Up the Down Elevator

by Robert Gregory Browne

Whenever somebody asks me what one of my books is about, I find myself having a pretty tough time coming up with a concise answer to the question.  Usually, I mumble and stammer as I try to plow my way through a short synopsis of the story and the reaction is often glazed eyes.

There’s something that just seems WRONG about having to boil your story down to a few sentences. 

A couple years back, when I was gearing up to do a panel at Bouchercon, I knew I’d have to come up with a quick pitch for my book, KISS HER GOODBYE, so I struggled for awhile and finally went with this:

"It’s about an ATF agent whose daughter is kidnapped and buried alive, and the very unusual lengths he has to go to in order to save her."

Like I said.  Glazed eyes.   

I had an even tougher time with my next book, WHISPER IN THE DARK (coming out on May 2 in the UK!):  "A young psychiatrist agrees to examine a patient believed to be a witness to a savage killing, only to discover that she’s a dead ringer for his recently murdered wife."


The thing is, both of these stories are too complex to be summed up in a couple lines.  Especially WHISPER.  But I try.

When I was at Left Coast Crime a couple weeks ago — yes, Pari, I was there, but unofficially, so I mostly hung out in the bar — I took along my video camera to get a few elevator pitches from my fellow authors.

Here are a few.  And my apologies to those of you who are missing from this video.  I had some technical difficulties (screwed up sound) that forced me to exclude you. 

The Art of the Elevator Pitch from Robert Gregory Browne on Vimeo.

Now it’s everyone else’s turn.  Published or unpublished, give me your best elevator pitch for your latest book.

21 thoughts on “Up the Down Elevator

  1. Mark Terry

    Some better than others, but I’ll let others decide which is which.

    Just a comment, though. Over the last 4 years or so I’ve written dozens of profiles of authors for The Oakland Press and now for The Thriller Report. I often start with, “Tell me about your novel.”


    This is a common question. Think about it before hand. Write out your answer and learn them.

    In general, I’ve noticed that the bestsellers–Gayle Lynds, Steve Berry, David Morrell, John Sandford, Sue Grafton (yeah, I’m dropping some names) have this down. A couple of them even have multiple versions, they’ll say:

    Here’s my quick one: and cough up something like, “John Smith, a Boston University history professor, finds a treasure map that may lead him to the Lost City of Anubis.”

    Then they have version two, which provides a little more detail.

    I can only say, from a journalist’s point of view, these are worth their weight in gold.

    Because sometimes you get, “Well, okay, John Smith, he’s like, well, he’s a history professor, his particular expertise is tenth century Egypt, mostly studying Egyptian politics, although he did write a book on Anwar Sadat’s assassination, which earned him a Pulitzer, but the fame went to his head and he had an affair with a student and his wife left him, but anyway, he was in the Cairo Museum when–did I tell you about the Guardians of Anubis? Well, they’re a 10th Century Egyptian cult and…”

    Don’t do that.

  2. Will Bereswill

    Robert, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one. I was blaming it on age (mine) and the complexity of my story and being too close to it.

    I developed two, completely different pitches. I’ll lay it all out here.

    The short plot driven (terrorist angle) pitch.

    “Shortly after the terrorist cell behind the post-9/11 anthrax attacks is ordered to strike again, a mysterious virus sweeps the Western U.S. Suspicions of terrorist links are rising as fast as the death toll.”

    The longer, character driven pitch.

    “Agent Laura Daniels’ career soared when the FBI assigned her to the anthrax letter case after 9/11. But failing to crack the case landed her in the Seattle Field Office, where she feared her life would be relegated to the routine.

    While investigating the theft of low-level radiation devices, Daniels is led to the site of Interex Corporation’s controversial oil and gas exploration well just outside Yellowstone National Park, where crucial fossil records lie buried. Arriving at the site, what she encounters is unthinkable — not only have large radiation sources gone missing, but an unidentified virus is killing members of the drilling crew, and shows no signs of stopping.

    Now Daniels’ career rides on getting the answers she needs. But as the virus continues its deadly rampage, she discovers the stakes are far higher than she anticipated. And the answer she gets is the last thing on Earth she’d expect.”

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Great film, Rob!! (Wow, there really is a church of Bill Cameron…)

    Well, Louise’s post scared everyone off pitching their LATEST books!

    This is THE PRICE:

    In the twilight world of Boston’s Briarwood Hospital, District Attorney Will Sullivan’s terminally ill daughter miraculously begins to recover, and Will fears his wife has made a terrible bargain with a mysterious hospital counselor to save the life of their child.

