Susan Spann posted an awesome article on June 19 that I just discovered today. It’s about creating the perfect elevator pitch. (For those who don’t know, an elevator pitch is the speech you have prepared regarding your novel so that, if you find yourself on an elevator with an editor or agent, you can spit out this speech in 30 seconds, wow them with your concept, and win them over before they get off.) Head on over to her site and read what she wrote. Or stick around, because I’m going to hit the highlights here and add some of my own thoughts.
She starts off by addressing the four critical elements of an elevator pitch: protagonist, active antagonist, stakes, and high concept. That last one might get skipped if your
target intended listener is only going up two floors. But yes, it’s really that simple.
I’m in the midst of Vacation Bible School right now, and we’re teaching about David and Goliath. Here’s an elevator pitch for that classic tale: A Philistine hoard and their giant leader is terrorizing the Hebrew nation. Can a young shepherd boy with Godly courage defeat the giant, or is the Hebrew nation doomed to slavery and destruction?
Here are the four elements:
1. Protagonist: The young shepherd boy. It’s better to not offer names, as “archetypes are more descriptive and harder to forget,” says Spann. I agree with her. In the David and Goliath story, most people are familiar with David, but your novel won’t be famous when you’re pitching it, so label your main character with an archetype and skip the name.
2. Antagonist: A Philistine hoard and their giant leader. Again, no names are necessary. Look at your story and figure out who is standing in your hero’s way of achieving his goal. That’s your antagonist.
3. The stakes: the enslavement and destruction of an entire nation. That’s pretty big stakes. The bigger, the better. If David’s antagonist was a wolf trying to get at his sheep, the stakes aren’t high enough to sustain an entire story. Spann says the stakes are the most important part of the pitch, so don’t skip it. Without the stakes, the reader won’t care what’s going on with the protagonist and the antagonist.
4. High concept: shepherd boy with Godly courage. Load your pitch with unique details that make your story stand out.
You don’t need any more that this. Shorter is better because it’s easier to remember. Also, if your pitch is short enough, there might be time at the end for questions before the doors open and the agent/editor steps off. Hone your pitch so that it says exactly what needs to be said in as few words as possible. Then memorize it. You’ll need it someday. It’s also handy for queries.