Monday, December 12, 2011

Love in An Elevator (How To Make a Great Elevator Pitch)

It's not fair.  It's hard enough to sit behind a monitor and come up with witty, pithy remarks for our characters, but we've got to pitch them, too?  In person?

I'm afraid so, Brad.

As a screenwriter or freelance writer, pitching is part of the job.  As a novelist, more and more that's also part of the publishing game.

As writers, we have to realize we are not simply selling a finished product, like a car, take it or leave it.  If it's a screenplay, we are selling our love for it, excitement, and the ability to think fast on our feet - because screenwriters must be ready and able to make changes and edits, as the project requires.

If it's a novel, we still must show that we can deal with questions, edits, changes.  That we'll be able to present our work at readings, radio interviews, and deal with the book-buying public, all without crumbling into a heap and crying.

It's not just about this particular project, but the five that follow it.  Are we presenting ourselves as someone this agent will want to work with, today, tomorrow, for years to come?

We are truly selling... ourselves.

(btw, the lovely and super-talented Rochelle Staab, who plays the agent here, is not only an actress but an author, with Who Do, Voodoo? a murder mystery currently burning up the charts.)

Here's another clip on "how to" create an elevator pitch, geared towards selling oneself as a job applicant.

Recently I heard a number of screenwriters practice their pitches, and one thing that struck me, is none of them seemed to "get" the concept of  "always leave them wanting more."  There should be enough detail to satisfy basic questions.  Is it actually a story?  Is it a clone of 20 other movies or books released last year?  Who's the protagonist?  What's unusual about this story? 

From agent Rachelle Gardner:
In the words of my friend the Query Shark (agent Janet Reid), your pitch needs to show:
1. Who is the protagonist?
2. What choice does s/he face?
3. What are the consequences of the choice?
Just to be safe, take a step back from your query. Make sure your book has a protagonist with a choice to face (a conflict), obstacles to overcome, a desired outcome, and consequences (the stakes) if the goal is not reached.
It is okay, in fact, it is good if after the 30 seconds or two minutes is over, the agent or producer to whom we are pitching wants to ask questions.  It is not good if they nod off in the middle, or the pitch is so muddied with the various subplots that nobody knows who's on first.

This may sound obvious, since you're a writer - but write it downWrite out a two minute pitch (2 double spaced pages = roughly two minutes) and a 30 second one (roughly 3/4 of one page, double-spaced.)   In that two page draft - what's there, what's missing?  Add the crucial elements, and get rid of the rest.  Do the same with the 30 second, elevator pitch (no matter how much it hurts).

Don't memorize, learn to tell it as a story.  It's okay if you change it from what's written down - that's only a guide to make sure you have all the important parts included, and is not running over.  Match the style of your work - if it's funny, make sure your pitch includes humor.  If your work is straight drama, don't write a slapstick pitch.

If you have enough time to know to whom you will be pitching, do your homework.  For example, if I was planning to pitch to, oh, let's say, story editor Chris Lockhart of WME, at the Alameda Writers Group meeting on January 7, I'd take the time to Google him.  Maybe even read his blog.

Not that I would pretend to be his new best friend, but it just might offer a way to make a connection.  Sometimes, of course, we run into an agent, publisher or producer without any prep time, but if you know you'll have a pitch opportunity, show some respect.  Despite rumors to the contrary agents and others in the industry do want to say yes, not no.

Got a good (or bad) pitch story?
Please share in the comments.
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Btw, are you in on the MLK blogfest? Details here.