The Most Important Sentence Every Author Must Write
By Melinda Copp
Imagine you’re at a party, mingling with a crowd of people, enjoying the light conversation (or suffering through it from behind a pleasant façade), when someone asks about your book. It inevitably happens—people hear you’re a writer or author and the topic comes up. And so there you are, with your drink in one hand and a sociable smile on your face, presented with the opportunity to share something you should be sharing with everyone you meet. The only problem is you can’t just stumble through some answer that downplays the whole thing and expect a positive response. This is an opportunity to create word-of-mouth interest and maybe gain a new reader. So what do you say?
As an author with a book that you want to get into the hands of readers, you have to be able to communicate, in a sentence or two, why someone would want to read your book. In business networking circles, people use one-sentence introductions to concisely communicate what they do and what value they offer. Marketing experts call this one sentence the value proposition. In book publishing, I’ve heard literary agents refer to this concise summary as a book’s premise statement—and it’s something agents and editors look for when considering any project. I like to think of this sentence as the book’s elevator pitch. Whatever you want to call it, a concise and compelling statement that describes what your book is about is as fundamental to your success as the book itself.
Let me tell you a story about book elevator pitches. I belong to a writer’s group that recently brought in a publishing consultant as a guest speaker. Hearing this woman’s presentation was an amazing opportunity because, as a ghostwriter and editorial consultant, my work with my clients typically ends once the manuscript is written. Therefore, I’m always interested in making contact with smart and experienced professionals who fill other roles in the book business and can help my clients reach their goals.
And as a writer who has recently finished writing a book—a book I would love to see published!—I was excited because my writers group is so small that I knew we’d each get to talk to the publishing expert about our project. About a week before the meeting, my friend from writer’s group—who happens to be the publishing consultant’s friend—told her about my book topic and said the publishing consultant “lit up.” Good reaction, right?
So flash forward to that meeting. When it was my turn to offer up my book’s elevator pitch, I said something along these lines: “Well, it’s a book about alligators, and since my husband works in wildlife management, it’s about natural history and my own experiences being married into his field…” I used a few wells and umms, and then trailed off. To be perfectly honest, I’m really not sure what I said, but I knew as I said it that it wasn’t compelling. And the publishing consultant sure didn’t light up with excitement.
That was when I realized I need to be better prepared. Sure, I had written a premise statement much earlier in the project (this is a step I encourage all my authors to take in the book planning stage), but I didn’t have it memorized and ready to use, even when I should have known.
The thing is, we’re busy. We’re not just authors. We’re busy people with full calendars and diverse roles we have to play. But any aspiring author who is serious about getting their book read needs to know their book’s elevator pitch. It has to be memorized, practiced, and ready as soon as someone asks, “What is your book about?” Because you know what they say: you never know whom you might meet in the elevator.
How to Write Your Book’s Elevator Pitch
Your book's elevator pitch should answer the following three questions:
1. Who does your book help? (Your ideal readers.)
2. What does it help those ideal readers be, do, or have? (The results it helps them achieve.)
3. And what are the highest level benefits it helps them obtain? (The transformation the results provide.)
For example, "My book helps busy moms lose weight by making exercise easy to fit into their hectic schedule and helping them make better food choices, so they can feel good about their bodies and have more energy to accomplish everything they want."
Busy moms are the ideal readers, losing weight is the result, and feeling good about their bodies and having more energy are the transformation.
Another example is, "My book helps high-achieving entrepreneurs who are struggling in their business improve their marketing skills and attract ideal clients, so they work less and make more money."
High-achieving entrepreneurs struggling in their business are the ideal readers, attracting ideal clients is the result, and working less and making more money are the transformation. See how this works? With both of these examples, you know exactly what the book is about. And if you happen to fall within either example's ideal readership, then you immediately want to know more. Why? Because the results and transformation appeal to you.
Now, if you’re book is narrative nonfiction, like a memoir or journalism, or even if it’s a novel, your book’s elevator pitch will be a little different. Instead of offering a solution to a problem, you’re offering your readers entertainment. So your sentence needs to reflect what happens in the story.
Here’s what I came up with for my book: “When an idealistic nature lover moves to the South Carolina Lowcountry and marries into the wildlife management world, she becomes fascinated with the American alligator and what living alongside it reveals about humanity and life on earth.”
Much better than what I said in my meeting, right?
Here’s another example for a memoir: “Struggling with drug addiction and a recent divorce, a young woman leaves her life behind to search for redemption and a better version of herself along the Pacific Crest Trail.” Sound familiar? That’s my made-up elevator pitch for Wild by Cheryl Strayed. But you can see how the one sentence sums it up.
Now it’s your turn. Consider your reader and what your book does for them, whether that’s inform or entertain. What solution does your book provide? Or what transformation does the character in your book experience? Then condense your book’s vast world into a clean, compelling sentence. Use your best copywriting skills. (If you don’t have any, get some.) Then use this sentence in your book’s sales copy, back cover copy, marketing pieces, web site, business card, and anywhere you’re talking about your book.
Nailing Your Book’s Introduction
Take some time to get your book’s elevator pitch right and then adjust it to see what gets the best reaction. When you have your book’s elevator pitch memorized and ready, you’ll never miss an opportunity to share it with people you meet. And if your “My book is about…” sentence is a good one, it may be all you need to say to sell a book and gain a new reader.