Elevator Pitch Madlibs

Our local chapter of Romance Writers of America hosted an event this January that they call “Pitchapalooza.” It’s a brilliant session that tons of members attend. lasting about an hour and a half long, Pitchapalooza is a practice session that members members use to practice pitching their story ideas. Members wanting to participate sign up to either pitch their ideas or help out by pretending to be agents or editors. It’s really sort of a giant roleplaying session when it comes right down to it, but it’s one that helps authors out immensely (whether they’re published or not) because it gives them a safe environment to practice their pitches. They’re among friends, and they get fabulous feedback immediately.


Now, I wrote about elevator pitches back in September, not long after Teatime first launched. The response was great and I got some fantastic comments and compliments. A private comment from a friend stuck with me, however. He said, “You know, Jennelle, all that writing is great. But a lot of people are looking for faster. Isn’t there something simpler?” I started thinking about it and honestly I was stuck. I’m more the kind of person who writes obsessively and too much and then prunes hard until I get the thing I’m writing into shape. What my friend was asking for was a more streamlined way of writing a pitch, more on the order of fill in the blanks, that they could massage up instead of pruning down like I’m used to.

Enter Ms. Shelley Bell, our local RWA chapter president, prepping everyone for January’s Pitchapalooza. She was kind enough to share with us some of the things she took away from Carrie Lofty’s “Anatomy of a Pitch Workshop,” from literary agent Rachelle Gardner, and from author Gayle Wilson. Shelly started with the things that were important to include in your pitch:

  • Your name.
  • Your manuscript title.
  • The genre of your work.
  • Information about your heroine.
  • Information about your hero.
  • Information about their romance.
  • Information about the conflict they face.

That’s not too bad, is it? Seven things seem pretty darned manageable to me. Now before I get a bunch of people wondering about their little niche of the romance world, yes, this list assumes that you’re writing a Male-Female romance, but it still works for other relationship types too, so don’t think they’re excluded. Switch out the hero and add another heroine if you write that kind of romance. Or add another hero if ménage writing is your genre. Once you know this list of must-haves, you can start developing your pitch.


Remember these?

I’ve done the hard work for you. Each of these pictures below can be printed out and you can fill in the blanks just like you did as a kid when you were playing Madlibs during those long car rides with your family.

Start Your Story Pitch with an Introduction…

Although you need to tell your listener about the meat of your story, you need to set the stage with simple information about who you are and what you’re writing. Starting with your name is the easiest way to begin but you’d be surprised how many people leave it out completely, either through nervousness or rushing. The person your listening to also needs to know the working title of your manuscript (they have to at least have something to call it) and the genre you’re placing it in. Try something like this:

BasicPitch copy

Shelly gave us this example from Carrie Lofty’s Flawless:


Shelly specifically pointed out the adjectives “lush” and “adventurous” to us, saying that these kinds of words “give the agent or editor a feeling for the style of writing” you’re presenting to them. You want to help them understand your book. Adjectives give them something to expect to see in the writing. Note too that the pitch just gives a working title. Make it a good title, yes, but know that it will more than likely change before you publish it.

…and Then Just Fill in the Blanks

Now once you’ve got the introduction down, you can start adding more to the pitch, but you need to play around with it a little and try the version that works best for you. Shelly offered up three different types:

  • a basic pitch,
  • a “high concept” pitch, and
  • a “When…Can…” pitch.

Try writing a basic pitch.

A basic pitch simply gets down to the business of goals, motivations, and conflicts for the protagonists in your story and Shelly offered up this pitch as a starting point:

Pitch Type 1 - basic

Shelly recommended Debra Dixon’s book Goal, Motivation, and Conflict for anyone looking for more information about this type of pitch. Despite being written in 1996, Ms. Dixon’s book is still one of the most highly recommended on the subject. It’s devilishly hard to find used, so I recommend checking out your local library, your RWA chapter library if you have one, or the author’s website. New copies of the book direct from the author are still cheaper than most of the used ones you’ll find online and the expense is worth it.

Try writing a “high concept” pitch.

Your “high concept” pitch compares your book to one or two famous books or movies that already exist. This does two things. First, it helps garner interest and hooks the agent or editor into the idea. Second, it helps them figure out how to help you sell your book because they can use it to compare to other manuscripts. Try this one:


Or this instead:


She offered us “Marry Poppins meets The Terminator” as an example. One of my favorite guilty pleasures is Steven Segal. His movie Under Siege is on constant rotation as background noise while I’m folding laundry or cleaning around the house. When that movie was first pitched, it was billed as “Die Hard, but on a battle ship with nuclear weapons.” My husband offered up the original pitch from Alien, which was “Jaws. In space.”

