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January 5, 2018

The Importance of an Elevator Pitch

by C.M. North


I did a thing the weekend before Christmas. It was scary, exciting and fulfilling all at once. It took about two hours of my life and made me feel more validated as a writer than I’ve perhaps ever felt before.

I did my first ever book signing!

To many established authors, this is probably no big deal. To avid readers, it probably means nothing, either. But to me it meant a lot: I sold fifteen physical copies of my books, which is more than I’ve sold in the past year, and to top it off I made over $100, which is by far the biggest paycheck I’ve received for my writing, ever.

As rewarding as it was to sign books for complete strangers, there’s a part of me, nonetheless, that feels I could have done better. It was a cold, rainy December day and the stragglers were few, though the bookshop (a small, local independent one) was cozy, and I had quite a few moments of staring into the distance, waiting for someone to walk in.

But that isn’t what I think could have been better. Yes, it could have been a warm, sunny December day, but that isn’t what I mean. Instead, I’m referring to the actual interactions I had with customers—with potential readers of my work. The truth is, I think I could have sold even more copies had I been able to better convey the interest and the engagement of the books themselves.

The funny thing is that, by day, I work in a busy retail environment. I’m usually quite excellent at introducing myself, engaging with customers, and discussing relevant solutions to their needs. Selling a book oughtn’t to be that different … except that it’s my own book. It’s one thing to sell a product you have no personal attachment to; that washing machine, or those pair of jeans, or that hammer—you can speak to the features and the benefits all day, and probably sell a good few of them. But how do you talk about something you’ve spent years of blood, sweat, and tears crafting from nothing without sounding … well, arrogant, or proud? ‘This is the best novel since The Fault in Our Stars.’ ‘If you like The Lord of the Rings, you’ll love this.’

‘Please buy my book, I think you’ll really like it.’

It’s a difficult mentality to overcome, even though selling your own book shouldn’t be that different than selling someone else’s. After all, there’s no one in the world who’s a better subject matter expert. No one else knows it as well as you.

So why is it so hard?

I think part of the difficulty is that one’s own work is, in essence, a piece of one’s soul. It’s dangerous, selling your soul—it leaves you vulnerable and exposed. What if they don’t like it? It’s more than just a rejection of your opinion, but of your very self. It becomes a frightening prospect.

It’s also difficult to avoid falling into tropes and stereotypes when someone asks you what your book is about. ‘It’s about a boy’; ‘It’s about a young girl’; these are the things that, well, all books are about, really. After all, how many fantasy books are out there that follow the adventures of children and young adults? How many YA books pit their characters against social stigmas and mental illnesses? (I mean, all of them, it seems.)

And so it becomes important to craft your answer to the question, ‘What’s it about?’ To write it, practice it, and rehearse it. To deliver it so naturally that it sounds like you just made it up—but in reality, you were just waiting to hook a potential reader.

An elevator pitch is essentially a way of getting someone interested in you, your product or your writing, in a remarkably short length of time (the idea being you could sell yourself in the time it takes to ride an elevator). And I didn’t have one. I didn’t know how to sell my books. I committed all of the sins above, and, well … probably to my detriment.

It’s odd, of course, because I’ve been sending out query letters for some time for my recent YA novel, 22 Scars, (Amazon affiliate link) so you’d think I’d have some practice at pitching my book. (That being said, I haven’t received an acceptance yet.) But delivering in writing and in person are two very different things. You also need to have a few different options: do you give the plot synopsis including the twist or just the hook to whet the appetite?

My pitch essentially sounded something like this: ‘22 Scars is about a young girl suffering from depression, self-harming to help cope, and the traumatic experiences that led her to this point.’ Ugh. It’s bland, generic, uninspired, and totally lacking any form of hook to differentiate it from a thousand others just like it. But what if it had sounded more like this? ‘Imagine your best friend never smiles, never laughs, and cuts herself daily just to cope. What if she were your crush? Your own child? What would you do? 22 Scars explores the life of Amy—seventeen and severely depressed—from the points of view of those closest to her. Along the way, it delves into the mentality of chronic depression, and the reasons for it. It can be painful at times, dealing with both physical and sexual abuse, but ultimately—I’d like to think—rewarding and inspiring. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s ever been depressed, or knows anyone who suffers.’

Perhaps not a work of art, but certainly a little more engaging, right? Maybe makes you want to know more? It takes about 45 seconds to say, even at a slow pace. And it (hopefully) doesn’t sound like anything you’ve read before.

In the end, the book signing was fun, cozy and rewarding, and not just because of the sales. It was wonderful to talk to people about books, reading, and what they were getting for themselves and their loved ones. I just wish I had prepared myself better before going in, and felt more comfortable speaking to my own work. After all—no one knows it better.

C.M. North is a trained musician, coffee addict and author of 22 Scars, a young adult novel about teenage depression and growing up with tragedy and trauma. He lives in northern New Jersey with his wife, son and cat Pia, who insists she take precedence over writing. You can find him at cmnorthauthor.com.

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2 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your successful signing!! :-D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! It was certainly a lot of fun, and even if nothing else comes of it, it's nice to think that my books are out there in others' hands!

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