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…
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
- 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.
- Read the book descriptions on promo sites and keep the ones you love to refer to when you write your own fab elevator pitch.
- Be on the lookout for taglines other authors use to pitch their book in their FaceBook, BookBub, and Amazon ads.
- 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.
- Consult your dead darlings, the ones you killed, (You do save them, don’t you?) for more ideas.
- Consider chapter titles that might make a great hook or pitch intro.
- Here are 5 suggestions from BookBub about how to write a killer elevator pitch.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
They rescue endangered animals, but can they rescue each other?
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