All writer’s reach a point when they get asked the dreaded question: “What’s your novel about?”
But why does this enquiry need to be so dreaded? Coming up with an elevator pitch not only eliminates the problem of the question, but having a sentence to pull out like a business card for your novel is extremely freeing and uplifting.
A one sentence summary is super helpful in allowing you as the writer to identify the most important part of your novel by condensing what may be a 50,000+ word manuscript into a single sentence. Of course the art of crafting such a sentence is more like the complicated science I didn’t take in high school. I’m no expert at elevator pitches, but here are a five helpful hints to think about while crafting that perfect one sentence story summary.
1. Your elevator pitch should include the main character, conflict, and make the reader ask why.
Who is in your story? What is the most important part of their identity? What makes them different from the other characters in your novel? What/who are they up against? What makes this antagonist someone to worry about? Why is that interesting or different enough for a reader to pick up your book? Why should the readers care about the story taking place? What intrigue or mystery is there that the reader wants to understand? These are really valuable questions to ask and muse over while trying to come up with a concise and catchy sentence.
2. Keep your audience in mind.
Each novel is meant for a different set of people. You have to keep those readers in mind when you are writing your elevator pitch. Something written for children will approach the elevator pitch quite differently than an international spy thriller or high fantasy novel. Remember your reader!
3. Your elevator pitch shouldn’t try to explain all the complicated character relationships and subplots.
Stick to the main conflict. That subplot is there for a reason, but it’s also called a sub-plot for a reason. It has to have less emphasis than the main plot and in your one sentence, you don’t have room to add anything other than the essentials.
4. Be specific.
Don’t tell me a ‘woman/girl’ is doing something. There are women and girls doing things in every novel. This is going back to my first point. What part of your character’s identity is the most important part to the conflict? Is it the fact that she’s a woman, a warrior, a queen? One sentence is not a lot to work with. Don’t waste your limited words with unspecific and general ideas that could be said more specifically to your novel.
5. Don’t stop at your one sentence summary.
You will want to have some kind of follow-up after giving your sentence. This could be as simple as knowing its genre and audience, “It’s a YA Fantasy novel.” Or having comp titles to help give the reader more information about the type of book it is.
Side note. Comp books—Comparison books are books that have a similar subject matter or feeling to your novel. Typically this is described in an equation like x meets y.
Here are just a few things to keep in mind while writing an elevator pitch.