Aug 02

Business of Books: Going Up! Jane Cable on the importance of the elevator pitch

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Jane Cable on the importance of the elevator pitch

It is indeed true that the word is getting shorter. Everything reduced to bitesize for folks in too much of a hurry to stop and listen, hungry to gulp down as many tweet-sized pieces of information as possible.

This is not entirely a bad thing. The book business knows that with so much competition for leisure time and money the potential consumer’s attention needs to be grabbed in a flash. A reader may spend hours savouring a good book, but their buying decision is often made in an instant.

Enter the elevator pitch – the ability to describe your latest work in two sentences at most. Catherine Miller’s excellent talk at the Romantic Novelist’s Association conference drew quite a crowd, encouraged no doubt by the lure of a competition for the winning pitch’s manuscript to be read in full by her agent, Hattie Grunewald of Blake Friedmann.

I learnt a great deal while preparing my entry. On a large piece of paper I set out the major themes and keywords for the book, turning them in my mind and distilling them into two neat sentences. I fiddled with the words, one at a time. I was happy with the first sentence: ‘When archaeologist Rachel Ward visits a remote Lincolnshire field she realises it’s where the voice in her head has been leading her for years.’ For ages I couldn’t get the second to gel, then the next morning I woke up with the perfect solution in my head: ‘But as she starts to dig an unseen danger circles ever closer and Rachel is forced to confront her own past in order to survive.’

The process of preparing what turned out to be the winning pitch had actually shown me that the ending of the book wasn’t sufficiently strong – to be fair, the edit notes I’d received said the same – but crystallising the very essence of the story into a couple of sentences made me focus on the issue – and solve it – in a way that nothing else had.

This week has shown me that two sentences is too long. Try pitching in 140 characters – actually 124 when you need to leave space for #HQBookPitch2017 – when Harper Collins’ HQ Digital division opened its virtual doors for tweeted pitches. I tried but failed to pack enough excitement into so few characters but again it was a great learning experience.

At no deadline was given so rather than research the type of books they were looking for I plunged straight in. At any one time I have a number of concepts on the block so I picked one I thought would do and tried to make it sound succinct and sexy. Not sexy enough, clearly, but I have learnt to target publishers I’m interested in better (a number of them do use this technique) and hone relevant pitches so they’re ready.

So what does a successful Twitter pitch look like? I am lucky enough to know two authors who have been asked to submit further and this is what they came up with and how they describe themselves in a tweet:

‘Lucy swaps her husband for a motorbike and has the best ride of her life’ from Sue McDonagh: “I love building my characters, then letting them loose. Should I admit that they do things I hadn’t planned for them and make me laugh?”

‘Millie should have known an archaeological dig is no place to escape the past. But can she uncover her future there too?’ from Kirsten Hesketh: “Pantser, people watcher, procrastinator extraordinaire. Twitter counts as writing, right?”

It goes without saying that everyone at Frost is rooting for them. We’ll let you know how they get on.