There’s a certain amount of danger in this type of pitch. Not all books are really suited to it. Shelly specifically said it’s powerful “If you can come up with a high concept pitch that’s catchy and honestly reflects what happens in your story.” But she cautioned anyone against using a comparison that sounds forced. There’s also the danger of categorizing your manuscript incorrectly before your listener has read it. What if they didn’t like the movies or books you’re comparing your work to? Well, sometimes that’s not so bad. A good editor or agent will be able to look past their dislike and grasp where you’re placing that book.

Try writing a “When…Can…” pitch. 

When-Can pitches are two sentences long. Start the first sentence with the word “When,”and then go on to describe the situation, the characters, and the objective in that single sentence. Start the second sentence with the word “Can,” and ask a question that describes the opponent or obstacles the hero and heroine must face. And depending on where it fits better, bet sure to include the potential disaster that would occur if they failed. Again, Shelly offered up the following from Carrie Lofty’s Flawless:


Make these pitches as crazy as you can. Go completely overboard with your descriptions. Try as many oddball ones as you can and see what sticks. The whole point is to stand out from the crowd enough to get someone interested in your work, right? Once you get a unique pitch, you can dial it down or tone it back as necessary (or not at all!) to suit your audience. But draft pitches? My vote is that you cut loose and have some fun while you’re doing it.


What’s the best pitch you ever heard and why was it so great?


16 thoughts on “Elevator Pitch Madlibs

  1. I’d like to repost this on our Northeast Ohio RWA Facebook page, since we have pitches coming up at our May conference. Please let me know if that would be okay. I will give full credit to you.

  2. I love this, Jennelle! I’m a simple writer, and I like simple remedies (too many years of teaching math, perhaps, where things are not always so clear-cut). I have yet to even begin pitching, but this advice takes some of the scariness out of the idea–it’s just a very, very short outline 🙂

    • You know what, Cora, that’s the perfect way to say it. It’s *is* just a very short outline. And for what it’s worth, it’s pretty scary to me too. So let’s turn it fun and get rid of the fear!

    • They’re absolutely filtering through and so useful. I really appreciate the time you took to teach the workshop and am horribly jealous that I wasn’t in attendance. Maybe some day if you teach it again. Here’s to hoping!

      • I’ve applied to teach my Pitch Witch course again at RWA Nationals, which would be my fourth year in a row helping nervous folks on the first day of the conference. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can do so again!

  3. What a great blog post, Jennelle! And I love Carrie Lofty!!! She came to Southern Magic RWA and did a presentation for us. Great lady!!! Awesome writer!!

    I love the high concept pitches. My book Duke by Day, Rogue by Night is Master & Commander meets The Scarlet Pimpernel. High concept pitches put an image immediately into the listener’s head. Love that approach!

    • Thanks, Kathy! I agree that the high concept pitch is HUGELY powerful. The “what if” factor is incredibly intimidating to a lot of people though. “What if the agent/editor never saw The Scarlet Pimpernel ?” or “What if the agent I’m pitching to thinks movies with guns in them are stupid?” Do you have advice for people who haven’t used this kind of pitch before?

      • Hey Jennelle, chances are editors and agents have some knowledge of most movies, especially old ones that have books written of the same name. The key is to remember your genre. For instance, both Master & Commander and The Scarlet Pimpernel are historical, right away giving that “feel” for the book. If you’re pitching a Romantic Comedy, say Sweet Home Alabama meets The Wedding Singer, you already get an impression of what’s coming.

        The first real rule of business however, know who you’re pitching to. Find out what they’re accepting, what they’re looking for. Obviously, an agent/editor who doesn’t push suspense, won’t want books with suspense/guns/who done its. Research is key in getting an appointment with a professional who represents what you write. But say you’re in an elevator and a stranger asks you what your book is about. You don’t have much time before the door opens or another person walks in. This is where the high concept pitch ignites a powerful punch and just might get you a business card and request.

        What if the editor/agents says, I haven’t seen that movie. That opening gives you leeway to explain the gist of the movie/idea, which then leads into your 25 word blurb (elevator pitch). Really the high concept pitch is just to get conversation started. It’s the started in your engine, so to speak.

        Does this help at all?

  4. This is a FABULOUS post Jennelle! And one I will be coming back to again whilst I’m working on my pitch for Atlanta! I think what works great about this method is that you’ve broken down the pitch into easy manageable steps while still including all the important elements the editor and/or agent is looking for. Right now, I’m calling my WIP Julie James meets Sex and the City. Don’t know how well that works, so it will probably need some fine tuning, lol

    • Thanks, Lisa. Really glad you found it helpful. I agree that the breakdown is super easy but I hope people realize that there’s a certain amount of massaging/editing that has to happen. If they do nothing more beyond filling in the blanks, that’s ok but it’ll be better with editing, obviously. 🙂 Feel free to let us know if you need review peeps for your pitch!

  5. Pingback: Scavenger Hunt Winners and Answers | Teatime Romance

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