As I was working on writing a query for my recently completed novel, I came across the term "elevator pitch." This is a one-sentence pitch of your novel that, when told, should make your listener want to read the book.
The pitch should go in the query, perhaps, or just be memorized in case you should find yourself at a conference or workshop and you have ten seconds of an agent's time in which to pique their interest.
Wow, daunting much? I have written it a dozen ways, and I am still wondering how in the world to do it.
So I ask you, what would your elevator pitch be for the novel you have written or are working on or may one day write?
The specific term for an "elevator pitch" in a literary context would be "logline". This is a one line summary of a story which is used to identify manuscripts beyond their title. This term is used in TV for a one sentence episode summary for a listing or for a one sentence pitch for a new show. There's even an on-line random logline generator (http://www.lifeformz.com/cgi-bin/idea/idea.fcgi).
I've heard one interesting suggestion that you should have a second logline that cuts across the first to give a fuller picture of the story's appeal.
Here are loglines for my current WIPs:
The Wonderful Instrument: (1)"A dashing but insecure young political refugee befriends a strange and friendless boy, not realizing that boy is a modern Frankenstein's monster." (2) "The boy becomes both his mentor and rival, teaching and protecting him as they vie for the same girl."
The Quest for Norumbega: (1) "In the far distant future, mighty warrior sages wander the wastelands of North America, meting out justice and fighting ignorance with their peculiar mix of Tibetan Buddhism and Judaism." (2) "A courageous but maladroit young man joins his new master in the quest for the legendary treasure house of sages, a quest that will first break his heart, then lead him to his heart's desire."
Baudwynn The Inattentive: (1) "The most poorly trained demonologist in the land discovers an infernal plot to undermine the nation." (2) "He joins forces with his old school chum, the most learned young wizard of their generation, showing him an ancient style of magic that runs deeper than academic achievement."
"Young Miles is torn from his life as a simple apprentice and entangled in the affairs of proud princes and lost princesses, mad kings and ancient powers, never dreaming that the greatest evil to be unleashed on the world is himself."
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Mine are all much too wordy. But since I'm unlikely to find myself in an elevator with an agent or editor, I haven't spent enough time refining them.
When a demigod succeeds in becoming a god only to find that nothing has prepared him for the challenges he now faces and the results of his own failures, it takes an outcast girl with the ability to enter dreams--even his--to help him make things right.
When a young woman unintentionally unleashes the berserker curse in her blood, she exiles herself from her home and everything she loves until she can find a way to control the berserker fury and, if possible, a cure for the curse.
Magic is supposedly dead in Rell’s world, but when he finds himself ‘gifted’ with magic he doesn’t know how to control, he’s ostracized from his family and runs away to find someone who can help him learn to use his magic safely.
Yech. Everyone one of those could be cut in half, at least, if I just spent a little time on it.
One of the agents on the panel joked that five words was pretty much her attention span. There was a lot of nervous laughter in the room at that point.
It's meant to be a challenge. The instructor wanted you to think about your story in the most basic of concepts. Tell the meat of what your story is about, and move on. I did use it when I had my turn at the agent panel. I had never pitched a book before, so I shrugged and said, "I don't know what I'm doing. So I'm going to hit you with my elevator pitch and see if it interests you."
She asked for more, then had me send her the full manuscript. So it can work.
Ah, loglines...the bane of any screenwriter's existence.
Here's some advice on developing a logline from Chris Lockhart, the Story Editor at WME:
A logline conveys the dramatic story of a screenplay in the most abbreviated manner possible.
It presents the major throughline of the dramatic narrative without character intricacies and sub-plots.
It is the story boiled down to its base. A good logline is one sentence. More complicated screenplays may need a two sentence logline.
A logline must present:
Who the story is about (protagonist) What he strives for (goal) What stands in his way (antagonistic force)
And all the loglines I've seen in this thread so far would fail per Chris's criteria. It is VERY hard to come up with a good logline.
Having said that, literary works are given a little more leeway. That's why they want chapters and a synopsis. When querying with screenplays, if you don't have a logline that'll grab someone's attention, then into the round file it goes. And no rejection notice, either. Just the whistling wind. Or whatever sound cyberspace makes.
If I had to catch someone's interest in my novel with exactly five words, they would be:
Spies, lies, sex, murder & magic.
I know I cheated with the ampersand, but I honestly can't think of five more interesting words. Also, it's the coolest quick tagline I can think of. Sort of has a ring to it. I suppose I could claim that the five words weren't meant to be a sentence, and I was simply listing a sequence of them for your enjoyment, so I wasn't cheating with '&'.
