What is an elevator pitch for a novel?
And why does it matter so damn much?
An elevator pitch is the term given to any sales pitch that could, in theory, be delivered in the space of a short elevator ride.
The idea is that you might find yourself in the elevator with Someone Important who can’t, for those twenty or thirty seconds, escape or deflect your attentions – so you can use that time to deliver a sales pitch so utterly compelling that that Person of Importance is drawn in and wants to hear more.
To be clear: this is a fantasy scenario.
You are never likely to be called upon to pitch your book in this way. It’s just not how any normal submission process happens.
(Or, for that matter, how any normal elevator ride happens. I’ve twice been in an elevator with the CEO of a major publisher. On both occasions, we chatted about the weather, or the shiny new canteen, or whatever people normally talk about in elevators.)
But that notional elevator pitch still matters, because it’s a neat conceptual way to understand:
- the very heart of your book’s Unique Selling Point – which in turn determines,
- how an agent could pitch your book to a publisher
- how an acquiring editor could pitch that book internally
- how a sales team could pitch that book to retail buyers
- how a publicist could pitch that book to reviewers
- how the book blurb could pitch that book to readers (online or physically)
And no book succeeds unless it’s pitchable in that way. In fact, you can define an elevator pitch like this:
An elevator pitch for a novel is a very short summary of what makes the book
- Fresh, and
If your elevator pitch doesn’t tick those boxes, your book is unlikely to sell. An agent will think “can I pitch this to editors?” and think, No, probably not. An acquiring editor will think, “can I pitch this book in house?” and think, No, probably not. And so on down the chain.
How short is very short? Well, there are no set rules, but I’d suggest that fewer than 20 words is ideal. Fewer than 50 words is essential.
Brevity is key, not because that theoretical elevator ride is short, but because you need to isolate what is special about your book. That means discarding nearly everything about the book – for example, the settings, the plot twists, the great characters, the genius denouement, and so on.
Sure, you need to get to those things in time. If the Very Important Person in the elevator gets out on the same floor as you and says, “Sounds great, tell me more”, then all those other things are going to matter too. A great elevator pitch is essential, yes, but it’s never enough on its own.
But still. The elevator pitch is very short. And it matters.