You can pitch ANYTHING except quality

Quality matters. Oh, it matters a lot.

Nobody wants to pay money to see a movie that stinks, a book that you can’t get past Chapter 1 or an album where every song hurts your ears.

You want quality. I want quality. Everybody wants it.

But you can’t pitch quality.

And you can’t package it.

So unless you’ve got something else — a quirk, a hook, a unique twist — quality alone won’t get you anywhere.

It won’t get people to look, listen or read in the first place.

So let’s pitch and package random, made-up things. Why? Because it takes practice and because you’re too close to your own stuff to do it right. And because it’s fun.

First up: two different bands.

Band A is a trio: drummer, guitar and bass / lead singer. They’re all recent music school graduates in their late twenties. They’re serious, seriously talented, good-looking and ready to break out. Let’s say they play a lot of punk rock and post-grunge.

Band B looks like a sure-fire loser. They’re all five years old. College degrees in music? Try “Hey, we’re potty trained, and we know our ABC’s.” They don’t know how to read music, write music or understand music theory like the other band. The guitarist knows one trick: crank up the distortion and make it loud. But they know the rough melodies and words to three different Metallica songs, and they do a cover of ENTER SANDMAN that’s close enough to be damned funny.

Here’s a real-life example of this sort of thing. A ton of people — 383,000 plus — have watched this kid sing, DON’T BRUSH MY HAIR IN KNOTS while her brother or neighbor kid banged on the drums.

Alright, here’s your homework: Write a one-sentence pitch for each band. Four words, if you want to ace this. Six words if you feel like a Cheaty McCheaterface.

Do it now. Find a piece of paper or fire up Word and do a pitch for each. Don’t even think about it.

I’ll go find silly videos on YouTube about swamp monsters in Louisiana or whatever.

OK, time’s up. Let’s compare pitches.

My best shot at the music majors: “Nirvana minus flannelly angst.” Four words, and I’m sort of cheating by turning flannelly into a word. Hard, isn’t it? You can’t get anywhere saying any kind of variation on, “This band, they’re really, really good.”

My pitch for the kids: “Kindergarteners cover Metallica.” Three words. Doesn’t have to be poetry here. Are you going to click on a link that says “Nirvana minus flannelly angst” or “this band is amazing?”

No. Not when there’s another link that has five-year-olds playing heavy metal?

Who wins the quality test? The serious music majors, by a mile.

Who wins the pitch and packaging test? The little kids who play bad covers of heavy metal. It’s so much easier. I would have to kidnap reporters to get them to cover our post-grunge band of music majors.

Could I get free ink and airtime with the Heavy Metal Monsters of Hillman Elementary? Absolutely.

Next: two different books

Our quality book is a literary masterpiece that will make you cry while snorting coffee through your nose, then take a fresh look at life and possibly quit your job and join a Tibetan monastery. It’s about a middle-aged man who works in a cubicle farm and lives in surburbia with a wife who’s on industrial amounts of Prozac and a teenage daughter who’s too busy thumbing her iPhone to notice who provides her with food, shelter, clothing and a VW Passat with only 13,000 miles on it. The hero’s life changes when he gets mugged on the way home. Also, a mime is involved, and a janitor who lives in a shack but says witty, wise things before he gets hit by a train.

The other book is a cheesy sci-fi novel with horrible dialogue. The premise: dinosaurs didn’t die off after some asteroid hit. They were smart. Really smart. And they left the planet in a fleet of spaceships to escape Earth long before that asteroid screwed things up for millions of years. Now they’re headed toward earth. And they want their planet back.

Ready? One sentence pitch for each. Four words.


OK, let’s see what we’ve got. Here’s my instant, no-thinking pitches.

Literary book: “Hell is a cubicle farm.” Five words. More of a title than a pitch. It sings to me, though, in a small, squeaky, off-pitch voice.

Sci-fi nonsense: “Space dinosaurs invade earth.” This is a kissing cousin to “Comet will destroy earth,” which has been the basis for about six different movies, including five by Michael Bay, with the other one starring Morgan Freeman for some reason, despite the fact that Morgan Freeman has ZERO CHANCE of flying up in a space shuttle with Bruce Willis and that dude who is an old college buddy of Matt Damon to blow up the comet,  asteroid or whatever with nuclear bombs.


The bottom line is, quality is one thing. In the end, it’s probably the most important thing.

Yet nobody will read your masterpiece, listen to your amazing album or see you act like no actor has acted in the history of acting-hood if they don’t get hooked by your pitch and packaging. They have to know you exist first.

Quality isn’t a pitch. “You should see that movie — it’s really good” doesn’t work. Your friends and family will ask, “What’s it about?” and if you don’t have four words to explain it, to give them a pitch, then forget it.

The next time to read a book, see a movie or listen to a great new song, think of four words.

How would you package it? What could you possibly say, just to your friends so they could see it, but to a reporter or a TV producer?

17 thoughts on “You can pitch ANYTHING except quality

  1. William Shakespeare: “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” Best pitch I have ever heard. I can’t quite place it, but I can’t forget it either.


  2. My favorite post on your blog I have read so far. I have a two paragraph synopsis of my book being released in November, but will spend the next bit of time thinking of the best way to describe it in four words. I like a blog that inspires me to think, rather than telling me to think.


  3. I wish more talent, GOOD literary talent would be discovered. We can all wish up on a star for the same thing, can’t we?


  4. Couldn’t agree more. Take it from the ladies of the musical, “Gypsy”: However, Rose (soon to become Gypsy Rose Lee) develops her own gimmick- stripping with class and style. This is a redux of the song with Bernadette Peters, and it’s awesome.

    It’s my firm belief that you must show how your work is original (is that a hook or a gimmick? Maybe?), but you must deliver that along with quality and a truly good read or else it will never make it.


  5. Then there are those totally unexpected moments when your work gets recognised totally out of the blue. I refer to a review my latest sci-fi novel “The Seventh Age” got on the site, from none other than Robert Bauval – one of the best writers on ancient Egypt today. He and
    Graham Hancock colaborate from time to time. take a look for yourselves:

    You just never know who is looking at your work. 🙂


  6. In the magic three.
    Music majors: Nirvana before needles.
    Kindergartners: Sandbox garage band.

    Is sandbox is one word?

    You raise an interesting point, though. The music majors have to be or do something pitchable, I think, in order to stand out. The kindergartners are doing something unique by covering metallica. So the question to ask is what’s the unique thing. Damnably hard.


    1. I like your three words for each.

      It is hard. So much talent. So little that’s truly unique and different without veering off to Just Plain Weird.


  7. I both love and hate your blog. There, I’ve said it. Love it, because it gets to the heart of the matter. Hate it, because it makes me think longer than the five minutes I usually spend thinking on any other blog’s posts, and try to measure my work against your suggestions. I love quality, but you’re right (damnably so) that if I need to take a breath to explain the point of my story, I’m going to lose readers before I can get them.

    These pitch posts are especially thought-provoking, for me. I’m considering adding a space dinosaur to my love story, just to make the pitch more interesting. I don’t have the perfect pitch, yet, but the goal is definitely there, enticing me. This was a good, kick-in-the-arse reminder about it.


  8. You nailed it. What genre fiction writers must keep at the forefront of their minds is that their readers are looking for entertainment. While a story might be might be informative and educational and uplighting and thoughtful and artistic, unless it is entertaining, the readers will give it a pass.


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