There’s no way around it: pitching editors can be intimidating. You want to put your ideas out into the world and have lofty, pie-in-the-sky dreams of seeing your byline in one of the biggest and most trusted publications in existence.
You know your story is gold, it’s just finding the right wording to sell it. So you pore and polish over your pitch until you’re sure you have it perfected. You think you’ve done all your due diligence, dotted every I, crossed every T, confident there’s no possible way they can turn you down. So you wait. Hopeful.
A few days pass, you grow anxious but not dejected. Like that great first date you never hear from again, you start uncomfortably making excuses. Maybe it just got lost in the email abyss. Maybe the editor is on vacation. Was it something I did? Desperate for answers, you send a quick note of inquiry. Casual so as not to sound needy, but pressing. Still nothing. What could’ve possibly gone wrong?
Whether you’re new to the publishing world (either online or in print) or a seasoned vet, everyone could use a refresher course in pitch etiquette. As someone who’s been on both sides of the fence, it’s a jungle out there. Do yourself a favor and make sure your message is the one that’s cutting through the clutter.
Create a List of Targets
If you put all your eggs in one basket, more often than not you’re going to be disappointed. Identify 5-10 publications you want to target and rank them by tiers of influence. Remember years ago when you applied to college? You have the big dogs, your reach schools, and your safety schools as trusty backups. Even if your story is accepted by your second or third choice, it’s still better than dying on your laptop.
Make it Timely and Relevant
You might have the best story idea in the world, but if it doesn’t relate to something that’s going on right now, quite frankly, it can wait. If it’s seasonal and pressing, it will catch my eye, as I know it’s something I need to respond to right away. Evergreen ideas that can be published anytime may very well sit in my inbox forever until I need filler content. If you don’t want your story lost in limbo, make it something that commands attention.
Do Your Homework
Research everything and everyone you’re pitching. This goes well beyond your story idea. Know exactly what your target pub has already covered on the topic and what holes need filling. Know exactly who you’re emailing and make sure it’s the right editor. Stalk me on social media to see what I’m interested in. Engage with me authentically. Insert yourself into the conversation.
Twitter and Instagram have very low barriers to entry, which makes it easy to get your name in front of me. Instead of emailing cold, make sure I can put a face to a name. Start this process well before you ask for anything. Every interaction helps build a relationship and puts the feelers out there. But keep in mind, when you only have one chance to make a first impression, attention to detail matters. If you call me by the wrong name or spell my very basic name wrong, you better believe I will notice and remember, no matter how good your idea is. Be real. Only tell me you like something I’ve written if it’s true. I don’t need to be buttered up.
Make Me an Offer I Can’t Refuse
As Sujan Patel so succinctly states, it’s not about you. Always think about what’s in it for them. And if that’s nothing, well, it’s time to move on. When trying to sell yourself or establish a relationship, keep in mind the principles of persuasion. If you offer something for free (whether it be the entire article or something as simple as retweeting and sharing their existing articles) they may take notice and feel inclined to reciprocate. You may have to take a hit on your rates, but if it’s a publication you truly respect and deem worthy, “free samples” are a way to show your work and earn your stripes, so to speak.
Publications are much more likely to assign work to authors they know and trust and have invested the time in familiarizing them with their style and editorial standards, rather than continually bringing on new faces. It may be worth the effort to get in the door.
Master Your Tone
Different publications have different length requirements for pitches. Sometimes you’ll be writing on spec. Other times, a paragraph or two is enough to sell the idea. Either way, like a first date, your goal is to pique their curiosity enough to want to learn more without giving up the goods. Include enough facts and stats to demonstrate you know what you’re talking about without spoiling the ending.
On that note, make sure to also include a brief paragraph about why you’re the right person to cover this particular story. What related writing samples can you share? What makes you the topical expert? You can read more specifics about how to format your pitch here.
Follow up with a Good Attitude
If you’re easy to work with, you’ll get work. It really is that simple. Always stay humble and breezy in communication. Like sales, pitching is a numbers game. It’s OK to nudge gently, but emailing more than three times to no response is annoying. Set a calendar reminder to follow-up after X amount of days with something more captivating than, “Hey, just checking in.” Make that second email just as timely and relevant as the first pitch, highlight something you saw in another pub or the news that’s related, gently suggesting that if others are covering the topic, you should too.
Give them a deadline if they don’t get back to you, you’re going to take your idea elsewhere. While it may be hard, remain professional and don’t get discouraged or frustrated. If it’s been a week or two and still nothing, move down your list of targets. Rinse off the dejection, and repeat the process. If it is a good idea, someone will bite.