Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

You’ve Got 20 Seconds to Change Your Life … Are You Ready?

with 9 comments

You’ve got twenty seconds in an elevator with the literary agent/record producer/employer/customer of your dreams … can you pique their curiosity with what you’re offering?

If you’ve done your homework, you’ll have an elevator statement ready to grab their interest.

What is an elevator statement?

It’s a few carefully chosen words to try to catch someone’s attention with what you’re offering. The idea is that if you suddenly meet your perfect audience, you’ve got the time it takes to change floors in an elevator to get them interested.

It’s not the full sales pitch; it’s the quick commercial that gets them to want to know more.

Have you ever met a writer at a party and asked them what they write? The answer usually starts off like: “Well … it’s hard to describe …”

And with that, your attention wanders back to the snack table.

If they can’t describe what they do, how are you supposed to take an interest in it?

Yes, it’s hard to describe what you do, but it’s your job to do it. Take an honest look at what you’re pitching and boil it down to something you can easily rattle off in less than thirty seconds that highlights why it’s different and valuable.

What does the elevator statement do?

A good statement does a few important things:

  1. It sets you apart from everyone else by virtue of you being prepared.
  2. It shows that you’re polished and you know what you’re talking about.
  3. It saves you from having to think on your feet. Memorize it and you can deliver it without too much on-the-spot mental acrobatics.
  4. It piques their curiosity.

Now, don’t count on the elevator statement alone to completely sell them on your pitch. But what you might get is some raised eyebrows and a “Tell me more.”

Pique their curiosity and chances are they’ll ask for a demo CD or the first three chapters of your novel. And isn’t that what you really want?

Create your own elevator statement.

To start putting your elevator speech together, sit down and answer a few questions:

  1. What exactly am I offering?
  2. What is my offering similar to?
  3. What makes it unique?

Take a good look at your answers and as you’re crafting them into a short speech you can memorize, think about Supreme Rule of Marketing – focus on the things that matter to your audience.

Remember, the point of this is to get someone to say, “Tell me more.”

An example.

Here’s one I created for the novel I’m currently working on:

My novel River Crow is like Frank Herbert’s Dune set in a fantasy world inspired by Native American traditions. It’s fraught with internal politics and war as the tribes struggle with one another and against an encroaching Bronze Age culture. While most modern fantasy novels are based on feudal Europe, River Crow explores the unique world and characters of a Stone Age culture, while still offering the adventure and magical elements familiar to fantasy readers.

I’d love to hear what you have for your elevator statement and what you think about mine. If you don’t have one, draft it right now and post it in the comments. Don’t be shy; we’ll all be nice.

9 Responses

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  1. Nate,

    Great post. This is something that my marketing-untrained brain struggles with constantly. When someone asks me what I’m working on, I usually don’t even know where to start. I find it hard to boil down an 80,000 word novel into three sentences without making it sound mundane. For The Unearthed, I’d usually start by saying, “It’s a ghost story, set at a house where a triple murder occurred three years before the story begins…” and then flounder when I realized that made it sound like EVERY other horror story ever written. (Potential reader: Believe me, it’s NOT like every other horror story ever written.)

    Would you recommend having a few versions of the elevator speech prepared? I would imagine if you’re trying to pimp a book, it might be a good idea to be ready with a few, considering whom you’re pitching–agent, publisher, potential reader.

    On an entirely unrelated note, the Great Guinness Toast is this Friday.


    Brian O'Rourke

    February 11, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    • Brian,

      It definitely is tough to distill your story. Especially after so much effort to make it the best story it can be, it’s difficult to lay all that aside and just summarize.

      (As a side note, there’s a blog I recently saw that had a contest to summarize Star Wars and it’s worth checking out – the Advanced Fiction Blog .)

      And yes, I absolutely recommend developing a few versions. This goes back to knowing your audience. An agent might be intrigued by the mention of a successful work (I used Dune) combined with how it sets itself apart from the norm; readers will perhaps be more interested in the actual plot or characters more than the overall tone and setting.

