Recently, I met with my publicist, Kim Dower, to hone my elevator pitch: a short description of my book that I can pull out any time someone asks me, “So, Laura, what’s happening in your life right now?” Or “Tell me about your book.”
These handy little capsule descriptions are called “elevator pitches” because they’re what you’d say to a famous movie producer if you were stuck in an elevator together and had only one minute to pitch her with your great screenplay idea before the doors slid open and she escaped. What could you possibly say that would grab her attention and make her want to hear more about your idea?
One of my book marketing coaches, Crystal Ellefsen, says an author’s elevator pitch should “be composed of one short sentence that grabs interest, sets expectations, and focuses on the primary conflict in the story.” The point is to be prepared with something I can say so I don’t panic, stare blankly, change the subject (“And what do you do?”), flee, or stammer out a rambling, embarrassing set of bloated paragraphs. Just one or two clean, elegant, impactful sentences that captures the essence of the book and easily rolls off my tongue. “The Burning Light of Two Stars is the story of…”
Before our scheduled meeting, I came up with a list of possible elevator pitches. Kim came with her own set of ideas. Over Zoom, in an hour, we examined each possibility and discussed its relative strengths and weaknesses.
Kim had written one for me in which I’d have say that my book was riveting. “I can’t say my own book is riveting,” I told her. “You can’t say that about your own book. And I can’t say it’s a page-turner. That’s for someone else to say.”
She looked at mine and said, “You’ve forgotten to mention The Courage to Heal,” and when she explained her reasoning, I had to agree.
Here’s what Kim said about the ideas I brought to the table:
- The Burning Light of Two Stars tells the story of two souls who just couldn’t quit each other: an estranged mother and daughter, determined to love each other, on a collision course at the end of the mother’s life.
Analysis: Kim didn’t like the word “estranged.” Not enough heat, she said. So I consulted a thesaurus and we settled on “embattled” instead.
- The Burning Light of Two Stars tells the story of a bitterly estranged mother and daughter, determined to love each other, on a collision course at the end of the mother’s life.
Analysis: Kim didn’t like “bitterly.” Too negative, she said, and once again, she nixed the word “estranged.” Other than that, Kim liked this one. Short, punchy, and direct. Then we got into a discussion about whether it’s better to indicate in this elevator pitch a happy ending—the determination to love—or highlight the conflict, of which there is plenty. This is a conversation I’ve had repeatedly in discussing the best way to market this book. My coach Joshua Townshend Zellner insists that people love conflict and that you should never give away the resolution of your story. Others claimed that people pick up books because they want to read an inspiring story. I don’t know what I think. I flip-flop about this a lot. It often depends on whom I’m talking to.
- The Burning Light of Two Stars tells the story of the epic struggle between a mother and daughter who had every reason to never speak to each other again yet were determined to find their way back to love.
Analysis: Sounds too much like a soap opera. Scrapped.
- The Burning Light of Two Stars is a mother-daughter saga that explores the questions: Can you caretake a parent who betrayed you? How do you open a heart that’s been closed for good reason? And, what does reconciliation really take?
Analysis: Not bad, depending on the audience. Asking questions can be effective.
- My book answers the question, “What happens when a dramatic, elderly mother moves across the country to entrust her formerly estranged daughter with the rest of her life?”
- The Burning Light of Two Stars tells the story of what happens when a dramatic, elderly mother moves across the country to entrust her formerly estranged daughter with the rest of her life.
Analysis: These two are pretty good, but Kim missed the mention of having co-authored The Courage to Heal because of the platform that book gives me. Also, “embattled” doesn’t really fit in this context. It would have to be “estranged.”
Finally, we amalgamated our lists, realizing there were some things Kim could say about me and my book that I couldn’t say about myself. We needed different elevator pitches. Her job, after all, is to sell me and my book in a way I can’t do for myself.
Finally, Kim took our ideas and notes home and sent me a final version. I think they’re pretty good, but still kind of long:
If I’m asked the question as the author:
The Burning Light of Two Stars tells the story of my embattled relationship with my mother, our determination to love one another, and the dramatic and surprising collision course we found ourselves on at the end of her life. For the millions of people who read my first book, The Courage to Heal, my new book is both the prequel and sequel, and offers the intimate, page-turning details of how I reconciled with the mother who had betrayed me, learning to care for her during her final days.
The Burning Light of Two Stars tells the dramatic story of my embattled relationship with my mother and our determination to love one another. For the millions who read my first book, The Courage to Heal, this new book is both the prequel and sequel—the intimate, page-turning details of how I was able to reconcile with the mother who had betrayed me, and how I learned to unconditionally love and care for her during her final days.
And Kim’s elevator pitch on my behalf might go more like this:
The Burning Light of Two Stars tells the story of the gut-wrenching struggle between a mother and daughter who had every reason to never speak to each other again yet were determined to find their way back to love. By the author of the classic The Courage to Heal, Laura Davis’ new book begs the reader to consider: Can you caretake a parent who betrayed you? How do you open a heart that’s been closed for good reason? What does reconciliation really take? Bottom line: What happens when a dramatic, narcissistic, elderly mother moves across the country to entrust her formerly estranged daughter with the rest of her life?
The Burning Light of Two Stars, the prequel and sequel to The Courage to Heal, one of the most important and beloved books of the last 30 years, delivers the riveting, intimate story of author Laura Davis’ contentious, toxic relationship with the mother who betrayed her, and shows in dramatic, page-turning detail, how she learned to unconditionally love and care for her during her final days.
Now all I have to do is practice, and make those sentences my own, so they roll off my tongue with ease rather than sounding like something I’ve memorized.
I bet you didn’t know that this was part of writing, too!
See you next week,
P.S. Working with Kim today reminded me of a time in my life as an author when I had the opposite problem. I wanted to figure out how not to talk about my book. It was 1990, a couple of years after The Courage to Heal came out, when I was inundated with people pulling me aside to tell me their incest stories. It happened everywhere. In the grocery store. On a movie line. Through the walls of a bathroom stall. Although I loved my readers, I sometimes wanted to hide. I was only 31 years old when The Courage to Heal came out, unprepared for that level of attention and notoriety for the worst thing that had ever happened to me.
There were times I needed a break from being the co-author of The Courage to Heal, so I created a fake set of credentials. When people asked what I did, I’d tell people I was an accountant (there was never a follow-up question). Or a schoolteacher. And sometimes when I eked out that I was a writer, that’s all I would say. “I’m a writer.”
Then the conversation would go something like this:
“Oh, what do you write?”
“Have you ever published anything?”
I’d drag out the inevitable for as long as possible, but eventually I’d mumble out the truth.
It was better just to be an accountant.
The Burning Light of Two Stars is now available for presale. When you buy the book before its release date, you help me by generating interest with reviewers, librarians, and bookstores. To read about the great presale bonuses you can get, hop over here.
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