No Time for Elevator Music

Ever heard of an elevator pitch?

I will honestly admit this has never happened to me: I’m in Hollywood, in some fancy-schmancy place, and the elevator doors open. Inside: J.J. Abrams. My heart stops! I have a super sci-fi novel that will make a fantastic movie. Yes, I know this, but how can you convince a man who can create a blockbuster movie in the blink of an eye?

You step in the elevator; your mouth goes dry. What do you say? The doors shut, trapping you with the man. You watch as the floors click by. Precious time is ticking. It’s all or nothing. You have to say something!!

Hence the term “elevator pitch.” Given most elevator rides, you have maybe 30 seconds to get his attention, pique his interest, and make him want more. Okay, how do you do that? This is where all those years of writing will save the day. You must condense a 120 page screenplay, or a 400+ page novel into less than 30 seconds of talking. Oh, and don’t forget to always have business cards on you!

Loglines were developed for just this purpose. It’s Hollywood speak for a very brief (1-2 sentence) synopsis of your project. And it’s the hardest thing for most writers to master. So what’s the key to writing a successful logline? It must be catchy. You’ll have to extrapolate the most important bits of your work into no more than 2 sentences.

There is a Hollywood recognized stock formula for loglines. Here’s an example:

The Hall is a supernatural thriller/horror about Marcus Bishop, a wealthy Memphis book publisher, who wants to buy an old castle-like manor, amidst warnings that the building is haunted.

(Title) is a (genre) about (main character) who, what, where, when, why, (main plot point 1) and (plot point 2) or resolution.

Here’s another:

Space Junk is a sci-fi/action adventure about Captain Dar Meltom, a freighter pilot who accidentally ignites an inter-galactic war that threatens his entire species, and changes the Ontarrin Galaxy forever.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s okay to tell the ending of your story if it will give your pitch punch. And be ready to answer questions—this is a GOOD thing! If J.J. likes what he hears, he will ask a question or two. Don’t freak out. Take a deep breath, gather your thoughts (quickly), and give him what he wants.

There are also non-standard loglines, and these can be fun to get an eyebrow raise from your prospective target.

This is my favorite:

If it weren’t for bad luck, space freighter captain, Dar Meltom, would have no luck at all. A load of contaminated fuel ignites a war that not only threatens his entire species, but will change the Ontarrin Galaxy forever.

As you can see, I don’t give the title, or genre, although “space freighter captain” does imply sci-fi. It’s a catchy logline that has served me well.

Most important, don’t fret over it. Take your time and find the points that highlight your story. Don’t get wordy, you don’t have time. K.I.S.S. applies: Keep It Short & Sweet (or Simple or Snappy).

Your goal is when the elevator doors open and J.J. steps onto his floor, you want him to turn and ask if you have a business card. If you’ve gained his interest, you’ve gone a long way in getting noticed in the important circles. Even if your story doesn’t sell, he may keep you in mind for some of your other stories.

30 seconds in an elevator can seem like an eternity if you’re not prepared. Most executives won’t give you much more than that. Make each second count; it could be your only shot. I’ve never been in an elevator with J.J. Abrams (although I wish I could!), but I’ve had to pitch via email and phone to some Hollywood execs. No matter what, it’s a nerve-racking experience, and the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

Author: K. Rowe

K. Rowe is an experienced and prolific multi-genre author. She draws from over twenty years of active Air Force service. Kathy lives in eastern Kentucky with her husband and a zoo of farm animals. Among her many duties she finds time to offer services as a publishing consultant for new authors. Learn more about Kathy from Facebook, and her Amazon author page.

9 thoughts on “No Time for Elevator Music”

    1. Me too. And I swear that being a novelist makes us just that much more difficult- we’re used to writing it out LONG, and then when asked to come up with two sentences, we go nuts trying to figure out where to start.

      As it was, I pitched my non-traditional logline in a class last night, and the instructor didn’t think much of it. But, this was the very logline I used when advertising the project, and it snagged me 2 Hollywood A-list producers. So you never know what will tickle the fancy of the execs.

  1. Kathy, if you’ve written a series of novels, does it make more sense to pitch the first book or the whole series? Maybe it depends on the series? Maybe I’m answering my own question? 😀

    1. Lynne- excellent question! And the cool part: I happen to know the answer. I’m currently taking an online course titled Sell Your Book to Hollywood, and one of the questions was: which to pitch? The answer: Pitch the first book in the series, and then mention there are more books. If they like the first one, and they know there is a series, they will engage you on the following books.

    1. You’re most welcome. Kat couldn’t believe how fast I wrote it. I told her I had an epiphany, and when I get one, better watch out ’cause the words will be flying!

  2. When our books were chosen to represent New Zealand Lit in our county’s year of honour at the Frankfurt Book fair, we were well coached by the NZ Society of Authors about how to make the most of it. The elevator pitch was a big part of it, but we were told it should be TEN seconds in length. (The CEO of Harper Collins NY might only be travelling one floor with you!) and also the 5 minute pitch.I used both when I was there. I memorised both and the five minute pitch takes an awful lot of memorising – just try it. I didn’t just recite it – I performed it with all my heart and soul and treated it like an actor performing Shakespeare.
    But the ten second (elevator) pitch is FUN! It is supposed to have enough power to bring the listener up in goose bumps. I used it at Frankfurt and I’ve used it ever since. Mine was:
    “Ripple is the twenty million year old story of how one dolphin was inspired by love to an intellectual achievement that changed the universe.”

    1. You’re right on the short 10 second pitch- that is all the more reason to have a really catchy logline. All the books I’ve read, and the course I’m taking say give it 30, but you never know how long you’ll actually have.

      I envy you! I want to visit NZ, but being a full time farmer and author has me pretty stuck. Ah, I can keep dreaming…

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