08 January 2024
Nail your elevator pitch with this advice from Jonny Geller – CEO of The Curtis Brown Group and one of the UK’s foremost literary agents.
The elevator pitch is a pithy sentence or two that conveys the book’s hook or central concept. It’s your answer to the question, ‘what’s your novel about?’ and is a crucial component of your letter to agents.
Here are five possible ways of approaching your pitch:
1. Comparison titles
When I’m on the hunt for exciting debuts, I’m looking for a story that acts as a bridge – taking me on a journey from somewhere familiar to somewhere new. You can pitch a novel effectively when that bridge exists, through comparing it to successful books with existing readerships (which is something hard to do with an incomparable original). This can be expressed using comparison titles – it’s ‘X meets Y’.
Here’s a comparison pitch for Last Resort by Trisha Sakhlecha (out 2025 from Penguin Random House): ‘An Indian Succession meets Agatha Christie set on a Scottish island. A thriller about a family for readers of Lucy Foley and Sarah Pearse.’
If you’re writing in a genre, make sure that’s clear in the pitch. Commercial genres such as romance, crime fiction and thrillers will need a strong pitch line to identify your work as part of that genre and to show how it will stand out from the pack.
3. Key questions
Does a central question drive your story? This might be a ‘What if . . .?’ question. Perhaps it’s a puzzle for your reader to solve or a moral dilemma to consider.
4. High concept
If your book turns on a compelling premise or a unique structural element, that will be your pitch.
Here’s an example pitch for Susanna Clarke’s literary high concept novel Piranesi: ‘In a house with never-ending corridors and halls – and with an ocean and tides inside it – lives Piranesi, alone.’
5. It’s about a person who …
Can you articulate what your story is in a simple sentence or two that starts in this way? Whether you use this format for your pitch or not, this is a good exercise to help you understand what sits at the heart of your story.
Get the inside track on what a literary agent does, how to get one, and how a good agent can help you build a career as an author on Curtis Brown Creative’s new four-week online course: The Literary Agent – with Jonny Geller. Find out more and enrol today.