When I meet new writers, they often ask for advice on pitching magazine stories. Here’s the five-minute version:
- Read back issues (go back six months to a year) to get a feel for the magazine’s content, tone, article lengths and article packaging.
- If you’re new to the magazine (or the industry), pitch short pieces. Compare names on the masthead (in the front of the book) to article bylines to figure out which types of stories are open to freelancers.
- Magazines that publish monthly have four- to six-month lead times; research and pitch ideas well in advance.
- Pretty much all editors accept pitches by email. Check the masthead or website for editors’ names and contact info. (No email address for a specific editor? Guess based on the pattern of other staffers’ addresses—or pick up the phone and call the front desk.) Avoid sending pitches to a general mailbox.
- Put your idea in the subject line (e.g., “STORY PITCH: 12 ways to boost your home’s “eco” curb appeal”).
- Tell the editor how you’ll approach the story (first person, interviews with experts, etc.); how many words (one magazine page = about 700 words); why the article is timely (news hook, season, awareness week, anniversary); and why you’re the right writer (include background details or credentials that support your case; mention if you’ve been published elsewhere). Very important: what fresh angle can you bring to the topic?
- Don’t hold back story details in an attempt to a) entice editors to contact you to find out how it ends (they won’t), or b) prevent editors from ripping off your idea. This is so rare it’s not worth worrying about.
- Editors like to see packaging ideas, e.g., boxes or sidebars. If appropriate to your story, suggest a few themes (e.g., “5 upgrades under $50”).
- Polish your query (spelling, grammar, punctuation). Treat it like an audition. Don’t rush it.
- If you haven’t heard back after two to three weeks, follow up with a polite email.
- If your idea is rejected, don’t wallow. Revise the query and send it elsewhere. Research new ideas.
- If your idea is accepted, do a great job: work with (not against) your editor; follow your assignment letter; write no more than 5% above or below the desired word count; alert the editor to any problems that arise; proofread your writing; meet your deadline; provide factchecking info; be open to feedback; make revisions promptly; and don’t invoice until the editor says the story is good to go. In other words, be professional—and you’ll earn yourself a bigger story next time.
Editors and freelancers, what pitching advice can you share with new writers?