KNOWN AS THE ELEVATOR PITCH, these 25 words may be the hardest writing you’ve ever attempted.

Say you got on an elevator with one other passenger. As the doors closed and you started to zip up to the next floor, your companion turned to you and asked, “I heard you wrote a book, what is your story about?” You want them to say, “Wow, that sounds really interesting!” before the elevator doors open again and they get off. People have short attention spans and busy lives.

That’s the test. A few minutes on an elevator is about all the time you usually get to convince someone to read your book.

I still struggle with this. The first time I was asked what my book was about for a podcast, there was absolute silence, then I stumbled around wishing I could hit the rewind button. I remember looking at the ceiling, as if the right words would magically appear there.

They didn’t…

You can get away with three paragraphs in a query letter or for your Amazon synopsis, but you’d better be able to sum up your story quickly when asked “What is your book about?” during a radio talk show interview. You definitely want the core of your story to be ready to roll off your tongue if you’re pitching to an agent at a writers’ conference, speaking for a book club, or trying to convince an independent book store owner to carry your work.

You just never know when you’re going to need this quick summary. I’ve decided it is a useful tool for me to keep my focus BEFORE writing my next novel. But that’s another story…

The best advice I’ve received is to ask yourself a couple of simple questions, then prune, prune, prune, until you only have the essence left.

WHO IS THE STORY ABOUT? Your protagonist and maybe their main enemy.

WHAT CHALLENGES DO THEY FACE? If you don’t have a worthy challenge, then why bother writing the story?

WHAT MAKES YOUR BOOK UNIQUE? Does your main character (or their enemy) have a delicious quirk? Do you have an unusual setting or time frame? Are there multiple puzzles to solve?

Do a brain dump first. Write the rambling 3-paragraph description, then start slashing.

From Upstart Crow Literary, here’s a good example for Charlie the the Chocolate Factory:

  • Everyone wants the secrets of the reclusive Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but only one courageous boy will get them during a wild and hilarious adventure.

From the Thrillerfest website are more super-short examples:

What if a cyborg is sent back through time to kill the mother of the future savior of mankind?  “Terminator” 19 words

What if a cowboy stumbles on a drug deal gone bad, takes the money, only to find that he’s being hunted by a relentless killer?  “No Country For Old Men”

-by Cormac Macarthy 25 words

What if the first lady is plotting to overthrow the president?  “Capital Offense”

-by Kathleen Antrim  11 words

What if a young girl risks her soul to love a vampire boyfriend?  “Twilight”

-by Stephanie Meyer 13 words

Good luck!  I’m going to work on mine, now….