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11 boxes, 2 imps, 1 owl

11 boxes, 2 imps, 1 owl

The theme for this week’s Write with Jericho coursework is settings, and I’ll have more to say on that topic later. But first, I have eleven boxes in front of me, wrapped in jewel-coloured silks and tied with ribbon.

#1 A dark crimson box, tied with a bow in midnight blue.

In this box, I find these words:

An elevator pitch is for you, and only you. The pitch is not the cover quote, or the book blurb, or the query letter, or any sentence from your query letter, or anything you ever say to anyone. The elevator pitch is for you and for you and for you and only ever for you.

#2 A flattish box in Dutch-blue silk, tied with a bow of daffodil yellow.

In this box:

The cover quote and the book blurb and the cover design and the query letter and all those things: they are the daughters of your elevator pitch. They spring from it, but they are not it.

#3 A middling-sized box, perfectly cubic, in dark pink with a pale green ribbon.

In this box, I find these words:

And the text.

And the text.

And the text.

The text of your novel is also a daughter of your elevator pitch, and the most important one, and the only one that truly utterly matters.

#4 A jewellery-type box, in very dark green, tied with an antique cream ribbon.

In this box:

If your elevator pitch is perfect, anyone encountering it (or one of its many daughters) will say, Oh golly gosh. That sounds interesting. Please tell me more.

The purpose of the pitch (or one of its many daughters) is to elicit precisely that response. If you hear that response, your pitch has worked. If not, it has not.”

#5 A box without shape or size, clothed in a rich bronze-brown silk, tied off with red.

In this box:

Because the parent-pitch is for you and you alone, it doesn’t matter one whit whether the pitch sounds pretty or whether it resembles something that you might use for the front of a book.”

Flapping around in the same box is a white owl. Printed on its back are the words: “Orphan + wizard school.”

It is not clear what the role of this owl is, but I surmise that it is there to remind us (A) that “orphan + wizard school” is an extremely compelling elevator pitch, and (B) that this phrase does not sound pretty, nor does it resemble something that you might put on the front of a book.

The owl is silent and is missing a tail-feather.

#6 A box clothed in the colours of a parrot tulip. No ribbon.

In this box:

Imagine yourself in a large bookshop. There is a table devoted to the leading books of your specific genre, whatever that may be. No reader is going to read three chapters of each book, compare them carefully, and choose the best. That would be an ideal way to select a book, but it is not a method that anyone chooses, ever.

Instead, readers look at two things. They look at what we might call proofs of excellence – a gushing review in the New York Times, for example, or some very large number of books sold. And readers try to get a sense of the basic elevator pitch.

They can’t see the elevator pitch itself (which – see Box #1 – is for you and for you and for you and for you.) But they will see multiple daughters of that pitch: the cover design, the title, any cover quote, the back jacket blurb, and of course any page or pages picked at random from your book.

The purpose of your elevator pitch is to produce beautiful daughters. The purpose of those beautiful daughters, collectively, is to make the sale.

In this box, there is a single white feather and the sound of an owl calling at midnight.

#7 A box dressed in a dark, coppery gold, with a twice-knotted ribbon that has the colour of dried blood.

In this box, this text:

No one cares about abstractions.

No one.

If you write: This is a tale of one woman’s fight for justice against oppression, no one is interested.

Think of that.

One woman. A fight for justice. And no one’s interested.

Yet if you write, A woman lives in a near-future America, where she and others are made to produce children for their Commanders, you have just described The Handmaid’s Tale and everyone on earth will want to read it.

Also in this box: a ring, that once bore a ruby.

Also, in a dancing line around the interior of the box, there are repeated the words:

No one cares about abstractions.

#8 A box, made of green-black glass, and knotted with exquisitely embroidered material, upon which it is possible to discern the shape of a peacock and the leaves and branches of an exotic tree.

In this box:

A small but furious imp dashes itself against the sides of the box and screams, “But if I get specific, I will GIVE THE GAME AWAY! Under no circumstances will I ever reveal the specifics of my BIG IDEA.”

#9 This box is the most gorgeous box so far, and takes on whatever colour the eye wishes to see. It smells of winter jasmine and white tea.

In this box, there sits a short letter addressed to the imp of Box #8:

“Dear Imp

Had you not noticed? The pitch is for you and for you and for you and for you. You cannot give the game away to yourself; you already know the game.

So be specific and candid.

After all, why does a reader HAVE TO pick this particular book up? What makes THIS BOOK essential? Almost literally, essential. Like, if you hadn’t already written this book, the idea was so good that someone would have to. (The Handmaid’s Tale very much falls into this category.)”

There is nothing else in the box.

Imp #2: scarlet, and angry

An imp has come loose from one of the boxes. It is eating smouldering pellets of coal and yelling:

Orphan + Wizard School? Bah. That’s not a fair summary of the book. What about Quidditch and Voldemort and who Harry’s parents were and Hermione and all that? A summary of the book HAS TO include those things and you can’t do that in something ridiculous like 12 words.

Box #10 – a faded golden beige, tied with red

The sound of a bell, heard over wet fields.

That, and these words, very calm:

“An elevator pitch is not a house. It is a front door.

A pitch is not the book, or a model of the book. It is the reason why you want to pick the book up.

A house is for living in. A book is for reading.

The pitch and the door are there to encourage entrance.

That’s all.”

Box #11 – a beautiful blue-and-white ceramic box, made to fit in the palm of the hand

Inside this box, remarkably, sits a life-size version of me, wearing a red silk dressing gown and smoking a pipe.

This version of me sits in front of a warm fireplace, and says:

Personally, I find some of the strongest pitches just knit together two or three (or sometimes four) ingredients. That’s all.

For example, Orphan + wizard school. That works.

Or indeed, Teen romance + vampire. That also works.

You can find examples aplenty. For example, from the Feedback Friday just gone, some excellent soul came up with a pitch that boiled down to Wolves + orphan + sense of belonging. You can already feel a good book beginning to stir with only that by way of description.

What bemuses me about this is that I don’t wear a dressing gown and I never smoke. But no sooner do I put the box down, than I glimpse myself in the mirror, wearing vibrant red silk. On the table before me, an ashtray full of discarded pipe tobacco.

I have no explanation.


Honestly? If you want a perfect elevator pitch (and the foundation of an excellent novel), then you need to sit and contemplate those 11 boxes, the 1 owl and the 2 imps. All the wisdom you need is there.

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