So, what's your book about?
It is one of the most common questions asked of an author, yet I have watched as many authors hem and haw and stumble their way through an explanation of their book...and these are the people who wrote it. It's not that they don't know what their book is about. Of course they do. My theory is that they don't want to brag about themselves, or their book, so they just give a very vague description. Others go completely the other way, taking an extremely long amount of time to describe all of the best plot twists in their book.
These authors don't have an "elevator pitch."
An elevator pitch refers to a very brief overview of a product (in this case your book) which can be described in 30 seconds or less...about the length of an average elevator ride. If you have ever seen the show "Shark Tank" (I prefer the British version, "Dragons Den" on BBC America), you have seen an elevator pitch in action.
Why should authors have an elevator pitch for their book? Think of all the times you might be asked to describe your book: book signing events, book fairs, radio interviews, meetings with bookstore managers, and you'll quickly come to realize it is a question you will get a lot. Your answer could determine if you get a sale or not.
The pitch for your book doesn't need to be long, involved or difficult. It does need to be able to pique the interest of people in a very short period of time. These pitches don't need to be (and shouldn't be) any longer than 2-3 sentences. Here are a few sample book descriptions taken right from the backmatter of a few well-known books:
"The Green Mile tells the story of two men, a prison guard and his new death row inmate, and their suddenly intertwined lives. What would it be like to walk those last 40 yards to the electric chair, knowing you were going to die there? What would it be like to be the man who had to strap the condemned man in or pull the switch?
The Green Mile by Stephen King
"A kidnapped daughter is presumed dead, and when her grieving father receives a letter, apparently from God, inviting him to the scene of the crime, he can't help but go. What he finds there will change his world forever. "
The Shack by William P. Young
After years of disagreeing about what true happiness, success, and love really are, Dave and Clarice Johnson finally face the breaking point of their marriage. When Clarice's leg is crushed in a car wreck, the obvious truth that more than just her injuries need immediate attention is finally exposed. Clarice and Dave struggle to find restoration as they learn the importance of promises made and kept - and the truth that help sometimes comes from unlikely places.
Not Easily Broken by T.D. Jakes
Each of these are wildly successful books, and in the case of The Green Mile, lengthy. However, these descriptions are brief, but capture your attention. Of course, you're not going to spout your book's backmatter when someone asks what it's about, but these types of descriptions give you a starting point.
In no more than three sentences, write down what your book is about. Imagine your book is a movie. If you were reading a TV Guide description of that movie, what would it say? Focus on the central idea of the book, but make sure you "tease" the reader. You want them to be just interested enough that they will say "I have to read that book and find out more!"
Now, re-write this description and make it conversational, like something that could come up in casual conversation. After you have done this, practice reciting it a few times. You want it to sound natural, not like something you have memorized.
You aren't going to commit this to memory word-for-word, but now you have a good general description of your book...your "elevator pitch." When someone asks you what your book is about, you will be able to describe it in a couple of sentences and in such a way that it will make that person want to know more. If they ask you more questions about your book, that's great! They're interested. I have been to some trade shows where I saw a couple of authors spend half an hour telling someone what their book was about. Not only did they not sell their book, but it's highly unlikely that poor soul whose time they wasted will ever bother to read it. Why should they? The authors already recited it to them.
Your book pitch will serve you well when you get out in public, do book signings and media interviews and when you get the inevitable question: "What's your book about?"