October 20, 2015


October 20, 2015

Pitching in the Elevator

October 20, 2015

I finally have my elevator pitch! Ever since I started writing 17 months ago, I have stammered when asked to describe my book. After I finished the fourth draft of the first chapter last winter, my independent editor told me it was time to get a website and start blogging, in preparation for writing my book proposal and finding a literary agent.

As I began to read about this unfamiliar process, I learned that authors have only a few minutes at most to hook an agent’s attention. That first paragraph in the initial query letter needs to say it all–but in a livelier style than my old journalistic lead paragraph of who, what, when, where and why. Agents receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of queries. They don’t have time to read down to the end of a long, dry letter. Most of all, an author needs to be able to pitch her book when she encounters an agent on an elevator–the elevator pitch.

At writers’ conferences, I attended workshops and practice sessions on elevator pitches. Other authors had their pitches memorized. I still stammered, and I watched an agent’s eyes glaze over as I tried to describe my book. I lost her before I warmed up.

Then, this week, an acquaintance emailed who had heard about my book. He wanted to know what I was writing. I replied quickly and casually. And hours later, I had my Eureka! moment. I realized that I had stumbled upon my pitch. 41 words. What do you think of it?

RECLAIMING JOY: A PRIMER FOR WIDOWS is part memoir, part information, part inspiration … combined as a spiritual guide for new widows, addressing the many dimensions of grief and leading the reader on a journey from loss, through acceptance and peace, to joy.

Why the photo of the woman facing the mountaintop? In those first months after Lev died, when I was so overwhelmed, our longtime friend and accountant advised me, “Ella, you haven’t climbed this mountain before, so it’s difficult. Take it one step at a time. Eventually, you’ll get to the top and it’s downhill from there.”

As a child, I loved the little story of The Little Engine That Could, the Little Blue Engine that huffed and puffed up the mountain—“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”—so that the good boys and girls on the other side would have toys to play with and good food to eat. So every morning I got up muttering, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” as I put one foot in front of the other and tackled the tasks before me.

The top of the mountain seemed so far away, and every obstacle and difficulty felt like a boulder so huge that it completely blocked my path. But when I looked back over my shoulder occasionally, I could see how far I had come. More than four years after I started on my journey, I reached the top. I experienced my first Eureka! moment. I reclaimed joy.


  1. Absolutely perfect! I love it! Can hardly wait to get “the book” in my hands. This is going to be such an important and helpful book. I haven’t seen anything like it!

    1. Lois, you are a real confidence-builder. Thanks. I haven’t seen anything quite like it either, and until now I have struggled to describe it succinctly.

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