I'm actually not (completely) trying to be funny; that could totally go on the back cover of my book. I'd be proud of that. (Also would be proud of having a published book. But, you know, the quote too.)
I pitched a logline to an editor once, and his response was that it sounded derivative.
And then I was told that loglines are better suited for screenplays because producers tend to want things that are "new but the same" (as in "derivative").
But book publishers don't want things that sound derivative--they want to know what makes your story different from all the other ones that cross their desks, not what makes them the "new but the same."
Yeah, I think it is important to note that "loglines" are primarily a screenplay device, whereas an "elevator pitch" can be more than a logline.
Personally, I think the five word thing is ridiculous when it comes to novels. It doesn't say anything about what one's novel is actually about, or why it would be different/better than anything else out there.
14 year old Anya didn't ask to move to the Space Station Convergence, leaving all her Earthside friends behind. Pissed and lonely, the first friend she makes is a sentient computer named Isis. When dark forces threaten Isis, Anya will do anything to protect her new friend, risking life, limb, and unintended spacing in the process.
Breaking a novel down into five words is do-able but what are you really accomplishing? What benefit does it give you? The logline concept that it is derived from comes from the world of screenplays. Someone could say "It's Star Wars meets Home Alone" and give a producer an idea what they are talking about. As someone already mentioned, it's mashing together two known entities to create a new derivative, but the movies love derivatives.
I can see the sense of the elevator pitch. A copywriting rule of thumb allows 75 words per 30 seconds, so you have got some room to work with. It also makes sense that you could run into an agent or editor in an elevator so it is good to be prepared. But I've never heard of anyone asking for novel loglines outside of writing workshops.
quote:But I've never heard of anyone asking for novel loglines outside of writing workshops.
It was a writing workshop. It was a conference. And like I've mentioned, the exercise was just to get us to think about our book from a core concept. It helped answer the question, "What is your book about" without going into a mumbling, rambling fit. It just so happened to also work well when I went to pitch my book to an agent.
To each their own device. I just found some use in this one.
This thread has been *great* for me - I tried writing my first ever logline for my current WIP (short story...I think), and boy, it's hard. But it really focused the central point around which the story revolves, which in turn is helping me see what's NOT the central point - and that's just as important.
I think the idea of writing multiple, perpendicular log lines for a story is excellent for teasing out the essential elements....anything that doesn't make it into one of say, three loglines is apparently not central (however attached to it we may be).
I think its important to bear in mind that these loglines, elevator pitches, 5-words, whatevers, will rarely be used to actually present your book. I mean, seriously, how many of us expect to find ourselves in an elevator with an agent any time soon? Of course its always good to be prepared, but I think there's a way to look at this technique optimistically:
Use your logline as the starting point of your query or synopsis. Start with the one sentence, then flesh out the aspects of the sentence to four, five, or even more sentences. This helps keep your query/synopsis focused, preventing you from dallying on unimportant subplots or developments which, though crucial in your actual book, aren't necessary to communicate to an agent or publisher at the get-go.
It's true that the logline will not, most likely, capture the feel or even full gist of your tale. But then again, neither will a query. Or a synopsis. Or a long-winded speech you might give to an agent. The only thing that's going to effectively communicate the full mood and sweep of your novel is the novel itself. Your goal is to make that full mood and sweep sound as appealing as possible in one sentence, or on one page of synopsis, so folks will want to read the full text and experience the fullness of the story.
That's actually more optimistic than it sounds. The weight of trying to cram your novel into one sentence is lifted - because, frankly, if your novel COULD be reduced to such a length, then it would BE that length. Sure, try to cover the full motion of your novel in one sentence - its very helpful in a variety of ways.
But if your sentence doesn't quite capture the fullness of your work... don't sweat it. Hakuna matata. It just proves your story is bigger than that
[This message has been edited by J. N. Khoury (edited January 06, 2011).]
This novel chronicles the adventures of two average girls, one of which is a high society heiress turned spy, from the other side of the galaxy. The other is a human from Stokes county North Carolina, who gets turned into a god.
Is it a matter of the pitch telling you what the story is, or just saying something that's attention-grabbing and optionally informative? I once ran into a sentence that made me immediately, like, right THEN, hunt down the described work: "The hero and the villain, after losing all they hold dear, meet at the bottom of the Slippery Slope and claw their way back to the top together." Posts: 71 | Registered: Feb 2008
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