How To Craft An Elevator Pitch That Sells

It’s my distinct pleasure to introduce Ruth Harris to TKZ, with an excellent post about how to craft an elevator pitch that sells. Take it away, Ruth!

Is this a dream? Or will it be a nightmare?

There you are—

  • At a conference in line for coffee. You turn around. The person behind you is Big Shot Editor at publishing collosus, Simon, Macmillan & Random Penguin.
  • Waiting for a taxi in the rain when an empty cab/your Uber pulls up. The woman next to you is publishing’s hottest agent. She is drenched and on her way to an important meeting. She asks (begs) to share your ride.
  • On a plane and your seat mate is the famous movie producer who’s known for lavishing Big Bucks on hot, new properties.

It’s do or die time.
You have seconds…
Then what?
Do you panic?
Are you tongue tied?
Do you babble?
Or have you prepared—and practiced—a killer elevator pitch?
Are you ready to razzle dazzle em?
And if not, why not?
Because the well-crafted and polished elevator pitch can make the difference between meh and a reaction that will be passionate.

Meaning before details: start with the big picture.

Readers/editors/agents take only a few seconds to make their buy decision.
Authors have the same few seconds to make their sale.
According to molecular biologist John Medina of the University of Washington School of Medicine, the human brain requires meaning before details. When listeners doesn’t understand the basic concept right at the beginning, they have a hard time processing the rest of the information.
Bottom line: explain the hook or basic concept first.
Then go into the details.

Example #1:

“Susie is trying to kill David by putting arsenic in his Red Bull because he cheated on her with her best friend, Elaine, but then Peter and Marie die.”
Uh. What? Who’s doing what to whom and why should anyone care? Big Shot agent yawns, checks the time, can’t wait to get out of elevator.

Instead: A betrayed wife’s murderous vengeance ends in the death of two innocent children.
Big Shot agent’s ears perk up. S/he is dying to know more.
Then come the details.

Example #2:

“Tim has to get to the coal mine before Wyatt so he can warn his brother about the goons hired by the 93-year-old evil mastermind who owns the mine and plans to destroy humanity with nukes.”
Huh? Followed by sound of confused Very Important editor’s brain switching off as s/he thinks about what to have for lunch.

Instead: Estranged brothers must work together to make their way past vicious dogs and armed guards to enter an abandoned mine and save the world from nuclear annihilation.
Very Important editor’s eyes widen. S/he can’t wait to hear what comes next.
Then come the details.

Don’t be afraid to be outrageous.

A famous but obnoxious TV chef hides from a serial killer in a London training school for snooty butlers.
An opposites-attract romance between a plumber’s apprentice and a poet with a stopped-up sink.
A loud-mouthed, crass political pundit gets drunk and comes to in a Buddhist monastery dedicated to serenity and meditation.

Don’t be afraid to refer to other books or authors, hit movies or TV series.

Gone With The Wind—as written by John Le Carré.
Gone With The Wind—as written by Michey Spillane
Gone With The Wind—as written by Barbara Cartland.
James Bond meets Hannibal Lector. They do not discuss fine wine and gourmet menus.
Game of Thrones. In a submarine.

Bottom Line: Sell the sizzle. Not the steak.

It’s old but relevant advice.
Before launching into the details of plot and character, you need to provoke excitement and curiosity first. That’s why the hook or the killer concept is the most important thing you’ll write.
It must be short, simple, clear, memorable, and easily repeatable.

Keep it short.

But my book is a 200K fantasy epic. You expect me to explain it to someone in a short sentence?
Two Stanford grad students had an idea they thought would change the world, but they needed money to turn their idea into reality. Here’s their pitch to potential investors. “Organizes the world’s information and makes it universally accessible.”
In 9 simple words and 69 characters (less than the length of a Tweet), that elevator pitch bagged the needed $$$.
The two grad students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page—and their company, Google—were in business.

KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

Shakespeare said it this way: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Mies Van Der Rohe’s approached it from another angle: “Less is more.”
So did Albert Einstein who explained his Theory of Relativity in three letters, one number and an equal sign: E = mc².
Steve Jobs heeded their advice to make Apple one of the world’s most successful companies.

  • 1984 won’t be like “1984”
  •  Think Different.
  •  iPhone — “Apple Reinvents the phone”
  •  iPod — “1,000 songs in your pocket.”
  • MacBook Air — “The world’s thinnest notebook.”

