Writing your book is isn’t the only part of being a writer, and it may not be the hardest part or the most important.Your unquestionable eloquence aside, it’s precious little good to write a fascinating book if you can’t get anyone interested enough to read the damn thing.
Did anyone ever come up to you and ask, “So, what is your book about?”
In response, you find yourself stumbling and stammering, “Oh. Well, it’s about this guy – it’s set some time in the future, you see. Anyway, he works at a glass-blowing factory in Manchester. He’s poor, you know, but his wife wants a fur coat. So anyway, he decides to raise chinchillas…”
“Uh-huh, uh-huh…” He/she looks over your shoulder and says something like, “Sounds interesting. Hey, there’s no one at the taco bar. Excuse me.” And off they scamper, spending the rest of the evening avoiding you.
What you need for such occasions is an elevator pitch.
The elevator pitch is nothing more than your book distilled down to its essential hook – the core premise, situation, or theme the rest of the story is built around. It should be much shorter than a book description (perhaps two sentences and only about 50 words). Most critically, it should be something that both intrigues and is easily memorizable.
It is difficult enough for most authors to write a coherent book description. Writing an elevator pitch seems to be an even greater challenge. I believe a part of the reason for this is that we come to these tasks fresh from the arduous work of writing our books. We have spent months or perhaps years crafting complex and intricate plots, painstakingly-developed characters, and rich, sharp dialogue. Forcing ourselves to peel away all that we have worked so hard to produce is counter-intuitive. Everything in the story seems so essential, so important. How can we possibly encapsulate all that within the scope of a mere few words? I think this is why many book descriptions seem to try to incorporate every character, every challenge, every peril; all the while, doing none of them justice.
But starting at the completed story and working backward to create the book description, elevator pitch, and tagline is reverse-engineering. When you started writing your book, you started with an idea, a situation, or a question. Your book sprang from that starting point:
Future civilization is ruled by vampires who have enslaved and genetically altered the majority of mankind. The captive humans are like farm animals who produce too much blood and would die on their own, but one girl yearns for freedom. Can a wildling boy help her escape?
That’s 47 words. That’s a hook. But then, you write the book, and man, does it have some subplots in it. See, the captive humans are well-fed and cared for by the vampires, but the wildlings are always near starvation, afflicted with disease, and warring with each other. Don’t forget the forbidden romance between the wildling boy and the captive girl. There is probably also a traitor among the wildlings, feeding information to the vampires in return for food or medicine. Oh my goodness, all kinds of interesting subplots spring up once you start writing. And, it’s all so good.
All that stuff won’t fit into an elevator pitch. That stuff needs more elbow room. You can address the other elements in the book description. Don’t feel like you have to cram everything in.
When you craft your elevator pitch, go all the way back to the beginning, to where you first had the thought for the book. Write down that thought. Play with it. Simplify. Simplify again. Shrink it down mercilessly to its vital essence. Bounce it off a few people.you trust. When they say, now, that sounds like a book I’d want to read, STOP. You have your elevator pitch.
So, here is my advice for what it’s worth: When writing your elevator pitch don’t work back from the vantage point of having written the whole book. Go back to the beginning.