Have you ever seen someone pitch so fluidly that you’d buy whatever they’re selling? Well, that isn’t me. Which is why, on Monday, I posted my current elevator pitch (read the full post here) and asked for feedback. If you read the post, you could probably tell that I’m not a natural pitcher. What I posted on Monday was actually the result of four pages full of pitch attempts. And clearly it still needs work. The good news is that, because I think my book deserves a good first impression, I’m willing to put in the work. And a lot of it was done this week. Below is a glimpse of what I’ve been up to. Kind of an annotated progression of an elevator pitch.
Just as a reminder, here is what I started with:
Blossoms Are Always Prepared is a chapter book about a tomboy named Mabel who is good at a lot of things, but following rules isn’t one of them. That is why she saves a spider (which girls are not supposed to do) and eats all of the cookies for the cookie sale (which Blossoms are not supposed to do). But when Mabel’s rule breaking gets her kicked out of the Blossoms troop, she must decide how far she’ll go to find her biggest adventure yet.
Mary provided some excellent suggestions:
I don’t think the pitch should include a “rule” that is based on gender bias (ie girls are afraid of spiders). God forbid the professional with whom you meet is more oversensitive to this than I am. Having “rules” framed by gender bias is risky — it might keep the professional from REALLY hearing you (and, more importantly, it might keep him/her from getting to know Mabel)…Maybe the “rules” should (just for this meeting) be couched as “lessons.”
Offending the agent or editor is definitely the opposite of what I wanted. So, I tried taking Mary’s advice. After a few tries, focusing on lessons made for a good back cover copy, but not a good pitch. So, I ditched the idea. But I didn’t know where to take it next. It was time for some research.
I found the NAF blog with guest blogger Heather Burch, who describes a disastrous elevator pitch, then goes through the steps to creating one that works. She suggests including:
Who = main character
What = what does your main character do/what happens
Why = This is the “who cares” element. This is where you make the reader INVEST.
How = How does this affect the character
She also says an elevator pitch should be full of active descriptive words and powerful prose. Here is her pitch for her book Halflings:
Hunted by men and demons, (why) seventeen year old Nikki Youngblood (who) entrusts her life to three half human, half angel young men (what). The Halflings are sworn to protect her, but when two of her guardians fall for Nikki, it puts more than their lives at stake. (how)
It sounds easy enough, so I tried it with my book. Who? tomboy What? …
As soon as I got to the “what,” I had a problem. Like my character, Mabel, my book is a bit of a rule breaker. Burch’s “what,” or the inciting incident as it is referred to elsewhere, is missing in my story. There isn’t really a one event that gets the action rolling. Instead, the story starts with a want.
Cinderella’s story starts because she gets an invitation to the ball. The three little pigs’ story starts because they leave home. Mabel’s story starts because she wants to find adventure. But that doesn’t mean nothing happens. The events start on page one, but it is that want that is causing the progression of the story.
At least right now, I think the story works this way. So instead of trying to make it conform to a pitch format that just won’t work, it was time to try something else. I needed another approach. I found the snowflake method of writing a novel on advancedfictionwriting.com. The method includes creating a paragraph before writing that includes the story setup, major disasters, and ending. I’m too late for writing it before I start the story, but it might help me now too:
I like to structure a story as “three disasters plus an ending”…If you believe in the Three-Act structure, then the first disaster corresponds to the end of Act 1. The second disaster is the mid-point of Act 2. The third disaster is the end of Act 2, and forces Act 3 which wraps things up…Ideally, your paragraph will have about five sentences. One sentence to give me the backdrop and story setup. Then one sentence each for your three disasters. Then one more sentence to tell the ending.
While five sentences might be a little long for an elevator pitch (I’ve read recommendations that it should be 30 seconds long, or about 100 words), it might give me the framework I need. In fact, though I agree with Mary that the first pitch wasn’t right, it did fit this format pretty well. Here’s another go with the snowflake method:
It is a chapter book about Mabel, a spirited tomboy who wants to go camping so badly that she’s even looking forward to the itchy mosquito bites. All she has to do is stay in the Blossoms troop long enough to go. But she screws up. Twice. She knocks out the troop leader saving a spider and eats all the cookies for the cookie sale. With her only chance at camping on the line, Mabel tries baking cookies, the girliest thing she can think of, and sets out on a sneaky delivery. But when Mabel discovers she isn’t the only intruder crashing the campout, she has to decide if she will use her tomboy talents to save the Blossoms from a stinky situation.
Clunky. Too long. And (confession) I stole the last two sentences right from my query. It still needs work.
I wish I had a final, outstanding pitch to share with you now. I had high hopes for my elevator pitch post. I imagined getting good feedback, revising, and having a finished pitch by the end of the week. By yesterday. But since writing pitches is not easy, I’m still struggling in the revision stage and my pitch it still a work in progress. Thanks for all of your help so far and watch for updates in the comments of this post to read the pitch I’ll be taking to the conference.
Other helpful links about pitches: