Describe yourself in three words. I’m sure you’ve been faced with this dreaded, near-impossible task at some point. The longer you consider your options, the farther you seem to be from your goal. How can anyone distill their identity, with its many layers, into only three words?
As an author, you’re about to face a similarly head-scratching challenge: creating a 1-2 sentence elevator pitch for your book. Packaging the plot, emotional interest and core selling points of your work into such a small container may feel daunting, but with a systematic approach it can be simple and pain-free. And, as you navigate through the various stages of your book’s life, you’ll quickly find this pitch to be one of your most valuable assets!
What is an elevator pitch?
Also called a logline, an elevator pitch is a brief description of a book that serves as a plot summary and presents a sales hook. Traditionally, this logline will be no longer than two sentences, so concision is key.
Your goal with your elevator pitch is to grab your audience’s attention–whether they are an agent, publisher, bookseller, librarian or general reader–and get them excited about your book. That said, your pitch can’t be full of empty promises. It has to accurately describe your plot, match the tone of the book, and reflect what makes your work compelling and unique.
How do I write an elevator pitch?
A good logline will use original, descriptive words and will address the following questions in a clear and concise way:
- What is the setting?
- Who is the protagonist?
- What does the protagonist want? What is their central motivation or goal?
- What is at stake for the protagonist?
- Who (or what) is the antagonist, and how do they relate to the protagonist?
- What will the protagonist actually do in the story? What action will they take?
25-Word Example (based on André Aciman’s “Call Me By Your Name”):
- Italy in the 1980s: 17-year-old Elio falls passionately in love with an American man. The six weeks they spend together, though fleeting, change him forever.
- What is the setting? Italy in the 1980s
- Who is the protagonist? 17-year-old Elio
- What does the protagonist want? To find love
- What is at stake for the protagonist? Heartbreak (implied)
- Who (or what) is the antagonist? The fleeting six-week time limit that restricts their romance; a society that doesn’t understand love between two men (implied)
- What will the protagonist actually do in the story? He pursues a life-changing romance with an American man
50-Word Example (based on Mason Deaver’s “I Wish You All the Best”):
- When 18-year-old Ben comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re kicked out of the house and forced to switch schools. Dealing with heightened anxiety, they’re torn between their desire for anonymity and their growing attraction to charming student Nathan, whose friendship helps Ben believe a happier life is possible.
- What is the setting? High school
- Who is the protagonist? 18-year-old Ben
- What does the protagonist want? A happier life
- What is at stake for the protagonist? They risk losing the safety net of their anonymity
- Who (or what) is the antagonist? Their parents who kicked them out; their heightened anxiety
- What will the protagonist actually do in the story? What action will they take? They attend a new school, and they fall into a promising new friendship with Nathan
75-Word Example (based on Lisa See’s “Shanghai Girls”):
- In Shanghai in the late 1930s, 21-year old Pearl and her younger sister May have their glamorous lives upended after they learn they’ve been sold as brides to suitors from California. As bombs drop suddenly on their beloved city, traveling to the United States may be the fresh start they need; but living with these strange men in an unwelcoming country puts their bond as sisters and best friends to the ultimate test.
- What is the setting? Shanghai in the late 1930s
- Who are the protagonists? 21-year old Pearl and her younger sister May
- What do the protagonists want? A fresh start; safety from the bombs that fall on Shanghai
- What is at stake for the protagonists? Their bond as sisters and best friends
- Who (or what) is the antagonist? The war that’s destroying their city, the unknown suitors they marry, and the unwelcoming Americans they encounter
- What will the protagonists do in the story? Marry suitors, and move from Shanghai to the United States to escape the threat of war
What should I avoid doing when writing an elevator pitch?
Avoid major spoilers
You’ll want to share enough information in your logline to pique the reader’s interest, but not so much that they know every major plot detail. You should leave the reader wanting to know more.
Avoid buzzwords, cliché phrases, and vague language
Words that are overused in book marketing lose their impact and become vague over time. They can also detract from what makes your book unique. Instead, opt for original adjectives and precise language whenever possible.
Avoid focusing too much on themes
When asked “what is your book about?” it may be tempting to reply with the book’s core themes or philosophical talking points. “It’s about liminality; second chances; the risks we take for the ones we love; the power of storytelling.” You get the idea. While important to the story, without an explanation of plot to contextualize them, these themes can end up feeling lifeless.
Avoid excessive name-dropping
Unless the protagonist is famous and the sales hook relies on their name-recognition, cutting out character names can save you lots of precious space.
Avoid “meanwhile” statements
Focus on one major conflict whenever possible. Mentioning too many subplots in your elevator pitch can be confusing for the reader and may detract from your primary selling points.
How should I use my pitch when it’s ready to go?
Your elevator pitch may be one of your single greatest assets as an author. It can:
- Help you get connected with an agent
- Help you or your agent find the right publisher
- Help you or your sales team pitch to buyers
- Help you grab the attention of booksellers and librarians
- Be adapted into a book blurb to hook readers
- Be adapted into social media posts to promote your book
Is it okay to have more than one elevator pitch?
Absolutely! It can be useful to have a few options to choose from. So if you can’t decide on just one logline, don’t stress. As an exercise in building your repertoire, consider creating different loglines based on length– one at 25 words, one at 50 words and one at 75. Then, mix and match, or select your favorite from the bunch.
When writing an elevator pitch, try not to think about all of the exciting details you’re leaving out. You’ll inevitably have to keep much of your novel’s plot hidden from view, but that’s a good thing! Those will be the surprises that shock and delight your reader down the road.
Instead, think of what you can include in your pitch by addressing the list of questions above. Focus on what makes your book stand out from the crowd. Keep your pitch fresh, compelling and concise, and you’ll be all set!
Jackie Karneth is a publicist with Books Forward is an author publicity and book marketing firm committed to promoting voices from a diverse variety of communities. From book reviews and author events, to social media and digital marketing, we help authors find success and connect with readers.