      I once heard a podcast (I think) where Diana Gabaldon talked about how she pitched her Outlander series at a book signing early in her career. Basically, if the potential customer looked like a middle-aged man, she’d mention it was historical fiction about the Jacobite rising in 18th century Scotland; if it looked like a middle-aged woman, she’d mention its romance elements and Highland men in kilts; if it was a younger person, she’d mention the time-travel aspect.

      Very sharp of her to do that, and I don’t think she misled anyone with any description. They’re all true, just tailored to try to snag a specific audience. And I recommend checking Gabadon out if you’re not familiar with her – Outlander is a damn good read.

      So what makes The Unearthed different from every other story?

      And I can’t believe the Toast is Friday. I’ll be out of town. I’ll be with you in spirit, though.


      Nathanael Green

      February 11, 2009 at 2:30 pm

  2. My wife loves the Outlander series. I’ve never read any of the books, partly because I’d classified them as chick-lit, though that’s probably not a fair assessment based on what you’re saying. Now I’ll have to check the first one out.

    The biggest thing that separates The Unearthed from other horror stories is the final twist…which of course I’m reluctant to discuss in great detail. Without revealing anything, as far as I know it’s never been done before.

    The best I could ever come up with is that it’s both a procedural of sorts and a horror story, so fans of both genres should be able to enjoy it.

    Out of town, huh? I’ll have to have two pints ready on Friday night, then. One for me, one for my homey.

    Brian O'Rourke

    February 11, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    • My high-school German teacher introduced me to Outlander, actually. And while it’s got some romance in it, it’s just a really good, well written adventure story. I’ve been recommending it to people ever since.

      Ah, so you’re not going to give away the final twist on The Unearthed? I certainly enjoyed it, and I’m really looking forward to the official release. When’s it become available?

      And aren’t you working on a new novel? Do you need an elevator statement for that?

      Nathanael Green

      February 12, 2009 at 6:48 pm

  3. Brian, I think you should include the fact that your novel has a twist at the end IN your elevator statement. I feel like I’ve seen books (while running through the book section of Borders to get to the music section) that say something like “an ending you’ll never forget” or something more dramatic. I’m a potential reader or your book, and the fact that you’re saying it’s not a typical horror story and there’s a twist ending makes me want to be a kinetic reader.

    Nate – great post. It reminded me to spruce up my El statements for my band, my graphic design business, and Brian’s and my film.

    Also, Outlander has time travel in it? Sound like I’ll need to stop for a second next time I’m running through Borders.

    Nicklas Hughes

    February 13, 2009 at 4:47 pm

  4. Good point, Nick. Without giving the ending away, you can still allude to it in the elevator pitch.

    So, how are those pitches coming along for you, Nick? Care to share?

    Nathanael Green

    February 13, 2009 at 5:31 pm

  5. Oh my. Nick let the cat out of the bag about our movie.

    Guess I need to work on the screenplay some more now.

    Here’s a serious question for you guys:

    Hasn’t the phrase or pitch “it’s got a great ending” been done to death? Maybe I just read too many stories, but it seems like I hear that line about every third or fourth book I pick up or movie I consider seeing. What do you guys think?

    Brian O'Rourke

    February 17, 2009 at 8:34 pm

  6. Ha! So it looks like the two of you have another elevator pitch to work up for the script, yeah?

    I don’t think saying that something’s got a great ending has been done to death. I do think it’s a little vague, and if you can make it more specific to the story without spilling the beans, it’d help.

    Specificity helps establish how it’s unique. The ending thing is tricky because you don’t want to give it away, but still hint at it as a strength.

    But, Brian, I your novel in an early draft and the ending isn’t the only thing that’s unique and great – so play the rest of it up, too.

    Nathanael Green

    February 17, 2009 at 10:34 pm

  7. if you want to share video please go to youtube.


    April 1, 2011 at 3:20 am

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