“It’s HBO-style epic fantasy”

I hear that in Hollywood one is supposed to master the “elevator pitch.” Let’s say you get in an elevator with a well-known producer, and from the time when the elevator doors close the hapless producer is stuck with you until the doors open on the next floor. This is your only chance to pitch your brilliant idea. In other words, you have to get across the sense of story quickly.

In this scenario, one way of boiling down the story is to link together two disparate but charmingly contrasting notions:

“It’s Dracula in Space!”

“It’s Karl Marx as a detective in Victorian London.”

“It’s Star Wars without the science fiction premise.”

Why do I mention this? Because I have the worst time when people ask me, as they sometimes do, “What’s your new book about?”

“Oh, um, see, there’s this guy, and, uh, there are giant eagles, and, uh . . .”

If I haven’t lost them by then, they are most likely dear, kind people, or patient relatives. Or both.

Recently I have been trying very hard to come up with elevator pitches that I can carry around in the back of my head for such occasions, so I have something coherent to say. For instance, I have learned to refer to my novel, JARAN, as “Jane Austen meets Genghis Khan.”

Meanwhile, there’s still that troublesome new book and new series, SPIRIT GATE and the forthcoming SHADOW GATE. I toyed with, “it’s an historical novel set in an imaginary world,” but as you can imagine, that did not ignite any fires.

This past year the family has been netflixing some HBO series – Rome Season 1, Deadwood (Seasons 1 & 2); The Wire: Season 1. What do these series have in common? They’re gritty, complex character studies with plenty of action in well-grounded settings. Hey! Finally, I’ve got the beginnings of a pitch.

If someone asks me, “what’s the new series?” — I can say, “it’s HBO-style epic fantasy.”

So what’s your elevator pitch? Or – if you don’t like the elevator pitch concept – how do you deal with the question, “what’s your new book about?”

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  1. 1. Simon Haynes

    I tell people it’s “like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or “like Red Dwarf” – they usually get that, and if they don’t they’re probably not my target audience.

    For English/Australian people I tell them “it’s Star Wars meets Minder” (which someone actually said in a blurb for my first book.)

    And if you’ve never heard of Minder, you’re really missing something: http://imdb.com/title/tt0078657/

  2. 2. Marie Brennan

    I had an abominable time with that very problem when Doppelganger came out. (“There are these two women, they’re two halves of the same person, and one of them has to kill the other . . . .”) But Midnight Never Come is much more cooperative: it’s my Elizabethan faerie espionage fantasy.

  3. 3. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    You know, I still haven’t figured out any for any of my books. I’m a dork. I really need to work on it though, because I do the same thing . . . stumble, burble, there’s a girl you see, and then bad things happen to her, and people get killed and the world is saved. Uh huh. Brilliant.

  4. 4. Bran fan

    It is interesting because as a pre-pubbed writer, I thought you only needed a good pitch to sell your book to agents and editors. Now I know that you need it for the whole life of the book because you need to tell it to the fans too.

    In my writer’s group, we come up with pitches for each other’s books. It is somehow easier to summarize someone else’s book than our own.

  5. 5. S.C. Butler

    I think I’m like Diana on this – I doubt I’ll ever master the art of the elevator pitch. (Gives me motion sickness, just thinking about it.) I had the same problem writing English papers in school. I always wanted to say, “You want to know what Emma is about? Read the damn book.”

    But I’ll give it a try. In the first book of The Stoneways we find out how Reiffen chose magic. In the second book we learn what he did with magic. And in the last book we learn what magic did to him.

  6. 6. Constance

    We’ve been forced into saying things like: A Year in Provence meets The Midnight Garden of Good and Evil for the next one — The Year Before the Flood.

    Love, C.

  7. 7. Alma Alexander

    Heh. Okay, I’ll play, with the three YA books

    Worldweavers 1: Gift of the Unmage – It’s a magical coming-of-age story about the Girl Who Couldn’t… and then began to suspect otherwise.

    Worldweavers 2: Spellspam – When Email Attacks!

    Worldweavers 3: Cybermage – Elemental magic, resurrection, and the realisation that only when you are willing to freely give are you completely whole.

    Yargh.

    I hope nobody ever stops me in an elevator and asks.

    I’d probably just tell them to go to http://www.worldweaversweb.com and read about it themselves.[grin]

  8. 8. Marie Brennan

    I should add, btw, that I’ve always kind of hated the Elevator Pitch notion. I think it’s good to have a condensed nugget of “here’s what my book is about,” but the kind of approach described here — which I believe is unpleasantly common in Hollywood — reduces everything to a new kind of cliche. (“It’s Deadwood meets My Little Pony! It’s Gilgamesh as written by Jane Austen!”)

    I’d rather have “It’s HBO-style epic fantasy,” which gives me a feel for the type of story it is, rather than an unholy mashup that tells me nothing.

  9. 9. Simon Haynes

    Having a one-liner ready for odd occasions IS useful. I sometimes get chatting to people (e.g. the person checking in my mail at the post office) and if the subject happens to get around to books (inevitable, when I’m posting them) I end up giving them the one-liner to describe what I write. They often mention a relative who enjoys that kind of thing, and I hand over a bookmark.

    I don’t mean I verbally spam everyone I come into contact with – it might only be one person every three weeks – but when it happens I don’t want to look like I’m uncertain about the content of my own books.

  10. 10. Kate Elliott

    Oh, I completely agree there are problems with the elevator pitch in the larger sense, although I rather like Deadwood meets My Little Pony. The only thing is that it is useful to have a succinct and interesting description at hand – however difficult it is to come up with one.

    because many people do want to know but they don’t want to hear an entire plot synopsis. they want a sense if they’ll like the story. Oh well. No one said it wouldn’t be hard!

  11. 11. Simon Haynes

    If I was stuck in an elevator with a producer, I’d be more likely to give them a serve for the way so many books are butchered to fit a particular movie-watching demographic.

    (Which, to this cynic, is either teen boys or teen girls. Not that there’s no crossover, of course … my daughters love action movies and puke loudly at the kissy stuff. But then, since when did actual live human beings fit into convenient marketing slots?)

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Author Information

Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is the author of multiple fantasy and science fiction novels, including the Crown of Stars series and the Novels of the Jaran. She's currently working on Crossroads; the first novel, Spirit Gate, is already out, and Shadow Gate will be published in Spring 2008. Visit site.

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