Ever tried to pitch a story idea to an editor? Nashville Lifestyles Managing Editor Stephanie Stewart-Howard gives the scoop on five tips for writing great pitches.
If you’re a writer, you know there’s nothing more frustrating than sending out what you believe are solid pitches, only to receive the reply that your ideas are “not what we’re looking for at this time.” We’ve all been through it, and no matter how many other pieces we’ve had published, the “no” response still gets to all of us.
With that in mind, there are ways to better your chances of getting published in the media of your choice. Whether you want to write for newspapers, magazines or online publications, if you present a pitch that’s well tailored to that particular outlet’s concerns, as well as well put-together and composed, your chances of getting a freelance job grow dramatically.
As an editor, I look for very specific material when I get a pitch, especially from an unsolicited writer who hopes to become a contributor over the long-term. If I don’t see certain things, I’m going to pass on a piece, even if it sounds like it has potential.
So what do I, the editor, need from you, the writer?
1. Good Form. When you submit a pitch, it goes without saying that you need to check for spelling and grammar. Sentence construction is also paramount. That sounds like a no-brainer, right? But you’d be shocked to see the number of emails I get on an almost daily basis that desperately need proofreading. If an editor is groaning over basic errors when she reads the first sentence of your email, you’ve already lost the chance to publish with her.
2. Professionalism. If you’re writing a proposal for an article, you don’t need to be overly formal, but you do need to get the basics down, and address your potential editor in a polite and business-like manner. I once got a solicitation from a writer that actually said: “Hey, Stephanie, I know you’d like love this store I want to write about, it’s so presh and cool.” Needless to say, I didn’t give her the chance to write it. Not only did someone I’ve never met address me like I was her best friend, she did a lousy job of telling me what might actually appeal to my readers in her attempt to be cute and conversational.
3. Familiarity With Your Publication and Audience. If you’re pitching to me, I expect you to know what was in my most recent issue: If you pitch me three stories, and two of them are on topics that were in our last issue (still on the newsstands), then I’m going to be skeptical that you know the publication well enough to write for it. Likewise, if you pitch me three stories, and at least two are on topics we don’t cover or that don’t work with my timeline (I’m working six to eight weeks out) then I am not likely to go with what you’ve pitched.
For example, we can’t really cover daily news topics, since I edit a monthly, and we go to press two weeks before the magazine hits the stands. We also don’t cover religion or politics, and I expect writers to know the magazine well enough not to pitch those things to me.
4. Timeliness. If the magazine editorial pitch deadline says it’s May 5, then have your pitch in by that date. If you don’t know what the deadlines are, drop the editor an introductory email and ask. If you hold out until two days later than the deadline, it’s entirely possible that no matter how good your pitch, the editor has already committed to writers who got things in on time.
5. Clarity. Going right back to the example in number 2, one of the things that underlined the “no” decision was the writer’s failure to tell me what it was that made the story worth publishing. You must let the editor know what makes your topic special, regardless of what you want to write about for her magazine. Do that clearly and cleanly: “This is the first store of its kind in the area to bring together so many promising local designers in one place, and the owners, Mary and Bob Stevens, have years of experience in branding original creations.” Note the contrast between that and “it’s so presh and cool.”
When it comes down to it, editors’ choices often have to do with having the right story at the right time, but you can definitely make your pitches stand out, just by following a few basic rules of thumb.