The Art of Condensing an Entire Book into a Brief Sales Pitch

by | Apr 20, 2020

By Florence Osmund

You can write and publish the best book ever written, but if you don’t skillfully promote it, it won’t likely get noticed, or worse yet, it will draw negative attention. But how do you take a full-length novel with all of its characters, plot points, and subplot points and condense it down to a brief sales pitch that is enough to entice a reader to purchase it? This may seem like an impossible endeavor, but it can be done.

An important aspect of pitching your book is to write intriguing descriptions about it by way of elevator speeches, blurbs, and synopses. With each of these, you have the means to provide just enough information about the story line to make a reader yearn for more.

If you’ve written a book, chances are you already have the requisite creative writing skills to write a book description. But book descriptions require an additional skill—a powerful skill that you as an author must master—convincing readers why your book is a better purchase option than others in your genre. And in most cases, you have very few words in which to do this, so picking the right words is important.

Elevator Speeches

An elevator speech is a twenty- to thirty-second verbal statement about your book—taking no longer than your average elevator ride between two floors—intended to provoke interest in your work and solicit questions about the story line.

Authors use elevator speeches in a variety of ways—at book fairs where they are promoting their books, at conferences where there are many like-minded people, before and after giving a presentation, in normal everyday conversations with people, and even in an elevator with a stranger. (Okay, I’ll admit that last one may be a stretch.)

Many authors believe creating an effective elevator speech is more difficult than writing the book itself—it’s challenging to condense the essence of an entire story into a few sentences that will make the listener both grasp the story line and be enticed by it.

A solid elevator speech contains these three elements:

  1. identification of the main character
  2. what his or her goal(s) is
  3. one or more of the obstacles (sometimes inferred) that he or she will face

Sounds simple enough, but it takes a certain finesse to do it right.

Even though the overall objective of an elevator speech is to sell the listener on your book, you’ll want it to come across as more interesting and thought-provoking than “sales pitchy.” And you’ll want to do this in as few words as possible.

Here are three examples of elevator speeches that meet this three-element criteria:

Example #1: Looking for Belinda is the story of a terminally ill woman who searches for the daughter she gave up for adoption fifteen years earlier, only to find her daughter’s adopted parents are not in favor of their reuniting.

Example #2: Safety Net is the story of two abandoned sibling teens who avoid the authorities during their year-long adventure on the seamier side of Los Angeles, where they learn that living on the streets holds a whole new set of fear factors from what they had experienced at home.

Example #3: In My Shoes is about an American Muslim woman in search of justice following a sexual assault, only to discover that just treatment for her would come at a very high price.

Each example includes an introduction of the main character(s), his or her goal, and a hint of the potential obstacles he or she faces. Each one has the potential to evoke interest from the targeted audience.

Once you think you have a viable speech, practice it in front of a friend, family member, or mirror. Record it and listen to it repeatedly. Practice it until the words roll off your tongue in a natural way. Then memorize it until you are reciting it in your sleep.

When you’re delivering your elevator speech to someone, speak enthusiastically, with believability and a smile. And when you’ve finished, stop talking. You have opened the door for further discussion, so wait for your listener to say something before you speak further about your book. If the listener engages in a discussion about the book, you’ll know it went well. If it didn’t go so well, revise it for the next time until you’ve achieved perfection.

It’s never too early to have an elevator speech in your head—ready to go when someone asks you what your book is about. The last thing you want to happen is to fumble with an explanation of the story line until it’s so confusing to the listener that he or she loses interest, or it doesn’t give your story the credence it deserves, or it drags on and on for too many floors (so to speak).

Remember that when someone asks you what your book is about, they have a short attention span, and what they’re really saying is, “Tell me why someone would be interested in your book.”

Synopses

A book synopsis is a written summary of the story that touches on the major plot points, including the ending. Synopses do not include hooks, themes, conclusions, or the promise of anything. Rather, they are strictly an overview of what happens in the book, an account of the core plot events.

Synopses are generally not intended for your reader audience since they give away the entire story, spoilers and all. They are most often requested by editors, agents, publishers, and cover designers.

  • Content and developmental editors will benefit from having a synopsis of your book in that it will provide them with a full sense of the story line before they perform the editing.
     
  • Agents and publishers will typically ask for a detailed synopsis to help them determine whether they want to take on your project.
     
  • A cover designer will be able to create a more relatable cover if he or she knows the story line.

Here is a brief synopsis of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

At age thirteen, Theodore (Theo) Decker goes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother to see an exhibit of Dutch masterpieces. He especially likes a painting, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, but a young redheaded girl named Pippa also catches his eye.

An explosion hits the museum and kills his mother. While Theo stumbles around in the rubble, an injured old man encourages him to take The Goldfinch with him.

Theo, along with the painting, goes to Las Vegas to live with his dad and his dad’s girlfriend. There, he befriends Boris. When his dad is killed in a drunk driving accident, Theo heads to New York, where he meets Hobie, an antique dealer, who invites him to stay with him. Boris soon follows Theo to New York.

Theo becomes partners in Hobie’s antiques business, with plans to marry his old friend Kitsey, although he cannot get Pippa out of his mind. To save the antique business, Theo sells fake antiques and is faced with blackmail over one of his dishonest deals. The blackmailer connects The Goldfinch painting with Theo and threatens him further.

When Theo realizes Boris had stolen The Goldfinch from him and traded it to a band of criminals for money, he and Boris go to Amsterdam to retrieve it. In the process, Theo kills a man, and Boris is shot. Boris returns to New York after saving the painting for the museum and shares the reward with Theo.

In the end, Theo connects with his true love Pippa.

