How NOT to pitch editors

Jessica Reed
Apr 1, 2016 · 4 min read

If anything, the Elle On Earth piece should be given to journalism students across the nation. Do you want editors to give you more work in the future? Then don’t do that.

For this week’s Pitch Clinic, I thought I would publish a round up of editors’ pet peeves — but at the pitch stage. So you’ll know what *not* to do before and after being published.

Some of those pet peeves are mine, some not. So don’t send me hate mail.

I would also like to acknowledge that being a freelance writer is one helluva hard job in an unforgiving and fast-changing industry, and editors can be terrible people to. (See Why you’re a sucky editor; Editing mistakes that will drive writers nuts, etc).

So, without further ado…

  • Don’t copy and paste your pitch and send it to many editors. You really have to tailor your pitch to the desk you’re pitching to. Research your editor!
  • It goes without saying but — don’t put the wrong news organisation in your pitch.
  • Don’t send worthy ideas because you think [this publication]*should* publish it because it’s worthy, with no thinking beyond that.
  • Don’t write super long pitches — make it punchy and to the point. All the editors I have asked agree: the format of a pitch should be:

Paragraph 1: Your name, your occupation, where you are, the story you have in mind

Paragraph 2: Why it matters, who you can talk to to write it, your sources, if you’re already done some work on it

Paragraph 3: If you’re working with video/photo/multimedia, etc say so

Paragraph 4: Your writing history, your expertise, where your work has been published

  • The pitch should have the same tone as the piece. If it’s a funny piece, make it a funny pitch. If it’s serious … you get the idea.
  • Don’t send an already written piece.
  • Don’t pitch something that’s just your opinion, especially without a news peg and/or without expertise. “I woke up and had some thoughts about North Korea” is not a thing.
  • Related: Make sure you have a good answer to the“why me” question: you can’t, as an unknown punter, pitch an op-ed about the day’s biggest news story if you don’t have a VERY GOOD reason to write it. The editor who mentioned that said she regularly receives emails by US high schoolers who want to debate foreign policy in the Middle East.
  • No means no: Don’t answer back and try to “prove” the editor is wrong to turn your pitch down.
  • Don’t insist on feedback. You can politely ask, but rare is the editor who will take the time to explain why, exactly, he or she said no. It would mean hours and hours spent doing it on a weekly basis.
  • Don’t try to play your editor against other outlets, especially in your first email to the editor. “I am pitching this to you but you should know The New York Times/The Atlantic/ Pacific Standard is interested too!”. It is very annoying when writers do that.
  • When an editor says no, don’t pitch it to another department in the same organisation — it happens all the time and it’s very annoying.
  • Don’t be cocky. For example, don’t start a pitch with “Having won 12 awards last year…” (unless you’re a Pulitzer winner. But if you are, you wouldn’t do that). Remember, it’s like the Radiohead song: “Ambition makes you pretty ugly”.
  • If it takes some time to get back to you, don’t be mean or snarky about it. Move on and pitch it elsewhere. It’s the editor’s loss if they miss your story.
  • If you do place your piece elsewhere, don’t email the editor who turned you down with a “in your face” note about how you did place it elsewhere. It’s weird.
  • Don’t ever think an editor will publish your piece because you were in high school together / are distant cousins / know the same person in the industry / used to be friends.
  • Don’t pitch a topic. Pitch a story. Don’t write “I wanna write about this amazing prison in the south” (what is the story here?). Write “This prison is the only place where inmate X is allowed to do Y and it has an impact on V”.
  • Saying you write for the HuffPo is not a thing (unless you’re staff there). [Jessica’s note: that wasn’t my pet peeve! Don’t send hate mail].

Pitch Clinic

Where editors critique your pitch

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