The Elevator Pitch

Katherine Longshore 5 Tuesday, August 02, 2011
We're all busy packing (or still shopping for something other than a tatty Humboldt State University sweatshirt), planning get-togethers and preparing our families for our absence this week.  Oh, yes, and I'm warming up my elevator pitch.  I know I'll have to answer the question, "So what's your book about?" and I can't just mumble, "It's about the fifth wife of Henry VIII."  Even though I posted this blog quite a while ago, I have to keep coming back to it to get my pitch straight.  I hope it continues to help some of you, too!

Elevator Pitch.  Logline.  Single sentence synopsis.  They are not necessarily the same thing, but all boil down to one essential problem:  How to distill your 80,000+ word novel into a single sentence?  30 seconds.  140 characters.

Conferences are coming up (and many have already happened), do you have your elevator pitch ready?  No?  Why not?  Because it's impossible

I always thought so, too.

I have a confession to make.  I never had one.  Not for one single conference I have ever attended.  Not for queries.  Not for unintentional run-ins with editors.  Not for Twitter.  If anyone asked what my book was about, I would say:  Well, it's the story of the fifth wife of Henry VIII told from the point of view of her best friend.  Yawn.  Good thing only my friends asked.  At least they pretend to be interested.

But lucky for me I now have a brilliant editor in Kendra Levin, and a few weeks ago she shared with me  some ideas for writing a logline.  She learned it herself at an SCBWI conference.  This is what she said:

--Try using "what if" statement.  As in, "What if an ordinary girl became the Queen of England?"

--Logline formula:  "After [inciting incident], a [character description, without name] must [primary action] or risk/while risking [stakes] in order to [end goal].

--The parts of the logline can be juggled around in an order that suits the statement/story

Using the formula and a few insightful suggestions from Kendra, I came up with the following logline/elevator pitch for GIRL IN A DIAMOND COLLAR:

When her best friend marries Henry VIII, a previously disregarded maid-in-waiting must learn to walk the fine line between secrets and treason, knowing her life and that of the Queen could be threatened by any wrong word spoken (and those left unsaid).

Still a bit wordy, perhaps.  But much more interesting.  I found that having a formula -- and thinking precisely about what is most important to the story -- helped me get over my fear of the single-sentence sales pitch.  This can then be tweaked to fit your needs more particularly -- add the character's name, the objective of the quest, etc.  Play with it.  Sure, it's not as fun as the 80,000 words, but for me it wasn't nearly as dire as I expected it to be.  

I'll be practicing my elevator pitch in LA on Friday.  But if you ask me about it, don't be surprised if I say, "My book is about the fifth wife of Henry VIII."  Because for me, even the most carefully prepared pitch flies straight out of my head under pressure.  Wish me luck.

*****And don't forget about our big blogoversary contest!  Check back on Thursday, and I hope to see you at a conference soon!*****

And please come back next Tuesday, when I'll turn my day over to Kjersten Anna Hayes, who will be giving an Illustrator's Perspective from the SCBWI Summer Conference.


I love your elevator pitch, excellent job! It sets the scene, the character, and the conflict. Perfect! Have fun at the conference!

This was an EXTREMELY enlightening post for me the first time I read it. I didn't have any loglines and started writing them immediately and pitching myself an elevator pitch and pitching my husband and the parakeet and anyone who would listen to me on my cell phone. The formula really works and jumpstarted me with ideas. Happy conference! Wish I was going this year.

Thanks Heather and PB! I do hope to get the chance to meet you both sometime. And PB, I think I need to start pitching my family and pets, too!

Katy, this post sparked a log line revolution amongst my critique group. We now try to have log lines ready to critique at our meetings (as well as, you know, the fiction itself). So thank you!

I'm so glad it's been helpful, Beth! I love the idea of a log line revolution!

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