The Elevator Pitch

Shortly after I finished writing my middle-grade novel THE WITCH WORE PINK, someone asked me what it was about. I was stumped. How in the world was I supposed to describe the book when I’d spent months agaonizing over the 40,000 words in it? There was no way I could sum it up in a simple sentence, I thought. They’d just have to read it. But that wasn’t going to happen. They couldn’t read it unless I started carrying copies of my manuscript around with me. Even then, it wasn’t too much to ask that I at least give them an idea of what it was about. I just didn’t know how to do that.

As a writer, I’ve attended many writing workshops that include some type of focus on marketing yourself and your skills. One of the common pieces of advice is to create an ‘Elevator Pitch,’ which is usually described as the 2-minute sales pitch you’d give to an editor or agent if you suddenly found yourself riding an elevator with that superstar. You have a captive audience – what would you say?

I’m working on it. I have formed a 2-minute pitch in my head and usually open query letters with that very statement. But I’d never actually participated in an elevator pitch until I went to Beijing. There in the elevator of the Park Plaza Hotel, we encountered a lone Chinese woman with a mission.

We stepped into the elevator and I noticed that all the buttons were lit up.

“Ni Hao,” she said. We answered in kind.

“You go to Great Wall?” she asked. We nodded and told her we had, thinking that she was making conversation. “I can take you on tour. Great Wall, Forbidden City. You go to Summer Palace?” We nodded. “Temple of Heaven?” We nodded again as the doors opened onto an empty floor. The doors closed and she continued her pitch. On the next floor the doors opened again and we finally understood that she’d pressed all the buttons, hoping to catch riders going down.

By now, the woman was pulling out business cards and a brochure. She was a tour operator, looking to drum up business in a hotel elevator, of all places.

I have to admit, I admired her gumption.

Incense sellers ready and waiting at the top of the subway escalator.

Incense sellers ready and waiting at the top of the subway escalator.

The Beijing sales force are masters at guerilla marketing. By that, I mean that they really know how to think outside the box and go for the sale – full force.

I encountered this repeatedly. Consider the man at the top of the 23rd tower of the Mutianyu Great Wall. Undoubtedly, he climbed up there every day, hauling cases of water that he sold at exorbitant fees to thirsty hikers who’d trekked to the top.

Or the incense dealers standing at the top of the subway escalator, hoping to be the first of hundreds of incense sellers that every visitor to the Lama Temple encounters.

Guerilla marketing. It’s a way of life in Beijing.

As I said, I’ve read several books on the subject and heard more than a few presenters talk about guerilla marketing and writing. We’re encouraged to find new ways to get our names out there, to create niche markets, to sell books at estate auctions, produce stands, during county fairs or anywhere else we think we can find an audience to connect with our work. It’s all great theory, but I’d never seen it practiced as well as I did in China, where it isn’t just theory and marketing strategy, but almost life-or-death competition in a mega-metropolis.

I came away with a new respect and fresh perspective on what it means to market myself and my writing. I’m not sure you’ll find me standing at the top of an escalator with bundles of incense in hand, but I was inspired to consider new slants, angles, and marketing ideas for my writing.

I could send out my witch story along with a potion. Or maybe my next restaurant review should come packaged as a placemat? Better yet, maybe I’ll take a real cue from that Chinese tour operator I met. I’ll get my elevator pitch ready and ride the elevators of New York’s biggest publishing houses in the hopes that I’ll find myself stuck in an elevator with an agent.

All I know for sure is that I learned a valuable marketing lesson as I wandered the streets (and elevators/escalators) of Beijing: do anything and everything you can to promote yourself and your work. And have your elevator pitch ready. I’m fine-tuning mine now.


I know many of you are writers. Do you have your elevator pitch ready?

12 responses to “The Elevator Pitch

  1. Ah, yes. The dang elevator pitch. Since I’m a writer, not a speaker, I usually find I can explain my novels best after I’ve written the final version of the description. But it’s still tough, I’ve gotta say. : )

  2. I love the image of riding the elevators of a NYC building hoping for a chance meeting with an agent, elevator pitch in mind – that made me laugh! And the restaurant review as placemat – brilliant!

    Is The Witch Wore Pink published/for sale?

  3. A book! Juliann you must post up an extract! As for selling I just can’t do it. If I had a hungry family at home I’d haul that water or ride the elevators (lifts). Necessity is the mother of invention.

  4. You should have said, “It’s about a witch. And she wears pink.” Well, that would have been my response, anyway. And then she really would have never read my book because of my snarky comment. Guess I’d better start working on a better elevator pitch! 😉

    • Sadly, that’s probably what would come out of my mouth if I found myself in an elevator with an agent. Maybe it’s best if I don’t speak. I need to let the words on the page speak for themselves.

  5. Ugh, I’m soooo bad at the elevator pitch! I get totally nervous and all of a sudden I’ve spent 5 minutes saying nothing of real value, or just repeating myself over and over again. Apparently I need to visit China to get some inspiration!

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