Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No.3: The Elevator Pitch

Do you ever watch Dragons’ Den? I hope you do because it is going to feature quite heavily as my main analogy this week.

Imagine that your book is a product which you are going to take before the dragons. You wait nervously in that windowless basement and finally you are ushered up the stairs for the meeting which inexplicably takes place in someone’s sparsely furnished and badly lit attic room.

You stand in front of them. There’s Deborah Meaden, eyeing you up over the pile of cash which we’re led to believe all successful entrepreneurs carry everywhere with them. Duncan Bannatyne doesn’t look too happy, but then he rarely does.

What are you going to open with? You have three minutes. Go.

Obviously, we are nothing like as scary as the dragons and we don’t live in a gloomy loft guarded by Evan Davis. However, if we do take your work on we in turn will need to feel confident pitching it to intimidating teams of publishers (possibly in drafty attic rooms, you never know). So it’s a good idea to show us how pitchable your work is.

My advice would be to start your covering letter by talking about the concept you are approaching us with.

Personally, if I were an author writing to literary agents I know how I would begin. My covering letter would definitely start with something that is often referred to in the industry as an ‘Elevator Pitch’. For those of you who don’t speak yuppie, this is basically a summary of the thing you are selling which is short and snappy enough to be recited over the course of a short ride in a lift. (The business-minded folks who invented this term were presumably so busy doing business all day long that they decided even the precious few minutes spent standing idly in lifts had to be filled with something business related.)

Your ‘Elevator Pitch’ would ideally endeavor to get our attention and show us that, above all else, you are most excited about your writing. Fundamentally, it will act as a very short blurb.

Something along the lines of: Jane Doe always thought she was an ordinary girl until she found out [enter revelation here]…

Or: Imagine if [something really upsetting/exciting] happened. What would you do? This is the decision that Joe Bloggs has to face…

Or perhaps: My writing is [name of a successful author your work is reminiscent of] meets [name of another successful author your work is reminiscent of] but with [something particular to your work]…

Or even: [Adjective]. [Adjective]. [Adjective]. John Smith has had some tough cases in the past but he has never seen anything like this etc.

Whatever you feel is appropriate for your concept and style of writing. Just make it engaging, exciting, and not much longer than a paragraph.

Lead with your work. Get us interested in your writing from the off and once we’re hooked you can wow us with everything else we need to know about you. If someone went before the dragons and spent the first two minutes talking about their past experience, or how they came up with their idea, they would miss out on their one chance to actually get the dragons interested in their motorized forehead swabber or flamingo shaped ice pick.

Don’t miss out on your big chance. Sell your book to us. It’s why we’re reading your covering letter, after all. And this is your chance to get other people excited about your idea. Take full advantage of it.

 By Vicki Le Feuvre


2 Comments Add yours

  1. That’s it! Putting my fledgeling writing career on hold. I shall make my fortune by selling flamingo-shaped motorized head swabbers to intimidating businessmen from my elevator kiosk. If that doesn’t work out, I will always have my animal-themed ice pick empire to fall back on. However, in the unlikely event that these ventures should fail, and I need a literary agent, I shall take your sound advice on pitching.

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