Some time ago, my local Romance Writers of America chapter (Heart of Detroit! Boo-yah!) held a meeting at which members could sign up for “pitch sessions” with a particular agent. It was the first I’d heard of locally, being a new member to the chapter. While I understood the concept of a pitch session (to describe a book idea with the possible hope of selling it), I was utterly flabbergasted when I found out how long they were. My experience in the business world limited pitches to two minute at the absolute maximum, and usually more on the order of 30 seconds. That’s a heck of a lot shorter than the 10 minutes of the average literary pitch session.
At the risk of dating myself, back in the 1980s, when dotcom entrepreneurs were thumb wrestling left and right for startup funds, would-be millionaires with ideas needed a quick, snappy statement to seduce potential investors. They called them “elevator pitches” because they were designed to entice someone during the space of time it took you to make a short trip in an elevator, one of the likely places to encounter an investor at a conference or seminar.
But you guys are authors, right? If you’re not actively talking to an agent or a publisher or something, you don’t need an elevator pitch. Or do you?
I say you do. And I don’t mean a one-sentence pitch that says “My book X is about Y” (though you really need that too). I’m talking about the kind of pitch that tells people what you do as a writer. Tells anyone you come across, be that the dude ahead of you in line at the farmer’s market or the security guard just coming off the night shift at your day job.
Elevator pitches are a critical method of introducing yourself and your “business” of writing to someone. Think about it this way. When you go to a church social or to the club or to a spouse’s office party and people ask you what you do, how do you answer them? You’re limiting yourself by saying things like “I’m a writer” or “I write romance” and you’re specifically missing out on some fabulous self-marketing that’s free, free, free.
Think hard about some of the conversations you’ve had with people. When you say that you write or you knit or you do whatever you do, people are likely to think back on what they know about writing. Right now, they’re likely to think about something in the media but at the very least they’ll attach your statement to something they already know. What happens if what they know or who they know is something or someone they really don’t like? By saying “I write romance” you not only provide them with a way to label you in the same category as the thing or person they don’t like, but you’ve cut off a valuable pathway of communication. The person hears you’re a writer and literally has nothing to respond to other than “Oh that’s nice” so they move on unless you’re really lucky. What a waste of opportunty!
Now imagine this. Someone says “What do you do?” and you hear the person answer with the start of their elevator pitch: “I unleash imaginary worlds on unsuspecting explorers.” Hello! Isn’t that much catchier? Doesn’t it make you want to say “Oooh really! How exactly do you do that?” Here’s how to go about crafting your own elevator pitch.
Think about who you might talk to. These could be people you know, people you don’t know, your relatives, or the guy standing next to you in the grocery store. The point is that you need to think about each of these types of people and how you want them to react. Do you want them to visit your author website? Do you want them to read something you’ve written? Do you want to have them hire you for a talk at a local meeting of readers or writers? Each one of these reactions are different and will require changes to your elevator pitch to maximize your potential response. Don’t just craft a single, generic speech. Think about the pieces of your elevator pitch and how they might have to change based on the people you’re speaking with.
Think about yourself and your writing. If you don’t know yourself or your writing, then why are you doing it? In creating a great elevator pitch you should always be able to tell people exactly what you’re offering and why it’s of benefit to the person you’re speaking with.
Many career and life coaches suggest you think about questions similar to the following before you begin writing your elevator pitch:
- Who are you? Who do you want people to think you are?
- Which genres do your readers come from? Are there cross-genres?
- What are the key strengths of your stories and your characters?
- Which adjectives describe you, your stories, and your characters?
- What key problems do your characters solve? What obstacles do they overcome?
- Why would each one of your audiences care about what you’re trying to write? Does it empower them? Make a point? Amuse? Entertain? Fight for the right and the good?
- What should the person you’re speaking with do once they hear your speech? Buy your book? Visit your website? Ask to read something? Buy your work? Publish it?
Sit down with these questions and start taking some notes. It’s not critical that you go into any detail, and you don’t even need completed sentences. But you do need to take some notes, even if they’re only bullet points. For each of the questions above, write out a few notes about them, making sure that each of the various types of people you might be talking to have a note targeted specifically to them.
Once you’ve taken notes that answer all of the above questions for each of your audiences, start working on expanding the notes.
- Take each note and turn it into a complete sentence if it isn’t already.
- Take each of the sentences targeted to a particular audience type and connect them together using whatever extra words you need to make the sentences flow together nicely.
- Look at the sentences you’ve strung together and think about which words are jargon, specific to your type of writing. Replace those words with everyday words that anyone could understand, without knowing a single thing about your genre.
- Now go back through and cut out anything extra. Prune hard! You’re aiming for about 90 words in total, or about 15-30 seconds in speaking time.
- Finalize the elevator pitch by adding what most counselors refer to as the “call to action.” It takes the form of a question and could be something as simple as “May I offer you my contact information?” or “Can I give you my business card?” or even simply “Would you like to know more?”.
Once you have a first draft, sit down and read your speech out loud to yourself. Don’t rush through the reading, and remember to breath naturally. Now, ask yourself about your elevator pitch. Does it sound unnatural anywhere? Stilted? Awkward? If it does or if you stumble in any portion while reading it out loud, consider rewriting that portion until it flows so naturally it sounds like conversation. Keep at it and your passion about your writing will shine through.
Your elevator pitch should evolve over the days and weeks that you are working on it, but you should start today. Start writing your draft now and perfection can evolve as you discover more about yourself and your writing.