    That’s really a logline, and I think that you have to be a bit practiced in interpreting loglines to catch on to those, which is why I think you think you’re getting crickets. Both your stories are great and you can see the whole story from your loglines – it just takes time to absorb.

    Here’s the longer version of THE PRICE:

    Idealistic Boston District Attorney Will Sullivan has it all – a beautiful wife, Joanna, an adorable 5-year old daughter, Sydney, and a real shot at winning the Massachusetts governor’s race. Then Will’s life is shattered when Sydney is diagnosed with a malignant, inoperable tumor.

    But in the twilight world of Briarwood Hospital, nothing is as it seems… and when Sydney miraculously goes into remission, Will suspects that Joanna has made a terrible bargain with a mysterious hospital counselor to save the life of their dying child.

  4. Chris Redding

    First off. This is cool.Second, I’ve just been given the task of making my next book more like a thriller.And now I have some great ideas.Incendiary:A small town firefighter is investigating a series of arsons. With each fire, the object that goes up in flames is closer and closer to his personal life. He must track down the arsonist before he himself goes up in flames.

    Too purple?cmr

  5. J.D. Rhoades

    BREAKING COVER is about an ex-FBI undercover agent in hiding from both the Bureau and from the biker gang he was investigating, because he no longer knows who to trust, not even his wife. When he intervenes in a high profile kidnapping, his cover is blown, and he has to go on the run–until he decides to stop running and go on the offensive. It’s got bikers, strippers, drugs, guns, sex, romance, revenge, and explosions, and that’s just the first 100 pages.

  6. Naomi

    Wow, that was awesome, Rob. What would have made it even better is if you actually recorded it in an elevator!

    By the way, where’s my prize? I want a copy of the new book.

  7. Louise Ure

    Very cool, Rob. So it’s not just an unwillingness/inability on my part to talk about the work in progress? Now I have to worry about exactly what to say when the book is done?

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could just write the damn things and call it quits?

  8. JT Ellison

    Here’s the elevator pitches I have on my website for the first three TJ books…


    The Southern Strangler is murdering his way through the Southeast with Taylor Jackson and John Baldwin hot on his trail.


    Has the Snow White serial killer, dormant for twenty years, resurfaced, or is there a copycat working Nashville?


    The murder of a young Nashville mother creates a series of events that put Taylor’s professional and personal life on the line.

    They’re meant to just give a glimpse into the story. This super short I can do. More than a few lines and I get rambly.

    And so sorry we never got time for the elevator pitch. I would have liked to test myself on camera : )

  9. toni

    yikes. ugh.

    I was so busy cutting up on the sidelines, when it was my turn, I didn’t exactly do a full pitch, did I? oops.

    Great idea, though, Rob. Thanks.

  10. Ken Bruen

    Robgreat postI find the one sure way to get them to buy the book is very simpleI go’You’re in it’And when they return, crestfallen with’I didn’t find myself?’I go’everyone else recognised you!Sneaky and immoral of course, but highly effectivebestKenP.S……..Rob, you’re in the new oneKen

  11. Rob Gregory Browne

    Ken, that’s hilarious… And trust me, I’ll be looking very carefully through the new one to see if I recognize myself. Or maybe I should have my wife read it and point me out. :)…….

  12. Grant McKenzie

    Loved it, Rob, but it definitely needs to be done inside a moving elevator (preferably glass walled) or on a moving and crowded escalator — pitch quickly before we reach the top 😉

    My fast pitch on SWITCH: Two strangers trapped in the same kidnapping nightmare face their worst fears when they are forced to destroy everything they hold dear in order to save the ones they love.

  13. Kelli Stanley

    Thanks, Rob! A lot of fun was had by all. 🙂

    I’m thinking that maybe “Elevator Pitch” can be the next Paris Hilton flick …

    You know, “What she does between floors three and sixteen will determine who …” Aw, forget it. They’ve filmed it already.

  14. Zoe Sharp

    OK, short and sweet:

    This year’s Charlie Fox book is THIRD STRIKE.

    Three strikes and you’re out, right? As far as Charlie Fox’s eminent consultant surgeon father is concerned, she’s had her three strikes and he’s done with her.

    Until, that is, he needs the services of a bodyguard. One who’s motivated enough to go to any lengths to ensure the survival of her reluctant principal.

  15. Fran

    I do love the “elevator pitch”, and you guys have given me a lot of great ideas on how to sell your books. That’s the kind of pitch we booksellers need.

    Although the customers kinda frown on us wearing cloaks with hoods, sadly. But then, I wouldn’t want to compete with Bill!


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