posters surprise you with a single unexpected image. Look at the poster for Silence of the Lambs. You see a beautiful woman’s face, but in place of her mouth is a moth with a skull painted on its back—a combination of irony (mouth/moth) and the grotesque in one simple image. It’s a twist, a surprise, a shocker. If you can have one in your elevator pitch, you should.

I worked for a solid week trying to come up with a logline for the upcoming fifth book in my Original Sinners series. It’s the first prequel in my series and tells the origin story of my most popular couple—a respected 47 year-old Catholic priest with a secret and the 34 year-old Dominatrix who loves him. I wanted the logline to be minimalist and shocking to hook new readers. As an extra challenge, I made myself keep the logline under twenty-five words. The set-up in the first sentence is a story you’ve heard before in the news.
A sadistic Catholic priest falls in love with a troubled teenage girl.
The twist in the second sentence is where the shock comes in.
It is the best thing that ever happened to her.
The first sentence could come from any book—fiction or non-fiction—about sex abuse in the Catholic Church. But my book isn’t about that, and that second sentence twists the story in an unexpected direction. How on earth could a sadistic priest falling in love with a teenage girl, and a troubled one at that, be a good thing? Two simple sentences raise a whole lot of good questions. Want to know the answers? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Pitch Tip #3 –Don’t give away the ending. Ever.

Tiffany, you say, surely an agent or editor needs to know how my book ends? No. They only want to know how it ends. They don’t need to know. The logline/elevator pitch is supposed to raise curiosity, not satisfy it. Yes, the editor/agent will want to know if your book conforms to genre expectations. If you pitch a romance novel, the happy couple probably shouldn’t get eaten by wolves at the end (although there are many couples where a wolf attack would improve the relationship), but there’s no need to tell the agent/editor exactly how you tie things up. Then they have no reason to read it.

Here’s a bad pitch for the book Jaws (book, not movie).
A sheriff and the scientist who is sleeping with the sheriff’s wife join forces to kill a Great White shark. The shark and the scientist die.
Yay for killing the shark. Boo, the scientist is dead. Wow, that wife-banging thing wasn’t in the movie. Great, now that I know how it ends, I don’t have to ever read the book.

Here’s a better pitch for the book Jaws.
A deadly shark terrorizes Amity Beach. To kill the shark, a sheriff must join forces with the man sleeping with his wife.
The book is a thriller so this elevator pitch has not one but two thriller elements to it. First, a big shark is killing people and someone has to stop it. Second, two of the people who have to work together to kill the shark are enemies. Will they turn on each other instead of the shark? Will the shark get to them before they can resolve their differences? Will one man use the shark to kill the other man so he can have his wife or mistress to himself? This logline does nothing but raise questions—questions anyone who hears this setup would want answered. Since the logline doesn’t answer the questions, the agent/editor will have to read the book. And that’s exactly what you want.

So there you go. Next time you find yourself in an elevator with an agent or part of a PitchFest on Twitter, you’ll be ahead of the game. Or, in elevator pitch terms…
A writer has only one tweet to snag the agent of her dreams. One little problem—her Wi-Fi has just gone out and Starbucks is closed.

Tiffany Reisz is the award-winning and internationally-bestselling Original Sinners series. When not tweeting pictures of her sad kittehHoneytoast, she’s finding new ways to freak out her agent by writing books about underage girls in love with Catholic priests. Follow her on Twitter @tiffanyreisz.


  1. Your "Jaws" summary threw me for a loop, at first. "There's a love triangle?!" Book. Book, not movie.

    I enjoyed this tremendously; thanks, Tiffany!

  2. Awesome post. Thanks Tiffany.

  3. Examples! I LOVE examples--and the "dun DUN." I'll hear that every time I write a pitch now. And that's a good thing. Thanks!

  4. I love the great examples.

    In the recent WriteOnCon, two agents did a Hangout w/Twitter pitches. Getting their honest feedback on those pitches was VERY enlightening and the ones that caught their attention are ones exemplified as good pitches in this post.

  5. This is a great post. So simple yet challenging. Thanks for the examples. They ALWAYS help.

  6. lol I'm with Rachel6; I was thinking, "CLEARLY I didn't pay enough attention when I watched it!" Book, not movie. lol

    And you made Twilight sound so much better than it was. lol

  7. Probably, no DEFINITELY, the best write-up on the Elevator Pitch

  8. I recommend you to look this site about Hot to Write an Elevator Pitch and invite you to find the better pitch to have in this situation.