As it should, this synopsis lists the major plot points as they occurred, but nothing else. Just the facts.

Blurbs

A blurb is a brief, written description of the story line that is designed to entice people to read the book, and includes all or most of the following elements:

  • Introduction and goal(s) for the main character
  • The setting
  • The theme and/or mood of the story line
  • Potential obstacles facing the main character

Like an elevator speech, a blurb is key to creating interest in your book. A well-written blurb will showcase not only your book but also your writing style. A well-crafted blurb can be the most important selling tool you have in your toolbox.

You will use blurbs everywhere, and I say blurbs (plural) because you’ll need more than one. You’ll use them for:

  • a press release
  • on book-promotion sites
  • in on-line interviews
  • on your website and social media pages
  • on the back cover of your book
  • in advertisements

It’s never too early to have your blurbs ready to go. I suggest starting with four of them, each containing the same general information but in varying lengths and level of detail. It makes sense to start with the longest one, because once it’s written, all you have to do to create the shorter ones are delete and tighten.

400-500 words – This would be an appropriate length to send to agents and publishers.
 
150-200 words – You will find this length suitable for most promotion sites and online interviews.
 
100-150 words – This one is about the right length for your back cover.
 
50 words or less – Typically one sentence, you can use this one in advertisements, flyers, banners, and postcards.

You might think it’s inconceivable to boil down your entire book to a single page, let alone one sentence, but it’s not. Challenging, yes, but not impossible. Here are some tips:

  • Check out movie blurbs on https://www.movies.com or any other movie site. They do a good job at reducing the essence of a two-hour movie to a few well-written sentences.
     
  • Get ideas from the back covers of books in your genre, taking note of what captures your attention.
     
  • Without giving away too much, include the following in your blurb:
    • The setting (time period and place)
    • Thumbnail description of the major characters
    • What the protagonist wants and why he/she wants it (the bare bones of your story)
    • Conflicts, roadblocks, or challenges the protagonist may encounter along the way
    • What’s at stake for the protagonist
    • A hint at the change that occurs for the protagonist between the beginning and the end

Keep the writing clean and tight. Focus on action, not descriptions of things. Use more nouns and verbs than adverbs and adjectives. Avoid writing about the sequence of events. Instead, write about the main character—his or her emotions, fears, and excitement. Include twists and turns without giving away too much. Consider including the climactic incident that really stirs things up, without giving away the whole story or the ending. And talk about the protagonist’s conflicts—interior and exterior. Try to make the blurb interesting, intriguing, and compelling. Try to evoke emotion from the reader.

Here is a 140-word blurb from the back cover of award-winning The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost. Until today. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Having an inventory of carefully crafted blurbs readily available is essential for today’s authors who are frequently faced with promotion opportunities on the Internet. Take time to create the perfect description of your book that will persuade readers to want to know more.

In Summary

When properly written, elevator speeches, synopses, and blurbs leave people feeling desperate to read the whole story. Do your book justice by spending the time to write compelling statements and share the fruits of your labor with as many people as possible. Above all, be ready to respond to someone who says, “Tell me about your book” because that someone could be in a position to help you promote it, write a review for it, choose it for their next book club read, or tell their big-time screenwriter brother-in-law about it (hey, it could happen).

You never know when or where your next valuable connection will present itself, so be prepared. And remember, whether it’s a lengthy synopsis or a short blurb, make it perfect. Proofread it over and over again, have someone else proofread it, and revise it as many times as is necessary for it to be perfect.

Each book description reflects your work and is a representation of how skilled a writer you are. Keep in mind that it’s not only your book you’re promoting, it’s you, the author, too!

Want to read more articles by Florence Osmund? Click here.
 
Photo: BigStockPhoto

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9 Comments

  1. Valentina Cirasola

    Great article, it makes everything much clearer and I will keep it for reference.

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      Glad the article was of help, Valentina.

      Reply
  2. Bryan Fagan

    When we finished the final edits I had my editor do the sales pitch. Why? As an author sometimes we are to involved. It’s hard to focus on one thing but an editor is on the outside looking in. They can spot things to highlight. My editor was able to do in minutes what took me a week to figure out. Something to think about for those who have editors.

    Excellent article. Thanks!!!

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      Interesting approach, Bryan. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  3. Leslie Tall Manning

    I just had a Zoom meeting with my writer group and I brought up this exact subject! So the timing is perfect, and I plan to forward this article. My agent has asked me for all of the above at one time or another, so even if an author does not need one or the other at this moment, they probably will sometime down the road. I used to be an actress (before I became a writer) and I was always taught to “carry two monologues in your back pocket: a drama piece, and a comedic piece. Because you never know when you will need to pull one out.” Having an elevator pitch and the longer summaries are key to selling the story. While they are difficult to write, they are worth the time. And once a writer gets the elevator pitch down, it’s a lot of fun to share it! Succinct advice in this article!
    BTW, Florence, thank you for your lovely review of Knock on Wood. : )

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      I’m glad you found my article helpful, Leslie, and are sharing it with others. Having the right book descriptions on hand is so important. The analogy to actress monologues is interesting–I had never thought about that. And I loved “Knock on Wood.” Congratulations on writing such a compelling story!

      Reply
  4. Frances Caballo

    What an important and informative blog post, Florence. Kudos to you. Now, authors who read this blog post will have an outline for writing their elevator speeches, synopses, and blurbs. BTW: I find blurbs especially difficult to write so this post is helpful. This post will also make it easier to write book descriptions for online book retailers.

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      Thank you, Frances. I’m glad you liked the article and found it helpful. Book descriptions are so important–they serve as a purchase decision in so many cases.

      Reply

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