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Elevator Pitches and their Disservice

Should a book be defined in a single sentence? Don’t ask me why this random thought jumped into my head, but it did. Most writers have to create an “elevator pitch” to give to agents and editors. The idea is that you happen to get into an elevator with a top publisher/agent. You have until they get to their next floor to pitch them your grand novel. What would you say? 

I hated coming up with pitches…I don’t know why I put that in the past tense because I still do. They are horrible. A page? I can rock that summary. Although, a publishing house once asked me for three pages and I had the hardest time. When I first started, I would sit down with agents at conferences. We were given 15 minutes to sell ourselves…which is actually a lot better than a one-page query letter. But part of this was the idea to “pitch” the book in a sentence. Keep it simple. Tell me the gist. But also wow me. 

I haven’t pitched my work for a while, but I still have to summarize my books in a sentence. Amazon actually has a section on one of their reading sites where you summarize a book in one sentence. I forget what they call it, but it was something like the insanely short summary. I had to practice this art when creating bookmarks last year. 

But I got to thinking….should a book even be able to be defined in one little sentence? I think this goes along with the idea that publishers want cookie-cutter novels. They want something they can “easily” sell. But is that something I want to read? The books I love the most are the ones with two or three plot lines. In suspense novels, I love the authors who can twist multiple storylines that seem unrelated and tie them together (besides the whole they are relatives). I wondered if they could define the book in one sentence. Sure, we can come up with general statements. Lord of the Rings is an adventure to destroy a powerful ring that corrupts its owner. But, it seems a disservice to J.R.R. Tolkien’s series to summarize it in just that one sentence. That series is so much more than that.  Likewise, I can say J.K. Rowling’s series on Harry Potter is about a boy coming to terms with his parent’s death and his legacy while taking on a wicked sorcerer. But, again, the story is so much more than that. 

As you can see, I’m not very good at making a sentence compelling and gripping, but I start to wonder if we lose something in the summation. Do we turn into those movie trailers that are nothing like the actual movie? Books should have layers. They should have a complexity that shouldn’t be defined in a sentence. And if they can be, then maybe they are too simple to keep my interest. Or maybe that’s just me.