Elevating a pitch

Jo Reed

Today we’re delighted to welcome our newest member, Jo Reed, who has some great experience to share on the dreaded elevator pitch. 

At some time, every novelist comes up against the infamous ‘elevator pitch’. For those who haven’t encountered it yet, here’s the idea – you get into an elevator (that’s a lift to us Brits!) and at the next floor, in gets your dream agent. This is your perfect opportunity to sell the idea of your brilliant, too-good-to-miss potential best seller in the thirty seconds it takes for the lift to reach the agent’s floor. At that point, if he/she doesn’t get out of the lift, you’ve cracked it!

Simple – except it isn’t. Writing a good elevator pitch is notoriously difficult, and many writers shy away from it even though it is an essential component of a good submission pack these days. A query letter to an agent is equivalent to that trip in the lift, and the first few lines explaining what the novel is about need to really grab him/her by the throat and yell, ‘Read me!’ In thirty seconds (around fifty words) that’s a tough job.

I recently attended the ‘Discovery Day’ event in London, organised by Foyles and two top agencies, Curtis Brown and Conville and Walsh. The day gave an opportunity for writers to practice their elevator pitch alongside the first page of their novel. It is a nerve-racking process for sure, but invaluable in terms of feedback and expert advice on pitch, plot and opening. Despite the inevitable queues, the experience was well worth it. The agent I spoke to seemed to like the pitch I had spent weeks trying to perfect, and was extremely generous both with time and advice on markets, plot and structure. I came away from the interview with fresh enthusiasm for my current project, which in itself was worth the journey.

The day ended with a one hour Q&A panel in which agents, including Jonny Geller and Claire Conville, again emphasised the importance of a knockout thirty second pitch to sell a novel. The very first question was from a writer who admitted her pitch had been a disaster, and suggested that some novels were simply too complex to be pitched in just thirty seconds. The unanimous response from the panel was that if a writer finds it impossible to encapsulate their novel in a pitch of just two or three sentences, chances are it’s not the pitch that is the problem, it’s the novel.

The pitch forces the writer to ask some pretty important questions, such as, do I have a single, clear, logical and gripping plotline? Can my main character grab hold of the reader in a single sentence? Is there a clearly recognisable conflict or situation that forms the hub of the novel? If the answer to all these is ‘yes’, the elevator pitch should follow naturally (although, like any birth, ‘natural’ does not necessarily mean ‘painless’!) A good pitch can even become a guide – I’ve stuck my latest one on a noticeboard above my desk, just to remind me, when I get bogged down in plot minutiae, why I’m writing the novel in the first place …

tyranny book cover Jo is the author of the Blood Dancer fantasy series and is now moving into crime fiction.
Visit Jo’s website

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