Research the magazine and its readership before you pitch. Be prepared to answer the question, “Why is this important for our particular readers?” And the other question, “What’s your angle on this subject that makes your story important?” Personalize the pitch and follow up two days later. Don’t sit there waiting to hear back.
—James Chatto, Editor, Harry Magazine
Whether you’re writing a pitch, a cover letter or an article, I think the first sentence should make the reader want to keep reading to the last word. It should be infused with passion, emotion, humour, intrigue—something that is gripping and creative. I often receive cover letters and pitches that start off with biographical information—and let’s face it, that’s usually boring. Don’t bury the lede. Start your pitch off with a scene or an anecdote, and once he/she is hooked, outline the details—why it’s a good fit for the magazine, who you’ll interview, and information about your skills and experience. Of course, once you’ve established a relationship with an editor, pitching may be as simple as “I have this idea…”
—Cara Smusiak, Managing Editor, Canadian Family
Google, then pitch. The internet has become saturated with the same service journalism topics over and over. Even if you think your idea is timely and original, chances are it’s been covered. Before sending your pitch, do a quick search and make sure you’re pitching something unique and new for the brand. Or, find a way to twist “5 Ways to Lose Weight” with something unexpected. This goes for both print and online pitches, since print stories are always repackaged for online, too.
Think graphic! I could kiss writers who pitch story ideas alongside ideas for charts, infographics, puzzles, cartoons…anything of visual interest that helps translate the concept to readers. Also, the magazine industry is on the cusp of interactive tablet editions becoming the norm, so if you can think of graphic concepts for your pitches, I would hazard you’ll be more successful in years to come.
—Colleen Fisher Tully, Senior Editor, Fresh Juice & FreshJuice.ca
1. a) Be persistent but polite (and never one to the exclusion of the other). Chase your stories and own them, package your pitches and push them, sell yourself—you are your own best advocate and quite possibly (observed with apologies) your only friend. Re-approach after suitable periods of no response; on average, one week. Never send an email without first proofing. Do not rely exclusively on email—use the phone, too (and, particularly if leaving a voicemail, speak succinctly). COMMUNICATION is possibly your greatest asset.
1. b) Be willing to take “No” for an answer. If an outreach fails to yield the response you expected/hoped for, use intuition coupled with the ability to read between the lines to discern when to accept rejection. This can be accomplished with aplomb and can (sometimes) put you in better standing; in any case, it needn’t be equated with the permanent shutting of a door. Worst case, request (politely!) permission to re-approach another time. With more on-the-job experience, it will become easier and easier to discern where is the proverbial line, not to mention stay on the right side of it.
2. Make sure your story sizzles; still, keep it short and sweet. Be your own editor and reader: Don’t pitch a story that doesn’t impress you. Suss out (or inquire directly about) your editor’s preferred pitch model, and deliver exactly on those terms. My own pitch preference is, typically, one targeted overview paragraph with maximum three supporting bullet points. There are, of course, exceptions—you are, after all, a writer, and if you’ve truly “got it,” you’ll probably be able to make yourself exceptional at all levels.
—Gary Butler, Principal at EditButler, and freelance print and web editor
Next time: More tips from editors on how to survive and thrive in the business.