The Elevator Pitch. Maybe you've heard it talked about but didn't know what it was. Or maybe you know but have placed it at the bottom of your priority list.
Nuh-uh. That changes today.
What's an elevator pitch, you ask? Let me throw you in the deep end. You're in an office building heading up to the 8th floor. Suddenly, Karen Kingsbury steps in with you and hits the button for the 7th floor. Your palms start sweating, your mouth goes dry and you blurt out some embarrassing remark about being a writer. She smiles and asks, "So what's your story about?" You've just passed floor 2.
Quick! What do you say? It better not start with "Uhhh" or "My story is full of romance, action, adventure, lost innocence, redemption, relationships..." (There goes floor 5). "Um, the main character is a guy in his 40's-- well, later we find out he's really 82, but anyway... " ding, ding, ding! "Oh, here's my floor" she says, "Good luck with your book" and off she goes. Yeah, you've got to do better than that. Give it a hearty try right now. You have 60 seconds.
How'd you do? I know how I did the first time I tried.
Your elevator pitch is like your query letter, squeezed and shaved and peeled down to its core. And it's very hard to squeeze only the most important things out of your marvelous masterpiece. After all, your novel is a complex tapestry of emotions you've spent months or even years weaving together. How can you find which thread to pull without the whole thing unraveling into an undiscernable mess? Trial and error, critique partners, and a few tips to get started.
Step #1: Which character is MOST IMPORTANT. If your life depended on you choosing only one, who would that be? Forget everyone else for now. For me, that's John.
Step #2: What's the BIG EMERGENCY that character faces-- the one that sets everything in motion? This shouldn't be too difficult but depending on your story it might not be as obvious as it sounds.
Put these together in simple terms. Here's mine: John's wife and daughter are killed.
Step #3: What does your MC do that makes EVERYTHING WORSE? Chances are there will be a series of bad decisions or events that will set your MC up for a fall. Pick the biggest one. Mine: John sleeps with a prostitute.
Step #4: What TEST does your MC then face? For John, it's how he'll handle the resulting pregnancy.
Step #5: This is really more of a tip. You don't have to (and shouldn't) resolve the story in your elevator pitch. You want the person to feel they have to read the book to find out.
Another important tip (this is huge) is remembering that this is going to be a CONVERSATION. It will not be read on a sheet of paper or computer screen, it will be heard coming from YOUR LIPS. So make it sounds CONVERSATIONAL. You probably don't have a voice like Movie-Preview-Guy, so don't try and insert dramatic pauses or anything that requires an embarrassing tone of voice to get the impact of the statement. Example: You aren't going to say: He'll finally find love... a love like none he's ever known before... the love... of GOD. You'd say something more like: He'll finally realize the love of God is unlike any other. That's not probably the best example but my point is- say it aloud and make sure it sounds natural. Record yourself even, if you have to. Just don't sound like a weirdo.
So here's a couple of tries for mine, and I hope to get some real-life practice with them on friends over the next week so I'm prepared before conference:
1) My story is about a man whose wife and daughter are killed in a fire. He blames God, ditches his faith, and tries to deal with his grief on his own. He finally reaches his breaking point and repents when he wakes up next to a prostitute. He's forgiven, but he finds that newfound faith— and even falling in love again— is not all sunshine and roses when the now-pregnant hooker knocks on his door.
2) My story is about a man in rebellion, angry at God after the death of his wife and daughter-- until he wakes up next to a prostitute, comes to his senses, and repents. He starts putting his life back together, even falls in love, and everything is looking up. But then the prostitute shows up on his doorstep, 6 months pregnant with his child, and John has to decide whether to try and keep his secret buried or risk everything by bringing it to light. Between John, his fiancé, and the pregnant prostitute, it's a very different kind of love triangle.
Let me know what you think. I hope you've gained something from this post- motivation to get moving if nothing else. I am providing a couple of excellent links for further reading. Happy Hunting! (For agents that is)