Apple website and stores, company execs, sales reps, and press releases are all on board and repeat these simple phrases over and over.
You can follow the same approach by using your hook—short, simple, memorable, repeatable—everywhere.

  • As a headline for your blurb
  • As a tweet or newsletter subject line
  • To introduce yourself to your audience when you start a speech
  • On the home page of your website
  • On your business card
  • On your author page
  • In your author bio
  • As a keyword

How simple? How about this?

The hot new bestselling thriller, The Chain, was launched with a three-word pitch: “Jaws for parents.”
Simple, to the point, easy for everyone to remember, easy for anyone to repeat.

Or this?

English mystery author, Adam Croft, launched his successful self-publishing career with a simple question: “Could you murder your wife to save your daughter?”

Embrace the power of repetition.

Successful politicians—ones who become President—embrace the power of repetition.

  • The New Deal
  • Make America Great Again
  • Nixon’s The One
  • Give Em Hell, Harry
  • I Like Ike
  • All the Way With LBJ
  • Change We Can Believe In

Advertisers have learned the same lesson. They spend millions of dollars to repeat the same simple phrases over and over because they understand the power of repetition.

  • Nike — Just Do It
  • Hallmark – When you care enough to send the very best
  • Burger King – Have it your way.
  • U.S. Marine Corps — Semper Fi
  • Bounty — The Quicker Picker Upper
  • Lay’s — Betcha Can’t Eat Just One
  • Dunkin’ Donuts — America Runs on Dunkin’
  • The New York Times — All the News That’s Fit to Print”

Savvy politicians and advertisers don’t get bored with the repetition. Neither do their audiences. Emulate their success and don’t be afraid of repetition.

Make it memorable—and easily repeatable.

You will be the first to use your elevator pitch—but you do not want to be the last.

  • Agents need a powerful hook to pitch publishers and TV and movie producers.
  • Editors need a potent pitch to persuade their advertising, marketing and sales departments that your book is worth their time and energy.
  • Your fans and readers will use your great hook to spread the word when they recommend your book to friends and family.
  • Bloggers and reviewers will use your words to attract their readers.

10 tips for creating a powerful pitch.

  1. Research the headlines and blurbs of the bestsellers in your genre. What exact words do they use? What exact words occur over and over? Make a list of the ones you find most powerful and exciting, and use them for inspiration.
  2. Read the book descriptions on promo sites and keep the ones you love to refer to when you write your own fab elevator pitch.
  3. Be on the lookout for taglines other authors use to pitch their book in their FaceBook, BookBub, and Amazon ads.
  4. Read your own book—even if it’s for the fiftieth time!—to search for interesting words and turns of phrase. You might come upon a forgotten gem that’s just perfect.
  5. Consult your dead darlings, the ones you killed, (You do save them, don’t you?) for more ideas.
  6. Consider chapter titles that might make a great hook or pitch intro.
  7. Here are 5 suggestions from BookBub about how to write a killer elevator pitch.
  8. David Gaughram offers excellent advice about how to compose great text for ads and shares some terrific examples from the movies that will give you more good ideas.
  9. E = mc² might not mean much to a lot of people but the right audience (other physicists) will feel the thrill. Focus on your readers—romance/horror/fantasy/cozy mystery—and, like Einstein, talk to them in the language they use themselves.
  10. Practice your pitch over and over. In front of a mirror, your significant other, your friends, family, the dog until you are completely comfortable and confident sharing your brilliant idea!

Heed the 3 Rs: Remember, Repeat, Recycle to ride your elevator pitch to the top.
As the Nike ads advise: Just Do It!


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About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net.” She also blogs at the Kill Zone (Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers") and Writers Helping Writers. Sue lives with her husband in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and writes two psychological thriller series, Mayhem Series and Grafton County Series (Tirgearr Publishing) and is the true crime/narrative nonfiction author of PRETTY EVIL NEW ENGLAND: True Stories of Violent Vixens and Murderous Matriarchs (Rowman & Littlefield Group). Sue teaches a virtual course about serial killers for EdAdvance in CT and a condensed version for her fellow Sisters In Crime. She's appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series, Storm of Suspicion, and three episodes of A Time to Kill on DiscoveryID (due to air in 2023). Learn more about Sue and her books at

45 thoughts on “How To Craft An Elevator Pitch That Sells

  1. As someone who’s no longer interested in landing a publishing contract, I’d like to point out that this advice translates well to the tag lines and book descriptions that you’ll need to pitch your book to readers when they’re scrolling through the vast on line bookstores’ offerings.
    (I did get my first traditional contract while waiting for an elevator with an editor at a conference–lucky for me, I had no idea that’s who he was, so it was just a friendly chat that ended up with him handing me his card and saying, “Make an appointment to see me tomorrow.”)

