The trend these days seems to be writers working on hooks for their queries, which is fine. Query letters definitely need a hook. Personally, I like to think that every sentence in a query letter needs to hook the reader enough to want to read the next one – and the last sentence needs to make the reader want to hit REPLY, but that’s just me.
As I read through a bunch of hooks in Agent Query Connect, it occurred to me that there is a big difference between a hook (written) and an elevator pitch (spoken). I’m not sure new writers appreciate the difference, so I thought I’d talk about it here for a bit.
You might have the best query letter ever conceived, but if you’re heading to a writer's convention, that’s not going to help you answer, “So, what’s your book about?”
For that, you need to have a single sentence so well memorized that you don’t have to think about the answer. That’s an old acting trick. They’ll speed through a scene saying the words as fast as their mouths can move. By hyper-memorizing something, when it comes time to do the scene for real, they can say their lines without having to remember them. They just come out naturally.
But to do that, your elevator pitch – that single sentence – has to sound like natural dialogue.
Think about it as the hook is your formal version, and the pitch is casual.
For example: Here are the first two lines of my query letter for Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand.
"E = mc2 is no longer the most powerful force in the universe. Your wand is."
Twelve-year-old Billy and his best friend Suzy Quinofski didn't mean to change the universe.
Of course, I’d never say that out loud if someone asked me, “What’s your book about?” For that, I go with.
“It’s about a kid who is into quantum physics and his best friend – she’s into micro biology – and together they make a real, working, magic wand.”
That sounds very causal, but in fact it has been carefully calculated.
“A kid” = Young Adult or Middle Grade.
“Quantum Physics & Biology” = The Science of Science Fiction
“She’s into” = His friend is a girl, so we have that demographic covered.
“Magic Wand” = the fiction.
After a brief pause to make sure what I just said has sunk in, I’ll follow up with, “Of course, they don’t know how to use it.”
Always remember that a pitch is a conversation, not a monologue. Memorize where you are going to stop and listen (with all five senses) as well as what you’re going to say.
And finally, an elevator pitch can also be a defensive maneuver at a convention. When you’re trapped by a person you don’t want to talk to who asks “What’s your book about?” you add “excuse me for a second” to the end of your elevator pitch, and step away without being rude.
I probably shouldn’t have given that last trick away in public, huh?
R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers, The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse, and Summer's Edge anthologies. Look for his new book, Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand in December from Elephant's Bookshelf Press.