Thursday, June 30, 2011

Going up *Ding* with guest Bree Ogden

Photo courtesy of William Freeman
Superstar agent with Martin Literary Management, Bree Ogden is stopping by YAtopia today to talk about Elevator Pitches. Take note peoples as next week you can Elevator Pitch Bree right here!

The Elevator Pitch

A few months ago I was sitting in a dimly lit parlor with a very distinguished editor and my client. As the time came to discuss my client’s manuscript, both my client and I were ready to launch into full blown, overly-hyped, you’ve-never-seen-anything-like-it-before-in-your-life type of pitches. This editor, being the smart woman that she is must have sensed this and preemptively halted us by leaning in close and saying: “What’s your elevator pitch?”

Eek! I looked at my client and we both messed with our words a bit before we were able to come up with something decent.

It’s called an elevator pitch because you have that short elevator ride to pitch one of the most important things in your life, to one of the most important people in the industry; and once that person gets off the elevator, your shot is over.

Intuitively, you think you don’t need to practice your elevator pitch because, after all, who knows your manuscript better than you? Of course you can boil it down to a few sentences if asked to on the fly.

Wrong, no, and absolutely not.

It is true that a lot of the time, when looking for an agent or editor, you will have an entire query letter to court them. But everyone should have a perfected elevator pitch not only for those rare moments when you meet face to face with that one person who can make your dreams come true but also because you need to have a solid sense of what your manuscript boils down to. If you cannot come up with that, it’s quite possible your manuscript doesn’t boil down to anything and that calls for some serious revisions.

During an elevator pitch you want to be clear, concise and captivating in 2-4 sentences. Things that are good to mention: genre/market, main character, basic plot, and conflict. Then leave it off with a little intrigue.

Example of an elevator pitch:

My speculative fiction, young adult manuscript hurls the main character, 16-year-old Suzy, into a post-disease ridden London where adults have all lost their sanity. Suzy has to provide for her younger sibling while trying to make it across the English countryside to a safehouse she’s not sure even exists. She meets two men who play very pivotal roles in her journey: one good, one bad. She has to learn whom she can trust and whom she should just use for her and her sibling’s survival.

Remember, you’re not selling a used car. You don’t want to sound too eager or disingenuous.

Some Helpful Tips:

1. Don’t waste your time talking about anything outside of your novel, i.e., telling the agent/editor how great you think they are, talking about your purpose for writing the manuscript or the manuscript’s back-story, etc. Focus on the story. Nothing else matters—your age, your background—right now it is just about the story.

2. Think of your story in terms of what your character does that drives the plot to move along.

3. Make sure to mention the main conflict.

4. Cut out useless information, namely comparisons. It’s a waste of time to sit there and compare your novel to other books or movies and not really explain the plot.

5. Don’t worry about information like word count, page number, etc.

6. Structure the pitch in the same order that the manuscript follows. Don’t jump around. For example, starting with the end when the girl finds her destiny, then jumping to the beginning when she is starting high school, then jumping to the major conflict then back to the end. That shows that you aren’t familiar with your own book, you’re just throwing out plot points.

7. If in person—do not um and uhh and just generally forget what your story is about. That’s why practice is KEY!

8. Don’t focus on how great other people tell you your manuscript is, or how different and page-turning you think it is. PLOT! PLOT! PLOT! Tell us about the plot. I cannot stress that enough.

So many people try to tell me in three sentences that all their friends think their manuscript is better than Hunger Games and that it is filled with twists and turns and is fast-paced and I’ve never seen anything like it…

Well. Okay. But what is it about?

Remember these three things:

Be Concise:

Perfect your pitch in a few sentences, or spoken out loud in about 20-30 seconds.

Be Accurate/Clear:

Really consider your elevator pitch then pitch people who have never read your manuscript. When you’re done, ask them what they think your book is about. If they are pretty close, then you know your pitch is accurate and clear.

Be Captivating:

Are you hitting the strongest points of your manuscript? Are they the triggers? Are they going to make the listener wonder and want to know more?

I hope this helped. I can’t wait to read your elevator pitches next week. Take this week to reread your novel and get to know it like a best friend. Then and only then will you be able to start developing an elevator pitch for your manuscript.

Bree represents manuscripts in the childrens/YA and graphic novel genres. She especially loves working with middle grade and YA.

Bree’s wish list:

A strong Sci-fi MG/YA

A Dexter-ish type YA black comedy

A manuscript written in the era of Mad Men with panache and style

YA nonfiction

Speculative fiction grounded in reality

*I am no longer looking to represent YA paranormal or fantasy. Unless it blows me out of the water!


  1. Great interview! And I thought writing a query letter was hard; now I have to work on an elevator pitch! Still, it's great advice, and a skill I think every writer should perfect.

  2. Ooh. Nice post. I'll be sure to add it to my must-have list if I ever query :P

  3. Thank you for dropping by YAtopia, Bree! Now I'm off to flog you on Twitter so everyone can learn about the elevator pitch. :)

  4. Thanks for the post! I kind of forgot about elevator pitches, so this definitely helped. :-)

  5. Thanks for stopping by YAtopia today and for the insight!

  6. Bookmarking this one so I can practice when the time comes ;)

  7. This is awesome! Thank you so much for coming to talk to us! I'll certainly have to work on my elevator pitch. I get asked alot by people at school and now I can come up with something good. And not only for them but in case I meet someone who might help me get published.
    Thanks again!

  8. Ack, elevator pitches are sort of terrifying. Because, you know, you have to talk. Eek.

    Good to think about though.

  9. Great advice and such helpful suggestions. I think I might add a link to this post on my blog. This one is a keeper!

  10. This is incredibly helpful! Thank you! :)

  11. Great and helpful info.
    Sometimes just keeping up with the times can keep one busy!
    Thanks for posting this.

  12. You are using my image. I created it from a photo i took many years ago on holiday. Can i ask you to give credit by linking to thanks William Freeman.