Elevating a pitch

Jo Reed

Today we’re delighted to welcome our newest member, Jo Reed, who has some great experience to share on the dreaded elevator pitch. 

At some time, every novelist comes up against the infamous ‘elevator pitch’. For those who haven’t encountered it yet, here’s the idea – you get into an elevator (that’s a lift to us Brits!) and at the next floor, in gets your dream agent. This is your perfect opportunity to sell the idea of your brilliant, too-good-to-miss potential best seller in the thirty seconds it takes for the lift to reach the agent’s floor. At that point, if he/she doesn’t get out of the lift, you’ve cracked it!

Simple – except it isn’t. Writing a good elevator pitch is notoriously difficult, and many writers shy away from it even though it is an essential component of a good submission pack these days. A query letter to an agent is equivalent to that trip in the lift, and the first few lines explaining what the novel is about need to really grab him/her by the throat and yell, ‘Read me!’ In thirty seconds (around fifty words) that’s a tough job.

I recently attended the ‘Discovery Day’ event in London, organised by Foyles and two top agencies, Curtis Brown and Conville and Walsh. The day gave an opportunity for writers to practice their elevator pitch alongside the first page of their novel. It is a nerve-racking process for sure, but invaluable in terms of feedback and expert advice on pitch, plot and opening. Despite the inevitable queues, the experience was well worth it. The agent I spoke to seemed to like the pitch I had spent weeks trying to perfect, and was extremely generous both with time and advice on markets, plot and structure. I came away from the interview with fresh enthusiasm for my current project, which in itself was worth the journey.

The day ended with a one hour Q&A panel in which agents, including Jonny Geller and Claire Conville, again emphasised the importance of a knockout thirty second pitch to sell a novel. The very first question was from a writer who admitted her pitch had been a disaster, and suggested that some novels were simply too complex to be pitched in just thirty seconds. The unanimous response from the panel was that if a writer finds it impossible to encapsulate their novel in a pitch of just two or three sentences, chances are it’s not the pitch that is the problem, it’s the novel.

The pitch forces the writer to ask some pretty important questions, such as, do I have a single, clear, logical and gripping plotline? Can my main character grab hold of the reader in a single sentence? Is there a clearly recognisable conflict or situation that forms the hub of the novel? If the answer to all these is ‘yes’, the elevator pitch should follow naturally (although, like any birth, ‘natural’ does not necessarily mean ‘painless’!) A good pitch can even become a guide – I’ve stuck my latest one on a noticeboard above my desk, just to remind me, when I get bogged down in plot minutiae, why I’m writing the novel in the first place …

tyranny book cover Jo is the author of the Blood Dancer fantasy series and is now moving into crime fiction.
Visit Jo’s website

Behind the scenes at the book launch – sickness, psychics and, finally, stardom

from Jenni O’Connor

What an evening. What a week. What a year. As anyone who has been following this blog will know, the road to publication of Unchained was long and fairly tortuous, but – happily – culminated in a fantastic, packed-out launch event which made it all worthwhile.

But behind the scenes, many of us had our own little dramas going on. For my husband and I, for example, the launch nearly didn’t happen. I received a call from my daughter’s school at 1pm, saying I would need to collect her as she had been ill ( she had thrown up her lunch in quite spectacular, and thankfully uncommon, fashion, all over the dinner hall). I frantically called my husband, to see if he could get home early enough to look after her, so at least I could attend the launch–  even if he stayed with her and we cancelled the babysitter. In typical four-year-old fashion, though, after lolling on the sofa for an hour or so, said Small Girl started running around again, insisting she wanted ‘Auntie Bharti to come and play’, and so – with half an hour to go – our babysitter was reinstated, I shot off to help set up the launch, and my long-suffering husband prepared to follow us down once she was settled.

If you missed the event, there’s a full account here. But what about the apres-launch?Along with everything else we’d planned a celebratory drink, so off we went to the festival hub for a well-earned wind-down and a glass of something bubbly, only to barge in unawares on another event, Thriller Time, an interview with Chris Ewan, (author of Safe House and Deadline) which had over-run its time.

Chris Ewan
oblivious to the orchid?

Chris, if you’re reading this, we truly hope that our blundering arrival and general fidgeting  didn’t detract too much from your moment in the spotlight. Then there was the enormous orchid – on its way to our leader for all her efforts and trusted to my care for the evening. Its plastic packaging scrunched and squeaked every time I shifted in my seat. As copious amounts of blood and guts echoed through the small space in lyrical detail (the books sound like great reads, by the way) we made a tactful exit before our mood bubble burst completely. In the upstairs bar of a neighbouring pub we at last took a deep collective breath, ordered a large collective glass, and enjoyed the moment.

It was over – or was it? We’d been spotted by a presenter from BBC Radio Bristol and were quickly lined up for a weekend spot with Laura Rawlings. On the Saturday, Gail and I duly presented ourselves at Whiteladies Road. Nervous? Yes! But there was no time to worry, as we were in the company of a psychic making a comeback (do you think he knew it was coming? – ed.)  A fascinating but garrulous man, he shared his predictions prior to going on air. That was the weekend a huge storm was due to hit the UK, and he was convinced that a crane would fall onto the Bristol Royal Infirmary. He also assured us he was getting ‘good vibes’ from our book, though whether the two were linked was unclear.

Thankfully the crane remained securely upright; only time will tell if the psychic’s vibes augur well for Unchained!

Jenni O'ConnorJenni’s novel can be viewed in the Bookshop