I’m just back from the Wine Writers Symposium in Napa, where one of the panels I was on covered pitching articles.
I was really roughing it at this conference, if you must know. The event was at Meadowood, a luxury resort, for four nights. We drank or tasted many fine Napa Valley wines both there and at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. And we feasted on fresh crab, duck, truffles, and waygu beef.
But now back to real life, where I need to diet. And you, dear reader, would like more freelance assignments. On the Symposium panel with me were Jim Gordon, a veteran editor and reporter who is now editor of Wines & Vines; and Chris Knutsen, executive editor of The Wall Street Journal magazine. (Insider dirt: Chris was Jeffrey Steingarten‘s editor at Vogue for many years!) Here are the tips we covered on the panel:
- Study the publication first. Look at past articles similar to the kind you want to pitch and break them down. How do they begin? How are they structured? Do they have sidebars? How long are they? How many people do they quote? What kinds of recipes does the publication like? How many are they likely to include? These questions help you set the structure and parameters for your piece.
- Don’t write the story and send it. Editors want to get a story that reads as though it was written just for them. That’s different than dashing off a story and emailing it to five outlets to see if anyone bites. That being said, this approach sometimes works for the travel section of newspapers and personal essays.
- Don’t send the same story to several pubs simultaneously. As mentioned above, you can get in trouble. What if two of them want it? One of them will be irritated. That’s not a good idea if you want to work with that editor again.
- Find out to whom to send your pitch and spell the person’s name right. If at all possible, call or email the publication or website and ask an intern or editorial assistant whom to email. Get the correct spelling. Editors have trouble trusting someone with a story who can’t get their name right.
- Write a short and sweet pitch. Three paragraphs are usually enough for pitching articles. Start with a compelling lede, flesh out the story, and state your credentials. Most people get in trouble in paragraph two, where they can’t seem to describe the story. That, to me, indicates that they haven’t figured out the formula of the publication. The remedy: Read tip No. 1 again.
- Don’t begin pitching articles by stating that you will get free travel, accommodation, or a junket. Editors don’t like the idea that you need to justify your freebie by pitching articles. If they respond to your pitch, then tell them about the trip.
- Identify a department. If you’ve never written for a publication before, you’re most likely to get a story in what’s called “the front of the book,” otherwise known as departments. Research these sections and pitch ideas for them.
- Don’t pitch a huge feature if you’ve never written one for the magazine. The only exceptions I can think of are two: If you’ve already been published at that publication and the editor likes you; or if you’ve written huge features for the competition.
- Know the editorial calendar. Many publications put their editorial calendars online. They’re a great way to target a story to a particular issue, which makes it more likely to be published. Sometimes those calendars live inside media kits, so you might find them in the section of the website geared to advertisers.
- Some websites and publishers like a package. You can be in demand if you are also a terrific photographer or you know to pitch a slide show with captions. Some sites also want video. Make sure you negotiate a price that covers both the text and visual parts.
- Websites like trending topics with a short turnaround. Online, many magazines need stories, and they are more likely to test out new writers for those. If you’re paying attention to what a website covers, and you keep up with trends, you could be a great fit for an editor who wants to build a relationship with a writer.
- Follow up with the editor once, and then pitch it elsewhere. It’s perfectly fine to contact an editor if you don’t hear back. Wait a week or two and then forward your email. If you still get no response, find another home for your story.
Got a questions about pitching? Leave comment below.