Following on the topics of two previous posts (The Value of an ‘Elevator Speech’ and Thoughts on the Synopsis), I’ve been asked how one can successfully pitch their book (or screenplay) concept in just 20 seconds. Here’s an answer.
First, please recognize that you are probably capable of spending five minutes or more describing your project and what makes it unique. But just because you could, that does not mean you should. Agents, publishing houses, and readers generally don’t have either the time nor interest for so much detail. Instead, they want a short, concise summary of your material.
How short? Your target is 20 seconds. Or less.
If you gain their interest, they will then ask for more detail (such as a synopsis) and you now have an interested buyer.
What to Include in Your Elevator Pitch
Your pitch should be unique to you, but think in terms of three sentences:
- Your name, genre, and where you are in the writing process;
- Your book title and possibly its tagline or subtitle;
- An enticing description of the main story.
That’s it. Consider it a tease. Leave out all non-essential window dressing and boil it down to its core, highlighting any elements that make it unique.
Oh, and keep in mind that this is not the time to go generic or be a generalist. You need to be as specific as possible and pitch just one story (or concept for a book series) at a time.
Sample 1 (20 seconds)
“My name is Bo Folsom and I’m writing a comedic memoir drawn from my stand-up comedy sets. Titled ‘My Life So Far,’ I’m probably a third of the way through what I expect to be about 30 short chapters. The core of the material derives from my personal experience as a rocket scientist and coming to terms with being gay. It also delves into pop culture, politics, and relationships, all told from my personal sense of humor.”
Sample 2 (25 seconds)
“I’m Bo Folsom, collaborating on a non-fiction historical manuscript that tells the tale of seven World War II seamen, most of whom perished aboard their submarines, and the journey of their offspring to rediscover their lost fathers. In the process, they ultimately find reconciliation and empathy spanning three continents. Titled ‘The Enemy Was War,’ the author and I are currently in final edits en route to publication in advance of the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.”
Sample 3 (18 seconds)
“Hi, I’m Bo Folsom, developing a collection of short stories intended to be self-published by the end of the year. Titled ‘Dusk to Dawn,’ the four non-fiction pieces are complete, and I am nearing completion on the first of two fictional works. The collection addresses historic civil rights issues, commentary on pop culture, and tragic shortcomings of science fact.”
If I’ve written these adequately, each provides an opportunity for the listener to grasp the fundamentals while quickly determining if they hear more. All three are packed with a lot of info.
In my voice, Sample 2 is 25 seconds. Is that too long? Maybe, depending on circumstances. If pressed, I could cut the phrase “…most of whom perished aboard their submarines…” and/or the reference to a publication date. However, both phrases are directly relevant to a potential agent so I’d weigh the balance between brevity and the fuller description. In any case, all three are under 30 seconds.
Create Your Own 20-Second Pitch!
Can you create a 20-second pitch for your own work? Of course you can, you are a writer. Write, edit, revise, and edit again.
And as with your regular work, recognize that your elevator pitch can also benefit from critique, feedback, and revision. Good luck!