My long time friend asked me what my novel was about. I stammered and blurted out some incoherent description. (Don’t laugh! At least I remembered to mention the protagonist.)
This brain freeze, unlike Governer Rick Perry, was not a matter of forgetting, but a matter of not having a succinct pitch scripted.
What if that had been a literary agent or an editor I was pitching my book to? How long would you would stick around until I got my act together?
In the business world, that one compelling sentence is called an elevator pitch. You have exactly 30 seconds to introduce yourself and entice them to get to know you. This is what you need to do with your novel…write an elevator pitch that will sell your novel to whomever will listen.
An elevator pitch is one or two power pact sentences that not only identifies who you are, but also tells the person to whom you are talking to what you do, implying how you can help them make life easier or solve a problem. The elevator pitch for a novel introduces your protagonist and his conflict. It tells the person how he will benefit by not only spending money to buy your book, but also what will he derive from spending his coveted leisure time reading your story. Your one sentence summary needs to convince him that he will get the satisfaction of learning something or being entertained. Maybe you will transport him to another place far from the pressures of his life, even it is only for a few hours. Or maybe he can live vicariously through your protagonist?
Randy Ingermanson, also known as the Snowflake Guy, recommends that fiction writers start with a one sentence plot summary. He points out that who is going to know and love your story more than you do.
A solid one sentence summary will anchor your story to a plotline and be the guide to decide what scenes advance your story. It will be the single best marketing tool to sell your story. It will help you sell your idea to a literary agent, to a publishing house, to your editor, to the book sellers, and most importantly, to your readers.
Ingermanson suggests that the sentence should be 20 words or less. That means every word has to work to remain. No extraneous adjectives, no subplot inclusions. Simply your novel’s compelling storyline.
Here’s some basic rules to create yours:
1. Ingermanson’s 20 word limit.
2. Sentence includes protagonist, conflict, and a sense of context (either cultural, venue, political etc)
3. Power verb such as coerces, endangers, or challenges. (You get the idea.)
Ask yourself: If your book title and one sentence summary appeared on a booklist, would you be tempted to spend $15 to buy the book if you weren’t the author? Does it have a strong enough hook? Who will the book appeal to?
Let’s take a simple basic boy meets girl plotline and see how we can craft a good summary sentence. Remember, the real writing is in the rewriting, so this exercise may take you more than 10 seconds. It may take you hours, even days to decide if the sentence is the best one when you announce the birth of your baby (novel).
Draft summary sentence: An athlete puts his girlfriend in a difficult position when he uses her to advance his career. (17 words)
Second draft: A struggling soccer player betrays a middle-aged female when he uses her contacts to advance his career. (17 words)
Third draft: A struggling soccer player betrays a lonely female advertising executive when his romantic involvement with her threatens her company. (19 words)
Now, what if I include an ethnic reference? She is Asian and he is Ukrainian. How will that color the summary?
Last and most important. You finished the best one sentence summary ever. Now you have to memorize it. You have to be able to rattle it off as if it were an involuntary reflex. Live the sentence. Breathe it. And then, you will claim it with confidence.
Like that 30 second elevator pitch, you want to grab the person’s attention. You want them to be so intrigued that they ask you for more information…like “Where can I get your book?”