When I first started submitting work to online publications, I barely knew what the word “pitch” meant — thoughts of baseballs crossed my mind, but beyond that, I had no clue. Thankfully, the first story I wrote was a topic that pretty much spoke for itself, and the editor I reached out to forgave my bumbling email and read the essay I’d sent her about testing positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation, anyway. Once I received that first acceptance email, along with an encouragement to send more pitches and the question “Is $50 okay with you?” when I didn’t even realize I should expect payment for my work (…I know), I was hooked.
I also realized I wouldn’t be that lucky all the time, so I started reading everything I could about how to continue pitching editors successfully. I joined a few freelancing groups on Facebook and talked to other writers about their successes and what they’ve learned from their “failures” (although, in pitching, that’s a murky term, because if one publication rejects a pitch, another may pick it up later, albeit with some tweaking and some time).
Over time, my own process has refined and while my success rate will never be at 100% (no writer’s is!), it’s definitely higher than when I started. Now, I’m the Digital Wellness Editor at Allure, and I’ve also worked as an Assistant Editor at HelloGiggles and a News Editor at Brit + Co. While all editors have their own preferences, I have some insight into the other end of the process, so I’d love to share what I’d learned with writers who are just beginning.
Before diving into your pitch, write a simple intro.
Introduce yourself briefly to the editor. Tell them your name, a little bit of info about yourself (previous bylines can help but aren’t required), and then get down to your idea. Editors love to know who they’re working with, but at the same time, they get a lot of emails every day and don’t necessarily have unlimited time to sort through long intros. It’s also not always required for every outlet that you have experience (unless, say, you’re pitching an ultra-reported feature), so keep it short and sweet and get to the real story — the one you want to write.
Make sure you understand what the publication is looking for.
If you’re going to pitch to a magazine or website, it’s important that you understand the types of stories they normally run. Beyond that, what kind of tone do they typically pub? Are they academic and informative, or are they more fun and conversational? Your understanding of their content and audience should come across in your pitch.
Be as specific as possible about your ideas.
Say you want to pitch a story about the age of theTrump administration and the effects horrific daily news is having on the libidos of the millennial generation (yeeee-ouch). Great. However, sending an email that just says you’d like to write about how most of us are having a hard time fucking right now without telling us what your specific angle on it will be doesn’t say much about the shape of the piece — your editor is going to want to hear more. Provide a full summary of your idea. Write how you’d approach it, including a few sources (if you have them and the piece calls for it), what you’re hoping to say with the piece, and why you’re the one who should say it.
…and while you’re at it, provide a possible headline, if you can.
This is something editors often change, but if you can suggest a catchy, clicky headline and help your editor understand how you envision the final piece, even better.
Provide a draft if possible.
Okay, this one is controversial, because I personally don’t actually like receiving drafts. To me, it sends a message that you may be a little married to some of your ideas already, may have fallen in love with a few sentences (or even grafs) that I may want to cut, and I may have less of a chance shaping the idea, but other editors prefer drafts. It may be best to ask your editor if they like a draft and mention you have one but not send it with the pitch.
Don’t get discouraged.
Even if your piece is rejected by the first (or second, third, and fourth) place you send it to, don’t be intimidated. Keep working on your pitches — have a friend take a look and tell you what can be improved, or put it aside and work on something else until you can look at it with fresh eyes later. Many writers take a long time to hit their stride, and the best writers will tell you they never stop trying to improve their craft.