    • Hi Terry. Sure! 🙂 After all, readers are key, aren’t they? We need to lure them, seduce them, grab their attention. Selling a book is show biz sans the glitz and tinsel. Not easy, but a great tag line & book desc are crucial.

  2. Something in the way you presented this, Sue, helped me come up with the best tag line/elevator pitch I’ve managed so far.

    “Did the father Lisa is searching for kill her mother, as the cops suspect?”

    And the follow-up line:

    “Desperate for family, recently widowed Lisa Schwartz searches for Pietr Fendl, who may be her father. But the cops think he killed her mother 14 years earlier.”

    Or this:

    “Recently widowed Lisa Schwartz searches for father and family. But did Pietr Fendl kill her mother 14 years earlier, as the cops believe?”

      • Hi Eric—So glad it helped. I learned to write these a long time ago at Dell and Bantam. I must have written thousands of them. Even now, with years of practice, I find that coming up with a great pitch is not easy. I just keep polishing. And then polishing some more.

        Here’s a suggestion: Ditch “as the cops suspect.” More powerful as: Did the father Lisa is searching for kill her mother?


  3. Welcome to TKZ, Ruth! Thanks for the helpful tips and examples.

    Sizzle is difficult to capture. I try to remember the spark that first made me fall in love with a story idea. Sometimes easier said than done after working on a book for months/years. Any suggestions how to recapture that initial magic?

    • Hi Debbie—A time machine? lol

      Seriously, drafting the pitch *before* you start the book will help. Lots of writers do that and it’s a really good idea for just the reason you mention.

      Also, looking back at earlier drafts might jolt your memory. Actually just writing the headline & blurb can help you recall the magic. Remember, you’re not writing an outline. You need to think about your reader and what will grab him or her! HTH

      • Thanks, Ruth. Is your time machine free this week?

        After reading your post this a.m., I wrote the logline for the fifth book in my current series *before* drafting the book. I’m slow but I learn eventually!

        You also inspired me to rewrite the blurb for the first book for the umpteenth time. Appreciate the nudge!

        • Debbie—Lol. My tIme machine is very temperamental. Demanding and not easy to please just like all machines. And try to find a good repairman? Lotsa luck!

          the umpteenth time is normal. Aaargh! But that’s the way it is. 🙂

          Glad to hear I inspired you tho!

  4. Excellent overview of this important aspect of storytelling. I work on these one-liners constantly and have them taped to the top of my writing monitor.

    • Hi Harald—Good for you! Yes! these require a lot of time, thought and polishing. You’re smart to tape them to your monitor. Never hurts to focus us on what we’re doing, because it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of writing/editing/revising.

      Thanks for the kind words!

    • Hi Deb—Thank *you* for the flattering words.

      Yes, writing a good and hopefully great tag line & blurb is work. Definitely not one draft and bingo! Needs lots of time, thought & attention. But worth it.

      • Okay, wanted to do this in my original comment, but I chickened out. So here goes.

        What do you think of this:

        “What would you do today if you knew you’d die tomorrow? Annie Lee is sure her death will happen tomorrow. The next 24 hours are crucial—her husband and 4 children don’t know what she knows. If she has no tomorrow, what will she do today?”


        “One today is worth two tomorrows, a quote by Ben Franklin. Annie Lee, who is sure her death will happen tomorrow, will either prove or disprove that maxim in the next 24 hours.”

        • Hi Deb, You asked, I’ll answer. The first line is great. Edit the rest like maybe?

          “What would you do today if you knew you’d die tomorrow?
          Annie Lee knows she will die tomorrow, but her husband and 4 children don’t know what she knows…at this point add the urgent crisis Annie Lee faces…

          Also there are to many uses of know/knew. Need to rewrite.

          Does this help?

  5. Welcome to TKZ, Ruth!

    Thank you for writing a superb how-to-pitch post absolutely packed with helpful information. Like Terry O’Dell, I’m a self-published author but this is a gold mine of tips and advice for book descriptions, tagline for ads and newsletters.

