Mind mapping an elevator pitch


I now have — ta da — a good second draft of Grub Street, my novel in progress. It’s now 72,000 words. It’ll need at least one more draft before I submit it anywhere, but it’s now gone off to sit for a while and think about what it did be critiqued.

BUT, the write-a-thon is not over. (What’s the write-a-thon, you ask? Why, it’s when more than 300 writers worldwide set themselves goals over six weeks to raise money for the Clarion West workshop. I am one. You can sponsor me here.)

So that means I need to stick to my goal of writing every day, even though I am letting the novel sit.

For the next few days, my writing is going to be of the novel synopsis and query. No writer’s favourite task, but it’s necessary.

A pitch to go into a query letter for agents or publishers is very similar to an elevator pitch: a few sentences at most in answer to the dread question “What’s your book about?” It ought to hook the listener/reader into saying, “Please send me the manuscript.”

It’s really hard.

At Ad Astra this spring, I went to a workshop on elevator pitches. I remember editor Gabrielle Harbowy saying there are three elements she looks for: character, conflict and stakes.

So I made myself a mind map, with these three elements, and adding setting as an optional or lesser fourth. (Depending on the novel, setting might be all-important to the pitch or not important at all. If it’s set in present-day Wisconsin it might not matter. But an agent or editor is going to want to know if it’s secondary-world or historical fantasy.)

Each element gets broken down into its most interesting aspects: what are the most interesting things about the character? Which is the main or most interesting conflict?

And then I put ticky marks next to the aspects that absolutely must make it in to the pitch.

The one above is a quick version I dashed off based on Cinderella, to show what I mean. (Showing the notes for an actual work in progress is… too painful.)

So now I’ve got my mind map, with the elements I want to somehow squeeze in. Now, before I go to bed, I’ll take a crack at writing the thing…