I get this question rather a lot, and I think I’ve covered it before, but it’s worth covering again, because, well, I get it a lot. People approach me as a writer and editor and ask how to write a pitch well — since I’ve been published in a variety of places and also read and respond to pitches from writers, one might think that I have some experience in crafting the ideal pitch, the thing editors will respond to that will lead to a guaranteed ticket to publication.
The truth is that there is no golden ticket. Even if you write a really good pitch, an editor may say no for a variety of reasons that probably have nothing to do with you. So it’s advisable to take what I have to say with a grain of salt. It’s based primarily on my own experience and that of other writers and editors I know, it clearly doesn’t work for all people and all publications, and it won’t guarantee an editorial response — hell, you could use this rough guide to pitch me and I might turn you down.
Remember, though, that editors aren’t in the business of saying no. They’re in the business of saying yes. They don’t want to reject your work and they’re reviewing your pitches not to seek a reason to say yes, but to find a reason to say no — what I mean by that is that editors wish they could take all the great, sharp, excellent pitches they get but there’s often just not room in the editorial and story budget. This means that sometimes something just doesn’t fit with the style and tone of an editor’s needs, that an editor is already full-up on pitches, or that there just isn’t money to pay you.
That said, here’s how I recommend that writers produce pitches.
Start by determining what you want to write (this one is probably obvious). Think not just about what you want to cover (beavers, say), but the angle you want to cover it from — beavers in pop culture, for example. Then, think about publications that might be interested in this angle, and check out their content as well as their pitch guidelines, which we’ll get to in a moment. Really read recent articles and commentaries to get an idea of whether your piece would be a good fit. Bitch Magazine might be into your beaver piece, if you can make it funny and topical with a recent hook. Grist might — but they primarily use pieces from their contributors. Make sure that you know your potential market.
When it comes to writing the pitch, hit up those pitch guidelines to find out exactly what the publication wants, and who to send it to. This usually doesn’t require a long-form essay (in fact, speaking as an editor, short pitches are great) and don’t overthink it. Again, editors want to say yes to you.
Start with an opening salutation to the person you should be directing pitches to. If you absolutely cannot find anyone, ‘Dear Editor’ will suffice. Follow with a brief paragraph that includes a line on what you want to write about, followed by why you think it’s a good fit for the publication. Add a paragraph expanding on the pitch. Follow with your qualifications. Respectfully sign off. You do not need to be super serious, but keep it reasonably professional. Do not be self-deprecating. No ‘I’ve never been published before’ or ‘I’m only 17 but.’ If you don’t believe in your abilities, why should I?
Let’s take our beaver example. Bitch, like many publications, makes their contributor’s guidelines readily available. An article on beavers probably isn’t suitable for the magazine itself, unless you see a clear fit with an upcoming issue, but it could work for the web. I happen to know that Sarah Mirk is the web editor, so the pitch should go to her.
Since I’ve worked with Bitch in the past, I know where to direct this pitch — but you should use research to identify the editor to pitch to, remember? Most publications don’t hide this info, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find.
I’m writing today with an idea for a post on the blog about beavers in pop culture, since Television Series recently featured a beaver storyline and I got to wondering why they’re used so often and what our obsession with dams is all about. It’s a great fit for the blog and audience not only because of the obvious double entendre, but because it’s fun and topical — readers would get a kick out of it.
I’m not going into great depth or length here. I’ve opened with what Sarah needs to know at the start, and I’ve noted that I have clearly bothered to research the publication: I know it’s feminist and a little cheeky, and that the focus is on pop culture.
Specifically, I’ll be focusing on the beaver family in Television Series and how they become a kind of running joke, but also characters in and of themselves. I’d like to reference some other recent incidences of beavers in pop culture to explore the theme and ask why other slightly weird, goofy animals, animals, like the platypus, aren’t used as frequently.
Again, keeping it simple, but I’m letting Sarah know what the piece would be about in more detail so she can decide if she wants to approve it, or provide feedback on the pitch.
I’ve written for Publication and Publication and am a huge fan of Bitch — I’d love to bring my take on smart pop culture analysis to your readers!
Don’t have publication credits? That’s okay. Just stress that you know the magazine. If you have a blog, link to that. Provide some evidence to the editor that you know how to write things.
This pitch is a little whimsical, given the subject, but you get the general idea (please don’t send beaver-related pitches to Bitch, y’all). Research the publication. Know what you want to write. Spell it out. Provide your qualifications. Treat the editor with respect. Proof read. Going over this, I found a typo! (And there’s probably one in this post, somewhere — but it’s especially critical that you watch out for typos in pitches, query letters, and other professional communications.)
Follow the guidelines. If they say an editor doesn’t accept unsolicited material, don’t send unsolicited material. If they ask for clips, send clips or a link to them (you don’t have to do up a fancy portfolio — just make a page on your blog with links to a few pieces around the web you really like!). Keep it clear and simple, and don’t abase yourself — you don’t need to apologise for pitching, provide excuses for not having more experience, or be embarrassed about your age and level of skill.
If an editor says ‘no,’ don’t demand an explanation. Thank the editor for her time, and move on.