    I’m already thinking how I can use this to the descriptions for at least some of my published books. This will also really help writing those tricky one sentence summaries a number of the promo sites require, too, along with copy for Facebook and other ads.

    Thanks again! And thank you, Sue, for inviting her!

    • Hi Dale—Thanks for the flattering words. I hope the “gold mine” pays off well!

      Yes, there are lots of reasons writers need to come up with a great tag line & blurb. They can—and should—be used over and over in lots of different places. That’s why getting them right is so important.

  6. Welcome, Ruth! Nice article.

    Hollywood uses the term “high concept” for the idea behind a story. “HIGH NOON in space.” (OUTLAND with Sean Connery. “Sean Connery in space” would be awesome, as well!) “WAGON TRAIN in space.” (Original STAR TREK) It works with books, too. “The Napoleonic Wars fought with dragons.” (The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik.) Some novels and series aren’t high concept, but it’s a fun way to look for a short log line.

    Figuring out a log line even before you write the book is a great way to understand what the heck your book is about. I’ve used that as a class exercise for writers, and it is hard but produces useful results. The only problem is mistaking genre expectations for plot. “Will Jane and Bob find love while stuck in quarantine?” It’s a romance so, yeah. Yawn. “Police Detective Bob must find Jane’s killer.” It’s a mystery so of course he will. Yawn. Both descriptions are a waste of a very small space.

  7. Hi Marilynn—Couldn’t agree more.

    So how about: Will pampered movie star, Jane, and Bob, a suspected serial killer, find love while stuck in quarantine?

      • Just to be a PITA, but: Why couldn’t it work for romance? They’re in quarantine together. She doesn’t know he’s a suspected serial killer. Neither does the reader. Then the Big Reveal. Then she uses the surprising tech savvy and research skills on the computer which she learned while studying for her latest starring role to prove that he’s not an SK while they remain in quarantine.

        Et voilà, HEA,

        • Romances don’t have serial killers, period. That’s not something you would ever see in a romance. Romantic heroes are heroes, period. The hero has an emotion flaw which is the problem he must solve to earn the heroine’s love, but that flaw isn’t one that a reader would be turned of by. In other words, he may have commitment problems, but he doesn’t kick kittens or despise children.

  8. Thank you for the post. I’m thinking, the names in the tags get in the way. I love the spare way you express the kernel of the book so reader/agent/publisher gets to the idea right away. Reminds me that the reader/agent/publisher should be allowed to fill in some blanks, use a bit of imagination. ,,,please, more!

    • Thanks, Nancy.

      I agree that the inviting the reader/agent/publisher to use a big of imagination is A Good Thing.

      Sometimes names are needed. I’m thinking of cases where you need to make the genders clear. Especially now when so many girls are given gender-neutral names. Pampered movie star, Jane, and suspected serial killer, Bob. But what if the woman’s name is Madison? Is it gay romance? Or what if the man’s name is Madison? Is this serial killer male or female? Reader wants to know.

  9. Wonderful post. At our Florida writer’s conference, SleuthFest, we had the usual agent/editor meetings with authors. We also did sessions on how to craft a good pitch and inevitably, the writer would start with…plot. As you point out in your examples, that’s an eye-glazer. You have to find the heart of your story, the boiled-down-to-essence heart.

    What’s odd, I always found as a writer, that if I could write the back copy — or better yet, the one killer tagline — I could get a better handle on what my story was “about” at its heart.

    One of my fave tag lines of all time is from the movie poster for Alien: “In space, no one can hear you scream.” And of course, from Jaws: “You’ll never go in the water again.”

    Great post. Thanks.

    • Hi Kristy, Thank *you.*

      Forget the plot. Sell the sizzle! It’s key.

      IMO it’s not “odd” to write the back cover copy/killer tagline first or at least early on. A great way to focus and stick to the point as you draft & edit. As I said above, it’s very easy to get lost in the weeds of writing. Having the snappy blurb and killer tagline to refer to will really help keep the writer on track.

  10. “Sell the sizzle” – Best pitch & blurb advice out there. Probably hardest to perfect. Thanks so much for this great piece, Ruth and Sue. Sorry I’m a day late to the party. Been tied up trying to perfect a pitch and blurb.

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