How to pitch your work like you mean it
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 wasn’t even expecting to be paid anything for it, I was hooked.
I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky all the time, so I started reading everything I could about how to pitch 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 writing, there often isn’t a true failure — often, if one publication rejects a pitch, another will 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’ve worked as an Assistant Editor at HelloGiggles and a Buzz Editor at Brit + Co, and I have 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 to the editor. Tell them your name, a little bit of info about yourself (previous bylines help but aren’t required), and then get down to business. 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, so keep it short and sweet and get to the real story — the story 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 like? Are they academic and informative, or are they more fun and conversational? Your understanding of their content should come across in your pitch.
Be as specific as possible about your ideas.
Say you want to pitch a story about gender inequality in the workplace. That’s great, and that’s a topic a lot of people would love to read about! However, sending an email that just says you’d like to write about gender inequality in the workplace 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!
This is something editors often change, but if you can suggest a catchy, clicky headline and make your editor’s job easier, even better.
Provide a draft if possible.
If you’ve already written a draft of your idea, go ahead and send it over! But if you do, make sure you’ve checked it over a few times for mistakes and that it’s ready to be looked at by an editor. You may go through a round or two of edits if your piece is picked up for publication, but this is your first chance to show your chops as a writer, and you want to make sure it’s as free of mistakes as possible before it’s looked at by a pro.
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 even the most accomplished writers will tell you they never stop trying to improve their craft.