The Elevator Pitch for Authors

Three Key Elements to Pitch a Manuscript

Pitching your manuscript to a publisher is different from pitching your screenplay to a producer. It is also different from pitching a business proposal or an idea. For the author—especially the unpublished author—the elevator pitch has different key elements.

Lots has been written recently about elevator pitches—a 30 second chance to interest someone in what you have to sell. It is important for an author to understand the purpose of the elevator pitch and, more importantly, know how pitching a manuscript differs from pitching other things.

Firstly, it may be necessary to give a brief overview of what an elevator pitch is and when to use it. The phrase ‘elevator pitch’ originated in the film industry when someone found themself in an elevator with a film producer. The 30-odd seconds the producer was trapped in the elevator was the 30-odd seconds that person had to pitch their idea for a movie.

Today it is a generic term for a short pitch. When the elevator stops at the producer’s floor, the producer will get out saying one of two things. If the elevator pitch has failed, the producer will step out saying, ‘That sounds really interesting. It was good to see you.’ If the elevator pitch is successful, the producer (who by the way is tired and hassled and wants to get to their room) will step out saying something like, ‘That sounds interesting. Call next week and let’s set up a meeting.’

The purpose of the elevator pitch is not to sell the idea. It is to get the person interested so that they want to follow up.

Today, the concept of the elevator pitch has spread beyond the film industry, and now you will find plenty of information online about how to craft an elevator pitch for everything from screenplays to used cars. Most of the information concentrates around being clear and compelling, or selling yourself. The elevator pitch itself has become a small industry, because people are marketing books and seminars on how to have an effective elevator pitch. It has all got very confusing.

For authors with an unpublished manuscript, the elevator pitch can be reduced to three key elements. None of them include explaining what the story is about.

Let’s say you are an author attending a two-day writing seminar. There will be a number of keynote speakers who will most likely be agents or publishers. It could be a writers’ festival or a book fair where the industry comes together to network. The point is, there may be an opportunity to speak briefly to an agent or publisher, even if it is just to say, ‘hello, nice to meet you.’

If you are pitching your unpublished manuscript to a literary agent or a publisher your 30 second elevator pitch should contain these three points:

1: What genre

2: What is unique about it

3: Why you are the best person to write it

In your 30 seconds get those three points across and then be quiet and listen.

I’ll demonstrate an example.

Let’s say you are a forty-year-old mum with three kids and you’ve written a children’s picture book about Gabriel Goanna who gets lost in the big city and has adventures. You have gone to an event and you find yourself next to a children’s book publisher. It could be at the bar, in the foyer, waiting for an Uber, etc. Understand that the last thing they want to hear is a pitch from an unpublished author. They are inundated. They are thoroughly sick of hearing pitches. So, if you have the good fortune to have them turn to you and say, ‘What are you working on?’ understand it is a bit like them saying, ‘How are you?’ They don’t actually want to know. It is just a bit of social lubricant that people use when they are forced to exchange pleasantries.

Do Not Pitch the Story

The last thing you should do is start telling them about Gabriel Goanna and the story. Do not start saying how you have written a story about this mischievous goanna, then say how it’s really funny and one day the goanna is rummaging for food in wheelie bin when the council truck comes along and picks it up, and you’ll never believe what happens…’ And so on.

By the time you have said you are writing a story about a mischievous goanna, the publisher’s eyes will have glazed over and they will be looking for their escape.

Three things:

1: What genre

2: What is unique about it

3: Why are you the best person to write it

Try something like:

From a young age, my three children were exposed to so much disturbing information online, that I looked for books that would help them understand their world. When I couldn’t find anything suitable, I started writing stories about an animal from the Australian country that suddenly has to survive in the city. The stories worked so well that other parents kept asking me for copies. I’m now writing a series about Gabriel Goanna.

‘What genre’ is answered because you are talking about a book for young children. You also start with a hook, because responsible parents are concerned about the amount of online material young children are exposed to. It’s unique because you have apparently found a way to connect to children in this situation. The fact other parents want your stories suggests a potential market. You are a mother, in the situation, who has come up with the idea. You are obviously the best person to write it.

If the potential publisher/agent steps out of the elevator saying, ‘Send me something to look at,’ then your pitch has been successful. ‘Sounds great. Good to see you,’ is a fail.

a good story

Whether you have written a children’s book, a murder mystery, a romance or a thriller, isolate what is unique about it and why you are the best person to write it. And from that you have to develop the three key points of your elevator pitch.

1: What genre

2: What is unique about it

3: Why are you the best person to write it

It is the same for pitching a non-fiction book. It may be a travel book, or a history, or a memoir, or a gardening book, or a self-help book or any other form of non-fiction. Use the same three key points. Explaining what genre is obvious. Isolating what is unique about your manuscript, then selling that idea is the difficult part for most people.

At this point, if you are thinking, ‘but there is nothing really unique about my book,’ then don’t write it. If you are an unpublished author and you are writing a book that copies others, there’s a good chance you are wasting your time. The chances of an unpublished author selling a manuscript that is the same as a lot of published books are virtually non-existent.

MORAL: A good book will either tell a new story or tell an old story in a new way. (A great book will often do both.)

In another article I will talk about what to say to an agent or publisher and what to present if you are asked to submit something. Meantime you can contact me via with any queries or suggestions for future topics in the Writer’s Craft Series of Articles.


Share This Article!

Recent Articles
Recent Videos