I posted this meme about how writers eloquently arrange words on the page, but when faced with the question, “What is your book about?” we turn into bumbling fools. The response was unanimous. All across the publishing community writers admitted that vocal pitches aren’t their strength. Which got me thinking, what makes a solid elevator pitch?
Using a YA thriller for an example, a previous manuscript of mine, here’s the breakdown:
A pitch must have the following:
- A protagonist
- The protagonist’s main objective
- The antagonist/antagonistic force
Don’t use the protagonist’s name
It provides no essential information and so is unnecessary. Instead, tell us something uncomplicated about the main character. Who are they?
- A high school senior
Use an adjective to provide insight to the protagonist
This is your chance to show character depth, so beware of clichés. It is also helpful to describe a characteristic that pertains to the plot. What is pivotal to know about the protagonist?
- A straight-A high school senior…
Clearly and concisely present the protagonist’s main objective
This is what drives the story—and your pitch. The protagonist’s goal must be apparent right away or the agent/editor may quit listening. What does your protagonist want or lack?
- A straight-A high school senior bound for med school…
Describe the antagonist
The antagonist should be described in a similar manner to the hero. If the hero faces more general antagonistic forces, clarify what he/she is up against. What will prevent the hero from attaining his/her goal?
- …is unwillingly included in a secret clinical trial testing a permanent form of birth control, which side effects include scenting sex pheromones and teen suicide.
Your protagonist must be proactive
He/she should drive the plot. A good pitch will show the action of the story, the narrative momentum that carries your audience to the end.
- To survive her senior year, she must discover what was done to her, and how to reverse it…
Include stakes and/or a ticking time bomb
These useful narrative devices add urgency. What is the consequence if the protagonist doesn’t achieve his/her goal?
- before she’s the next to self-destruct.
Some stories operate in a world with different rules to our own and require a concise setup (e.g. science fiction or fantasy). Other stories have a protagonist whose personal or psychological history is crucial to the story and must be explained. Again, be succinct. What about your unique world hinders the protagonist’s goal?
Do not reveal the twist. The story, and thus the pitch, should hold up by itself; a surprise ending should be a satisfactory bonus upon reading your manuscript.
A straight-A high school senior bound for med school is unwillingly included in a secret clinical trial testing a permanent form of birth control, which side effects include scenting sex pheromones and teen suicide. To survive her senior year, she must discover what was done to her, and how to reverse it, before she’s the next to self-destruct.
So there you have it, everything you need to construct a pitch that will snag agents and editors. Practice your pitch, time yourself (it should be 30 seconds or less), memorize it, and then try it out. People will let you know if you’ve hit a homerun.
Pro Tip: Write a decent pitch before drafting. An unfocused plot and character at the pitch stage may mean you aren’t ready to pen the manuscript.
Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the U.S.A., she’s perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of SCBWI and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat. You can find Emily at emilyrking.com