How (and Where!) To Pitch Your Writing

This is a way more readable version of this thread on Twitter.

How do you craft a good pitch?

Several editors (and former editors, including yours truly) have the following tips:

  1. Pitch a human being. Most editors are on twitter and their email addresses are pretty accessible if you google around a bit. Do not pitch to a “submissions@magazine.com” address unless you want your pitch to disappear into the trash heap. Also, media turnover is real. Double-check that an editor is still at the publication before you pitch them.
  2. Know who you’re pitching. ~Read the publication.~ Tell the editor why your pitch is perfect for their outlet. Your job is to solve problems for an editor, not create them. So explain how your pitch fills a hole in their coverage or presents an angle their readers will be interested in. Never blast the same pitch to dozens of publications without changing a word.
  3. Know which section you’re pitching. Different editors at the same publication are often looking for different things. Oh, and not everyone can write 5,000 word features right out of the gate. Start with smaller pitches and work your way up.
  4. Pitch a story, not a topic. “Animal rights” is a topic. “A liontamer who is reinventing her profession to be more animal-friendly” is a story. Er, it could be a story if you‘ve met this liontamer and she is willing to be interviewed on the record. (Are liontamers real? I just made this up.) Be specific and lead with the tension. I’ll quote phenom Megan Greenwell, who is a features editor at Esquire: “so many pitches mention a person saw ‘many challenges,’ but the story IS the challenges. you must know how to frame your story.”
  5. Be original. Know what else has been written on this subject, and explain why your angle is fresh.
  6. Write an excellent subject line. If you wouldn’t be tempted to click it as a headline, it’s not a good pitch subject line.
  7. Don’t attach a full draft, even if you already have one written. Let the editor green-light the pitch first, then go back to your draft and reframe it according to your editors’ requests.
  8. Include links to relevant clips. If you’re pitching a reported feature, make sure you’re sharing a few links to reported features you’ve done in the past. If you’re pitching an essay, include links to first-person writing. Etc.
  9. Do not lead with your bio. You can put in a few lines about yourself near the end, but editors have Google. They‘ll find more about you if they want to. And speaking of…
  10. Know that editors will Google you. Make sure they find your personal website or portfolio when they do.
  11. Be able to follow through. Don’t pitch a celebrity profile if you don’t already have access. Don’t pitch an investigative piece if you don’t know how to begin reporting it.
  12. Don’t write for zero dollars. Before you pitch, know what the publication has paid writers in the past. And before you agree to write something, be sure you know what you’re getting paid. Ask for a contract every time, and read it before you sign it, especially the sections about intellectual property rights and payment (including kill fees). Let me repeat that: READ YOUR CONTRACTS. They are the only flimsy things protecting you at all. At least know what you’ve signed on to.

Now, where do you send your stellar pitch?

A few ideas:

*NOTE: Please do your own homework before pitching any of these editors! All of these calls for pitches are public, but some might be outdated.

  • Fusion Voices: “longer, more considered essays and narrative features from progressive writers.”
  • Vox: The Big Idea and First Person series
  • California Sunday has a magazine’s contributor guide that they’ll email you if you ask: writers@californiasunday.com
  • The Atavist: “longform, character-driven, narrative nonfiction stories”
  • Eater: “We’re primarily interested in reported stories rather than personal narratives, though we welcome reporting in which the writer is present, or that is informed by personal experience and insight. We are most excited by stories where food and restaurants intersect with, illuminate, or are illuminated by other subjects: business, technology, history, science, politics, society, activism, identity, the arts, pop culture, etc.” More tips & info from editor Helen Rosner.
  • The Outline: “Our coverage focuses on three topics that are increasingly converging in strange and important ways: power (who has it, who wants it, and what do they do when they get it?), culture (the way we live and communicate), and the future (where we’re going next).”
  • Quartz Ideas: “we’re interested in stories that have some aspect of economics, technology, policy, science, health, management or business at their cores. Since nearly half our readers are outside of the US, we’re also interested in stories that originate from or discuss international issues.”
  • Electric Literature: “personal and critical essays, as well as humor that reflects on the world of reading, writing, literature, and storytelling in all its forms.”
  • Racked: “we’re particularly interested in: the intersection of politics and fashion and beauty; how technology is impacting shopping; and diversity (or the lack thereof) of all kinds across the retail, fashion, and beauty landscape.”
  • Southwest the Magazine: “most of our features *aren’t* travel stories, they’re just good stories you happen to read while you’re traveling.”
  • BuzzFeed Reader: “always looking for smart cultural crit (essays on movies/tv, celebs, music, books, sports, style, politics, ETC)”
  • Esquire: Reported features, not news stories or essays.
  • The Establishment: “is looking to unearth overlooked stories, produce original reporting, and provide a platform for voices that have been marginalized by the mainstream media. And yes, we want your humor, wit, and good old-fashioned satire, too. We publish originally reported features, interviews, long-form journalism, personal essays, and multimedia of all shapes, sizes, and creeds.”
  • Guardian US features: Lots of very specific advice here! Plus “I want good STORIES first and foremost. I want characters, twist and turns, suspense, color, beautiful writing. I can’t stress this enough. This is features writing, not straight-reporting.”
  • National Public Radio
  • Parade Magazine: Reported health pieces. No essays.
  • Narratively: “we like stories with a narrative; stories where something actually happens. That means active, engaging scenes described vividly.”
  • Topic: Specific calls for pitches on topics that change monthly!
  • Extra Crispy: “Opinion pieces, reported stories, personal essays, works of humor, illustrated narratives, breakfast-y profiles, original recipes, how-tos and unusual points of view on the beloved morning meal are all welcome. We don’t do restaurant reviews.”
  • Bustle: “personal essays, think pieces pegged to events in news, pop culture or feminism, editorials, reported pieces, experiments, and really, any other super-strong work you’d like to reach a large audience with.”
  • Cosmopolitan: “funny, heartwarming, cringe-worthily relatable essays, opinions, and rants about sex & relationships!”
  • Mother Jones: “We’re interested in just about anything that will raise our readers’ eyebrows, but we focus especially on these areas: national politics, environmental issues, corporate wrongdoing, human rights, and political influence in all spheres.”
  • Longreads.

Once you’ve gotten the assignment…

Remember that editing is a collaborative process. So don’t get your feelings hurt when your editor suggests changes. And don’t be too precious about your words: It’s the editor’s job to make sure your work a good fit for their publication. If you want to retain 100% control, self-publish on your own website or Tumblr or Medium or whatever.

Also, share the wealth. If you found this post useful, please be generous with your contacts and information in turn. This is not a zero-sum game. All writers benefit when we (and editors) are open about the pitching process.

Additional resources

Because I’m not going to keep updating this post, look to the following people/places: