by Laurie Ryan
Copyright © 2013 Laurie Ryan
Originally published by 1st Turning Point
So, you’ve finished your book. You’ve polished it until it shines. You’ve agonized over your synopsis and query letter until they are a stellar, if minimalistic, glimpse into the bowels of your story. With your researched list of agents and/or publishers in hand, you mail your baby out to the world.
Some of you will be lucky enough to find a home for your story right away. For the rest of us, well, there are a few R’s sitting in our closet. Whether you’ve received a rejection or are waiting to hear on submissions, one of the things you need to prepare for is pitching it in person.
Now, having only one in-person pitch under my belt, I get just a bit too nervous to talk about pitch appointments. What I’d like to discuss today are elevator pitches. Those quick-hit descriptions of your story that can wow an agent, an editor, or a reader in less than a minute. They can also work great as back cover blurbs if done right.
While I was playing around with the blurb for my newest story, my research kept directing me to Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer (and a heartfelt thank you to all the authors out there who have suggested him.) His five-point look at plot leads to a great way to break your story down to bare, but exciting, bones.
1. Character: You may have two primary characters, or protagonists, but one of them will have more point of view time. That’s your primary character.
2. Situation or danger: What has happened to make your protagonist act? In Christopher Vogler’s, “The Writer’s Journey,” this would be the Call to Adventure. It doesn’t have to be mortal danger. It could be a sister who has run away, a home about to be foreclosed on, or even having some innocuous person show up on the protagonist’s porch. But it must cause your protagonist to do something.
3. Goal: What is your protagonist’s external goal? What do they hope to accomplish by the end of the story?
4. Opponent: Who is working against your protagonist’s goal? This is not limited to a person. It could be an event, like a natural disaster.
5. Disaster or Climax: This is not the end of your story. It’s the Black Moment, when all seems lost.
Here’s an example using my story, Pirate’s Promise:
Primary character: Julia Branholt
Situation: She’s saddled with another pro bono case, this time defending a modern-day pirate.
Goal: Keeping a promise she made to her now-deceased father that she will make partner in a law firm.
Opponent: The pirate (also the hero). Hawk is determined to save his village from ruin and refuses to help her clear her name until he’s accomplished his own goal.
Disaster (climax): Branded as having helped her client free himself from jail and flee the country, Julia is left with no other choice but to track Hawk down and bring him back to clear her name.
If I put that all together and tweak it a bit so it flows well, I get:
Thanks to one stubborn, bull-headed, modern-day pirate, attorney Julia Branholt’s career is about to tank, along with a promise she made to her father. When the man is bailed out in her name…an ethical nightmare…Julia goes rogue and follows him to Mexico, where they must work together to thwart someone bent on destroying the village of his late wife.
Okay, so that’s two sentences, but I couldn’t quite stick to the suggested word length of 50 that I found in my research. Still, if I talk fast, I can get it in.
Now, you’ve agonized over your elevator pitch and honed it to a succinct rendering of your story. What’s next?
You have to be ready to pitch it–In an elevator, or at a luncheon table, or while quick stepping it to the parking garage. Are you ready? For those of you who can talk off the cuff, I applaud you. For the rest of us, it’s practice, practice, practice. I read a blog from Loucinda McGary where she suggests role playing for practice. Get together with a friend and have them pretend to be an agent, publisher, or reader. Pitch your story. And answer their questions. This would be a great way to prepare.
I find condensing my story down to two sentences to be extraordinarily hard. Turning those two sentences into a back cover blurb, by comparison, should be relatively easy. After all, you’ve already defined the important aspects of your story. Now you get to expand on it a bit. Consider adding an initial hook or tagline. Something to capture attention right off the bat. Think about movies. There have been some great taglines attached to movies. Here are a few examples:
Garbo TALKS! (Anna Christie, 1930)
Don’t go in the water. (Jaws, 1975)
A love caught in the fire of revolution. (Dr. Zhivago, 1965)
Beyond fantasy. Beyond obsession. Beyond time itself…he will find her. (Somewhere in Time, 1980)
An adventure 65 million years in the making. (Jurassic Park, 1993)
A tagline can instantly grab attention and make people read further. You’ve already seen my elevator pitch. My blurb, complete with a three-line tagline, follows this article. Does it grab your attention? I hope so. And I hope this article offers you some guidance on creating your own two-sentence elevator pitch.
A bit of an obsessive-compulsive organizer, Laurie found her niche in editing. With an eye for detail, she enjoys helping the story, as well as the author’s voice, shine.
She is passionate about every aspect of a book: beginning, middle, and end. She can’t arrive for a movie five minutes late, has never been able to read the end of a book before the beginning, and is a strong believer in reading the book before seeing the movie.
In her spare time, Laurie writes both romance and women’s fiction under the name Laurie Ryan, reads for pleasure in various genres, walks (a lot), and spends time with her family.