Sending out your first pitch to an editor can be nerve-racking! Much like sending a bad resume to a potential employer, a bad pitch can ruin your chances for getting freelance work. Today, Shareba Abdul shares tips on how to pitch an editor like a pro.
I spoke to Laura Brown, Managing Editor at Chatelaine magazine, to get some inside tips on how to pitch like a professional. Laura has been working as an editor in the magazine industry for five and a half years, and hopes that these tips will help writers avoid getting written off because of a bad pitch.
S.A.: What kind of work does your job entail?
L.B.: One of the main aspects of my job is to manage the production process for the magazine. We start planning each issue about six months out, so from the very beginning I make sure section lineups are nailed down, and stories are assigned and edited in a timely fashion. Then when layouts come together, that everything flows through our multi-step process at a good pace – basically trying to avoid bottlenecks in the system.
When I am not managing that process, I’ll do a variety of other tasks. I track all the budgeting for the magazine; respond to reader inquires; respond to pitches or forward them on to the respective editors. I also write or edit pieces.
S.A.: How many pitches do you receive per week?
L.B.: I don’t receive an overwhelming amount of pitches … I’d say less than 10 a month. I tend to get the ones where the sender does not know which editor to send it to, or hasn't taken the time to figure out which editor to send it to.
S.A.: How many pitches are usually accepted?
L.B.: Of the pitches we receive, we only accept a small number – usually the ones with a subject that makes us stop and think, or that is on-point with the theme of an upcoming issue. That being said, if we get a good, well-written pitch, but it’s not a fit for us, we keep that writer top of mind for when we are assigning stories.
S.A.: What is the most common mistake that you’ve seen people make when they try to pitch an idea?
L.B.: There are actually two big mistakes that people make when pitching us. The first is not knowing our audience. I’ve received many pitches on parenting and child-related topics. While we do not shy away from talking about fertility/motherhood/issues that affect women, we do not run parenting- or child-specific articles.
The second mistake is pitching us an idea that we have already covered — sometimes very recently! Take the time to look around our website, download a couple issues on Next Issue and get to know our magazine. We have very specific, easy to identify pillars.
S.A.: What is the worst pitch that you’ve ever received?
L.B.: While I don’t have one that stands out content-wise, I do have one that stands out delivery wise! I once had a writer send me a series of pitches rapid-fire. About every two minutes a new pitch would pop into my inbox. This went on for about half an hour.
S.A.: How detrimental is a bad pitch? Do you think most editors would give someone a second chance?
L.B.: It depends. No editor is going to write off someone because of a typo (we’re not perfect either!), but writers need to think of pitches almost as a job interview. Often it’s the first impression we get of a writer.
If the pitch is completely littered with typos and bad grammar, it signals to us the quality of article we can expect to receive from the writer, and we will usually pass. If we receive a pitch that is off base topic-wise, but the writer comes back with a more relevant idea, we’ll definitely give them a second chance because it shows their drive and ability to take feedback.
S.A.: What should a good pitch include?
L.B.: A good pitch should have a clear subject line like this: PITCH: Article on Subject
It should address the editor directly; give a brief bio of the writer if we’ve never worked with them before and include links (or PDF files) to previously published work. It should also include a clear but brief outline of the article.
If a pitch email comes in and it’s a 2000-word wall of text, chances are we will skip over it. The outline should tell us why we should cover the subject, what the timeliness of the subject is, the angle of the article, the hook, any experts the writer wants to interview, the word count and ideas for sidebars if applicable. It should also be free of any spelling or grammatical errors. Oh, and put it all in the body of the email, not in an attached word document.
S.A.: What should people leave out of their pitches?
L.B.: Don’t go into detail explaining every aspect of the article, or worse, send us an already written article. Be brief and to the point.
S.A.: Should a pitch include multiple story ideas?
L.B.: For me personally, no. I like one story idea per email. My days are busy and I get a lot of emails. Sometimes I only have five minutes between meetings. I want to be able to get the whole story in that time.
If a writer has multiple story ideas, they should say that in the first pitch and ask if they can send the others along. A separate email for each pitch also makes it easier for me to file and bring along to idea meetings.
S.A.: How formal should a pitch letter be?
L.B.: Personally, they don’t have to be overly formal, but they should be respectful. Addressing me by my first name is fine (i.e. Hello Laura), but I like the email to conclude by thanking me for taking the time to read and consider the pitch.
S.A.: How long should someone wait before following up on a pitch? Should they do so by email or phone?
L.B.: Wait a week; if you haven’t heard back, email the editor again by responding to the original email you sent. That way, the person can just scroll down to see the pitch instead of having to search their inbox. Please do not follow up by phone.
Anything sooner than a week is too soon. I’m very busy, especially when we are shipping the magazine, and often I don’t have time to read pitches when they come in so I file them for later. I’ve had people send me an email and then immediately call me. DO NOT do that!
S.A.: Should they follow up more than once?
L.B.: Follow up a maximum of twice. If you don't hear back from the person, but you think your idea is a really good fit for the magazine, try pitching it to another editor.
More Reading And Tips From FBC Members
- Talk To Me: The Basics of Interviewing - by Tiffany Mayer
- 6 Tips For Pitching and Editor - Dan Clapson
- There's a Story in My Soup - Valerie Lugonja
- How I Quite My Job To Become a Freelance Writer - Jan Scott
How to Pitch an Idea to an Editor Like a Pro was written by regular FBC Contributor, Shareba Abdul. Shareba is a food blogger and freelance writer. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Applied Arts in Media Studies, a Diploma in Journalism, and has a passion for writing, photography, and blogging. You can check out her yummy discoveries at InSearchOfYummyness.com or connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Google+.