Elevator Pitch Critiques: Going for Clarity & Cleaning up Grammar

Thanks go to everyone who sent in submissions. You were all  very brave to enter your pitches for critique in a public forum. I appreciate your trust in me.

So, I gave you 30 seconds and less than 100 words to deliver your pitch. You and I got on an elevator and your task was to tell me enough about your manuscript so that when the door opened to let us both out I would want to hand you my business card because I was so interested that I’d ask you to send it to me to read. (My other possible reaction would be to try to escape, avoiding making eye contact, and bolting as soon as the doors opened.)

I got a ton of submissions. Sorry I couldn’t get to more, but here goes…

1. The key to successful living is to know oneself. Knowing yourself has nothing to do with what your name is, what you look like, or what role you play in society. Mistaking yourself for that which you are not is like being stuck in a dream, unaware that you are dreaming. The undercurrent of suffering that is experienced by humanity comes down to one collective issue; the inability to know oneself. It’s about spiritual awakening… discovering who you are and why you are here. When you can truly do that, success is yours.

First of all, your pitch didn’t tell me what kind of book you’ve written or are proposing (fiction, non-fiction, memoir, children’s, adult); you didn’t tell me how long it will be (40,000 words? 340,000 words?); and you didn’t really even tell me what your intention is. I’m guessing this is non-fiction, some kind of inspirational, spiritual or self-help book. And? You are who? Why are you an expert? What’s different about your work than what’s already out there? Can you tell me quickly? The door’s starting to open…

Stop clearing your throat with all your words. Get to the essence of your manuscript. Like: “I have a full proposal and 3 sample chapters for a book that will explore the practice of rigorous self awareness with the experience of spiritual enlightenment towards the goal of expanded success.” Or something like that. Then say how and why you’re going to do it. “Each chapter will have a specific focus with a series of corresponding stories included and I pose questions at the end, which get answered by a panel of experts. My background is as a rabbi/priest/Buddhist monk/therapist/life coach with 5/10/20 years of experience ministering to/counseling/coaching people. My blog averages 750 hits a day and I have 2500 dedicated followers.” Or whatever your book really is about and who you really are.


2. When 12-year-old Jordan tries on a pair of secondhand Air Jordans, he finds himself transported back in time. He meets a younger version of his father who had mysteriously disappeared when Jordan was a baby. With help from his friend Ted in the present, and getting to know his father in the past, the pieces of his father’s disappearance start to fall in place. Can he put enough of those pieces together to solve the mystery?

First thing is that I’d say “Air Jordan sneakers,” just to be clear. Then I’d work on having the language sound less passive. So instead of, “he finds himself transported back in time,” I’d say, “he is transported back in time.” And lose that “had,” it doesn’t add anything.  His father mysteriously disappeared. Also, it’s not pieces of a disappearance, it’s pieces of a mystery; so change it up to something like, “the pieces of the mystery surrounding his father’s disappearance.”

You really want to make every word count. So, ending with that question is a waste of your words. Obviously he is going to put the pieces together to solve the mystery. I’d have the last sentence be something that talks about what the essence of the book is. This is a story about learning how to give the people we love a second chance. Or whatever it actually is about.

Now go back to your manuscript and check all of your grammar. And make sure every word is in there for a good reason.

3. I’M GAME is a YA sci-fi novel set in a futuristic society where a pricey operation can get the buyer enhanced senses and extra limbs. Seventeen-year-old Dodge can’t afford a good enough operation for an edge in the Game, the competition whose prize could be his ticket out of the slums. He has to gamble on a Chancer, not knowing how the surgeons have changed his body until he enters the Game. But when the surgery starts transforming him into a monster, he must battle not only to win the game, but to emerge with his humanity. Thank you!

Although this piqued my interest I worried right off the bat that it was a Hunger Games rip-off. You do diverge though. So, although I like the play on words of the title, you might consider using “tournament, sport, match, contest,” or some word other than “game.” Just saying…

Also, in your second sentence I think you should change, “the competition whose prize could be his ticket out of the slums” to, “but winning the prize could be his ticket out of the slums.” I had to read your sentence about 5 times to figure out what the heck you were trying to say. I questioned your grammar and my reading abilities. That makes me worry that your manuscript is going to have good ideas and poor execution. Nothing worse than getting a submission with an interesting premise that could have been great if the writer had just cleaned up all their grammatical errors. Go back and check the grammar in your whole manuscript.

I really like your clincher though. Transforming into a monster; battling to win the game; emerging with his humanity. Well done!  And thank you for saying thank you. You’d be surprised how few people are actually polite in queries and pitches.


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11 responses to “Elevator Pitch Critiques: Going for Clarity & Cleaning up Grammar

  1. Always fascinating getting an inside look.

  2. It’s great to hear an agent’s thoughts on pitches from these brave writers. There is something to learn from each one of them.

  3. Here’s a question: were the queries you selected representative of the whole batch, or did you choose them to illustrate your points? Did you receive any that hit the mark (whether or not they made you want to pass along your business card)?

    • There were some that would have required more time than I had and more space than a blog to address in a way that would have made a difference for the author. I tried to pick pitches that I could critique where my critique would also be helpful to other writers. There was one that came close to hitting the mark, where I would have requested the manuscript.

  4. vano

    Thank you for this opportunity, your time and attention. I am studying your words intently. I wanted to include some of the info you mentioned (genre, word count, status) but talked myself out of it, and re-wrote it with the omissions. D’oh! Thank you again for such a stellar learning experience.

  5. Lorraine

    Thanks for the critiques. They were very helpful. If and when I ever get the opportunity to pitch I will keep these things in mind. Thanks again!!

  6. Katherine Amabel

    Thank you for this!

  7. Great post thanks. I really enjoyed it very much.

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  8. Linda,
    Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to squeeze in some critiques. Your comments are insightful and helpful!

  9. Thanks for these, it’s very interesting to read other’s pitches and your critiques of them.

  10. Really interesting critiques and thanks for the opportunity. There are definitely some helpful hints involved and they are things I’ll have to take into account when continuing to edit my query as well (since I doubt I’ll have another opportunity to simply pitch an agent unfortunately!) I enjoyed the third pitch the most as it was the best at catching my interest which is the purpose of a pitch in the first place 🙂

    So- did anyone get the business card?