My novel meets the hated elevator pitch

The dread question comes at the oddest moments: You’re going about your business, about to sip your cappuccino, or riding in an elevator, believing you are relatively safe, and then, wham: What’s your novel about?

Authors hate this. You have to give a glimpse of your book in a sentence or two. Agony. Don’t make me do this right this second. Let me warm up a bit.

Pitch #1

A Thousand Perfect Things, just out, is a historical fantasy set in an alternate 19th century England and India. It’s an Iravathaadventure story that takes place in 1857 against a background of a colonial uprising in India. My major character, Tori Harding, is a young woman who, because of her gender, is denied entrance into the rarified circles of science–though she learned her beloved botany at the knee of her famous grandfather, Sir Charles Littlewood. When Sir Charles dies in disgrace, Tori picks up his secret hope to find a legendary magical golden lotus. She pursues this quest on a great journey to an alternate India, where she enters the exotic heart of a mystical continent. There she must fend off a ruthless colonial Raj, palace intrigues, shape changing magics, ancient ghosts . . . and revolution.

But way too long. Let’s boil it down.

 Pitch #2

shadowsThis novel is about a Victorian woman in an exotic India of magic, whose quest is to find her destiny through forbidden powers.

That’s the gist of the plot. It’s what most people want to know when they ask, “What’s your story about?”

Rounding it out

But there are other layers to this story, and in a sense, this is what the story is really about, at least for me. The book traces themes of ambition, sexual repression, colonialism and the attainment of wisdom. It’s a love story. There’s an unconventional love triangle, tainted by racism and the question of–for an educated Victorian woman–male domination. Readers will follow Tori, but also Edmond, a conflicted captain of the Raj, Elizabeth, a spirited school teacher, Mahindra, a charismatic holy man, and a prince with a ghostly destiny. We will see love and death, betrayal and bravery, all played out with appearances by magical silver tigers, demons and ghosts.

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It is, in the end, the story of a woman who seeks an ideal life but, set against a heart-of-darkness background, is given the chance to discover what she really wants.

I suppose that in creating Tori Harding, I wrote about deep things in myself. That’s usually the case in my work, and I suspect, that of most authors. Even if I’m writing about demon birds and fantastic oceanic bridges (oh yeah, there’s one of those, too) I’m looking into my own heart.

Last try

So what’s the story about? A Victorian woman on a quest for magic in an altered India.

Got it down to twelve words! But I still hate the question.



7 Responses

  1. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Well done, Kay. Excellent presentation of different lengths.

    Actually, one good trick is to go the other way, as I explain at


  2. Elle Moss says:

    Kay, thanks! Well done. I’m agonizing about my blurb this morning and your piece lightens things up a bit.


  3. Kay says:

    I usually refine my quick pitch over a period of months. Sometimes I find that a pitch doesn’t grow on me very well, and I overhaul. I also have 2-3 that I cycle through during the run up to publication, so I don’t sound like a one-note promoter. So -sigh- I think we need several of ’em.

  4. Toni Stewart says:

    Nice. It helps me to see what I’m in for. Working on my beloved novel.

  5. Kay says:

    Yup, be prepared. And it doesn’t hurt to have a blurb While you’re writing beloved novel, either. It keeps you on the straight and narrow to help preclude wandering about!

  6. Sarah Smith says:

    I was talking with an Indian friend about this book this morning. India is the heart of darkness????! I think the pitches are good as such, but in this global and connected world, if you are using a non-Western (i.e. non-British-Queen-Victoria) alternate world, you have to be very careful to avoid the tropes of Victorian prejudice. People will call you out, and it will lose you some of your audience.

    OK, I’m going to come right out and say that, based on that, I wouldn’t read it.

    “Writing the other” is difficult to pull off well, especially if you’re a white author writing about characters from a different culture. But if you love your characters and respect your audience, it’s only right to do it right.

    Do take a look at that wonderful book, WRITING THE OTHER, by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.

  7. Kay says:

    Sarah, I think I did do it right, and would not for a moment have undertaken a story without respect for all my characters. India as the land of spirit was what the book was about, and if you did not see that, or your friend did not, I am terribly sorry. I also had Indian friends who read the book and advised me, so I didn’t even rely wholly on my own sense of what was respectful. The colonialists came off as the exploiters they were; my heroine condemns them, though at first she is ignorant. It was a difficult subject, and I do take your point about writing the other; I am not complacent about that subject. But it is certainly odd to be judged when you didn’t read it.

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