If you’re an aspiring author, you’ve likely come across the phrase “elevator pitch” – essentially, the idea is that if you should have the chance to spend a few moments in an elevator with someone, you should have a clear and concise way of pitching your project to them. In its purest form, the elevator pitch may sound like “A gender-swapped Succession” or “Pride & Prejudice set on Mars”: it’s quick, efficient, and it may strike you as a little reductive, but at its best it’s exciting. You’re trying to pique someone’s interest, and a well-crafted elevator pitch will do just that.

But, as with all such things, working up the right elevator pitch for your project is an art. You want something compelling but not inaccurate. You wouldn’t want to compare your gentle Regency romance to Game of Thrones because it doesn’t make a lot of sense and gives your audience the wrong picture of your project.

So, how to go about it? Start by thinking about your influences: what inspired you while you were writing? Consider, also, comparison titles to your own. Where would your book sit in a bookstore? If someone likes your book, what other books do they like? Be specific! You may feel that your book will appeal to anyone who likes books, but remember that your average reader has preferred genres and your first aim should be to get your book into that person’s hands. When thinking about influences and comparison titles to use in your elevator pitch, start with something your average reader will be familiar with. My examples above – Game of Thrones and Pride & Prejudice – are extremely well known, so will help paint a clear picture of your project. Using something more obscure can be limiting, even if it is ultimately a little more accurate: consider “The Wars of the Roses retold as a secondary world fantasy” versus “A medieval Succession, with dragons”. Which of those sounds more compelling?

Next, you want to add in that element which sets your project apart from others: thus, “Succession, with dragons”. What makes your project special? Again, this can feel reductive – how can you boil your entire work down to a few words? – but it’s incredibly important. What is your unique selling point? Is it your characters, your setting, your approach to the material?

You can use another title as a convenient shorthand: when I was publishing Pierce Brown’s debut, Red Rising, my elevator pitch was “Ender’s Game meets The Hunger Games.” Red Rising is about a group of students at an elite school, one where they’re trained in the art of war by killing each other, and my pitch placed the novel firmly in the categories I intended: SF and YA.

A solid elevator pitch will do an immense amount of work for you: it will spark the interest of potential agents, editors, booksellers, film and tv producers and, eventually readers. If you’re querying agents, I would suggest you work up as solid an elevator pitch as possible, but don’t worry if it’s not perfect. If you secure representation, your agent will work on your pitch before sending the book out on submission to editors, and should a publishing house take your book on, that pitch will likely be refined yet again.

Our friends at Jericho have also written some great advice about developing an elevator pitch; you can read more here.

Good luck!

– Anne

Photo by Sung Jin Cho on Unsplash