The Elevator Pitch: Telling People About Your Book in One Sentence

You may be talking to someone at a party, at work, or while waiting to lead an army of werewolves and asuras into battle to stop the demonic entity Delassi from entering our dimension and consuming it entirely (or is that just me?), and the subject you’ve written or published one or more books may come up. If that happens, there’s a good chance they may ask what your book is about. And that leaves you with the decision on how best to tell them what your story is about without giving away too much or too little.

In instances like these, I prefer to use what’s called the elevator pitch, something I picked up from my job-seeking days (which thankfully are well behind me!). The idea of the elevator pitch is to present the shortest and most succinct description possible for any possible subject. For a job-seeker like myself back in the day, that would be a short description of myself that would give the hiring official an idea of what sort of employee I would be. But for a novel, the elevator would be the briefest description of the story’s plot.

Now, I can already hear some of you saying, “But Rami, my story’s too complex or long to just summarize it in one sentence.” And I can understand that. There are plenty of stories that are difficult to summarize. I’d be hard-pressed to give an elevator pitch for the Song of Ice and Fire series (the closest I’ve ever come is someone making a joke about the series and saying it’s about, “Knights, dragons and boobs,” which is true but probably not the best elevator pitch). However, I find stories that defy the elevator pitch are the exception rather than the rule. Most can be boiled down to their essential nature and used in an elevator pitch.

For example, the Harry Potter books:

A young boy goes to wizard school and discovers his destiny.

Or To Kill a Mockingbird:

A trial with racial overtones sets a small town on edge as one lawyer attempts to give his client a fair shot at justice.

Or Carrie:

A bullied teenage girl discovers she’s telekinetic and decides to use her powers to free herself from her torment, with disastrous results.

When I tell people about my own upcoming novel Rose, this is the elevator pitch I usually give them:

A young woman starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems).

Yes, that’s the plot, and it’s actually getting published. And a lot of people have heard that summary and have asked me to let them know the moment the book is available for purchase.

The upside to using the elevator pitch method is that it takes a big story and condenses all a prospective reader needs to know into a single sentence without bogging them down into unnecessary details like the complex relationship between the Seven Kingdoms, or the blood-purity debate among wizards, or any other details that a reader would be better off learning through actually reading a story. It’s especially helpful if you’re in a place where things happen fast and people come and go quickly, such as in line at a coffee shop, saying hello to the usher you’re on first-name basis with at the movie theater, or, I don’t know, on an elevator.

Another upside to this method is that you can use the pitch with your blog, or short stories you’re submitting to magazines or anthologies, and a whole lot more.

The one downside I can think of, besides that a few stories can’t be summarized in a sentence that easily, a single sentence can’t capture the beauty or the power of a story. The sentence I gave above for Mockingbird can’t impart to the potential reader what a beautiful and emotional coming-of-age story it is, and the one for Harry Potter certainly doesn’t tell you just how awesome those books or the worlds inside them are.

But compared to boring people’s ears off with an entire synopsis or just reading the blurb to them right off the book jacket, this might be the better method, and one I’d highly recommend.

So how does one condense their story to a single sentence? That’s up to the author to decide. No one knows the story better than the author, so they ultimately figure that out. The only advice I can give is to not try to rush it. This can take a while, sometimes several days, to figure out. That, and maybe ask yourself what’s the first thing you think of when it comes to your story. Often, that image that appears in your head is the story at its simplest.

While it may seem a little paradoxical, summarizing a story into a single story and using that as your elevator pitch can make for a great marketing tool in everyday interactions. Who knows? That single sentence could get you a number of eager new readers, if you’re lucky.

Do you use elevator pitches when marketing and submitting your stories? What are some tips you use when coming up with them?

20 thoughts on “The Elevator Pitch: Telling People About Your Book in One Sentence

  1. williamkendall1 June 4, 2018 / 7:07 pm

    I’ve described mine before in a sentence or two.

  2. tidalscribe June 5, 2018 / 5:50 am

    I love the pitch for Rose.

    • rami ungar the writer June 5, 2018 / 7:56 am

      Thank you! I hope it gets a lot of people interested enough to read the book and maybe write a review once it comes out.

  3. patriciaruthsusan June 5, 2018 / 9:13 am

    Thanks, Rami for this helpful advice. 🙂 — Suzanne

    • rami ungar the writer June 5, 2018 / 9:16 am

      Happy to be of service. I hope you find it useful in the future.

  4. stephaniedanielsonauthor June 5, 2018 / 10:06 am

    Reblogged this on Author Stephanie L. Danielson and commented:
    Hmmm, good idea! Now to come up with my one sentence pitches!

  5. Norma Beishir June 5, 2018 / 11:50 am

    High concept, as it’s called in the film industry. Excellent advice for any writer.

    Your novel sounds intriguing, Rami. Keep us posted on it!

    • rami ungar the writer June 5, 2018 / 11:52 am

      I’m glad you approve. 😊

      I post about it regularly on my personal blog. You can check there for updates if you’re interested.

      • Ruth Ann Nordin June 10, 2018 / 8:21 pm

        You could mention the release over here. Just combine it with something like the steps you went through with a publisher or how going with a publisher is different from indie publishing. I think it could be a useful post. Then you can just give a link to the book through the retailer or a book page on your blog. However you want to do it will work. But it sounds like a couple of people (including myself) are interested in the book. Why not let us all know where it’s at when it’s out?

        • rami ungar the writer June 10, 2018 / 8:22 pm

          I’ll consider that as the book gets closer to publication.

  6. Ruth Ann Nordin June 10, 2018 / 8:15 pm

    This is something I struggle with a lot. I’m at the point where I have hired out for book descriptions, and this comes with a one sentence hook. But that’s no excuse to not keep trying.

    Yours is a really good one.

    • rami ungar the writer June 10, 2018 / 8:17 pm

      It’s certainly gotten people interested. Just don’t struggle with it or try to come up with it in one go. I often find my best ones come from just not thinking about it. They come to me naturally. Maybe that’ll work for you.

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