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Why Authors Need to Dump the Elevator Pitch

At some point in time, probably with the advent of the elevator, author’s have been taught that an elevator pitch is as necessary as a pen, vital to have should you ever meet an agent in the hallway, elevator, or (most likely) bar at a conference. You know, that 20 second pitch that tells an agent everything about your book and allows you to ask if you can send it?

Dump it. Dump the pitch and dump that entire line of thinking.

If I meet you while trying to nab the bartender’s (or cupcake baker’s) attention I don’t want a 20-second pitch and request to submit. I don’t want that anymore than I want to be ghosted after a first date. Approaching an agent that way is no better than a hit-and-run, a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, a, well, you get the hint.

An elevator pitch removes all the charm and personalization out of a meeting. I am not query manager. I am a person. A very conference weary person looking for a pick-me-up just like you. I just want a glass of wine, a sugar rush, and a pleasant conversation. I actually really like meeting new people, especially those who want to talk about my passion for publishing. And you know what, I’m not alone. There are a lot of agents who love to talk about publishing with authors.

When you meet me at the bar, and suddenly realize you’re talking to me, have a normal conversation like you would anyone else at the conference. Ask me how my day is going, if I’m enjoying Seattle/Toronto/Bethesda, or what cupcake I’m ordering. Then, when we’ve made small talk and discovered we’re both from small towns in the Midwest, ask me for my card. Later, when you query (because I’m open to all queries) you have something more to say than I pitched you in an elevator. We’ve made a connection that I enjoyed. Maybe we even shared a cupcake.

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9 comments

  1. LOVE THIS!!! I can’t do them. I’ll straight up own it. Yep, heard about the “must do” be prepared, etc.

    True story.

    Was at the Silken Sands Conference and saw the editor I was signed up the next morning to pitch too at the dessert table. We’d chatted on and off over the years so I knew she’d know my name, but kept thinking… leave her be! She’s scoping out the good eats. I wouldn’t want to be pestered during eat time so odds are she won’t either.

    But then I’d remember the elevator pitch “urges” which had been drilled into me.

    Several times she saw me peering at her and I’d look away really quick. Then glance back, all while debating, do I or don’t I.

    I opted to NOT. I picked my own dessert and make back up with the friends I’d attended with.

    Next morning, when she saw me walk over at pitch time, she laughed and said, “ahh, explains why you were watching me yesterday.” I apologized and told her I’d been fighting internally about whether to walk over. I explained why I decided not to. She admitted, had I been wanting to say hi, she’d have been fine with that. Never hesitate to come over and say hi, nice to see you again.

    But– she was grateful I didn’t try and do an elevator pitch while she was snacking on sweets.

    I simply don’t even stress about them anymore as I don’t do them as it just seems rude.

    I also am never sure on Twitter. I see conversations and sometimes jump in, then wonder… was that rude? I wasn’t invited to the conversation, but it is a tweet which means its been broadcast, publicly. I just never want to be perceived as rude.

    Have a great week!

  2. I usually just drive-by read these posts 🙂 but I wanted to throw in my 2 pennies on this for new authors, new conference-goers, or even established authors at signings. Quick pitches are not just for agents/editors.

    When you attend a conference of writers, everyone you meet asks what you write. Writers you already know ask what you’re writing and what it’s about. At signings, you have about 5 seconds to hook someone into stopping and another 5 to convince them to stay, and they don’t want the full synopsis. They want something hot/juicy/intriguing/funny/sexy/suspenseful to hook them in and make them want to buy in that 10 seconds. After that, their eyes glaze over. 🙂

    At my very first RWA National conference, I got to the hotel and tweeted with the #RWA hashtag asking who was around. The awesome Stephanie Dray answered that she was at Starbucks and to come down. I’d never met her before, and the first thing she asked me when I got there was if I was pitching to anyone and what my book was about. I rambled on for God only knows how long before she finally stopped me, put a hand on my arm, and said, “Honey, you need a pitch.” She then took what I’d told her and gave it back to me in two lines. After I picked up my jaw, I realized she’d taught me a valuable lesson. That was 6 years ago. Every year since, I make sure I have pitches for my current books. And I find her. 🙂

    So yes, don’t stalk the professionals, lol, but have that snappy sexy pitch ready for everyone else.

  3. With all the Twitter pitch opportunities though, they’re useful as another foot in the door for un-agented writers. They also help us give succinct rundowns of our work to everyone in the non-pub world who asks what we’re working on. And if we condense our 80k tale into a sentence or two, hot damn! We know our book!

    Besides, they’re fun brain puzzles to put together.

  4. At an RWAust. conference one year an author friend introduced me to her then agent. I started chatting to her about all kinds of things. During the course of the conversation she asked how my writing was going, what I wrote etc… I answered but with no thought other than to answer the questions (my ms wasn’t finished at the time so I wasn’t pitching that year anyway). At the end she gave me her card and said when I had finished to send it through.

    I hadn’t pitched, I didn’t have a finished ms, but I got a request. You never know what might happen.

    Of course, I was green around the gills back then and thought she was just being nice. I never did send that ms. About 12 months later another writer friend queried that agent and was asked “are you the writer I chatted to at conference?”. We didn’t connect the dots until much later when I learnt agents don’t offer unless they mean it!

  5. While I have never delivered an elevator pitch during a conference (I prefer to let overworked agents and publishers have a few minutes of peace and quiet), I have been aware of their presence beside or sometimes–most times–behind me in the back corner of the small cubicle. During the shuffle of entering, their fleeting eye contact and stiff-shouldered posture combine to deliver one of two messages: 1) Yes, you know who I am, and I know why you are here, but (italics here) don’t even think about it. Or 2) Yes, you think I’m the famous agent who delivered the keynote speech the first night, but I’m not—I just look like her, in spite of the fact that I’m carrying all these folders with the name of my agency emblazoned across every one. Trust me, I’m not her. I’m just–and here you may get a little neighborly roll of the eyes and a faraway smile–I’m just here with my five kids for the roller derby.
    I’ll let you guys go in peace, although I can’t speak for all of the others.

  6. I’m sorry but I can’t take seriously a piece that says in the first line “author’s have been taught.” What have you been taught?

    1. Proof again why we all need editors and why I ask regularly to be excused for typos. Thank you for your comment.

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