You have a great idea for a story, but finding and attracting an editor to read it is another matter. Often mastheads and websites offer no contact information, and you’re at a loss about how to find someone to pitch.
Enter Devra Ferst. She is a freelance food writer, editor, and cooking teacher based in New York. Her writing has appeared in Bon Appetit, Vogue, Taste, NPR, and numerous other publications. Before going freelance, Devra was the senior editor at Tasting Table and an editor at Eater NY. You can follow her on Instagram as @dferst.
Here are Devra’s tips on finding and attracting editors for pitching stories:
Q. Some editors who don’t respond to pitches on email. Should writers give up on them or are there other ways to pitch them?
A. It’s probably best to stick with editors who are quick to respond to pitches. Ask around in writer groups on Facebook like Food Writers of the Sub Binder for a few names). Save the pitches for the tougher-to-reach editors for when a few larger publications have published your work. By that point, editors may recognize your name in your email address.
If you really want to pitch a particular editor who is tough to reach, see if they are giving a talk in your town. Or perhaps you know someone in common with them who can make an introduction. A connection or a few minutes face-to-face can make a big difference.
Lastly, if you are going to pitch a tough-to-reach editor, do so for stories that don’t have an immediate time peg, so you can allow them a couple of weeks to get back to you. Save the super-timely stories for editors who you know will reply within a couple of days, so the story isn’t wasted.
Q. Often editor emails are hidden. How do we find them?
Some sites have pages dedicated to “How to Pitch Us.” Always look for that first. If it doesn’t exist, try the masthead, which may be linked to email addresses or have other useful information.
When all else falls, start Googling or ask politely on Facebook in an appropriate group like one of the subfolders of Binders if someone can share the contact in a private message.
Q. Is it okay to follow editors on Instagram and Twitter and try to engage with them there? Does it lead to anything?
A. I think it’s completely okay to follow editors if their accounts are public. Be careful about engaging too much, as you don’t want them to feel like you are encroaching on their non-professional lives.
If you genuinely share a particular passion with an editor (say, babka for instance) and they post about it, I think a comment or two is fine. See if they respond. If so, you can mention that in a pitch, but I wouldn’t pitch or say that you have a pitch for an editor over social media.
Q. Is it kosher for writers to ask other freelancers for editor contacts?
A. I deal with this on a case-by-case basis. I try to ask for contacts from other writers sparingly. No one wants to feel like they are a Rolodex and no editor wants to feel like their information is being given out right and left. But you can ask friends in the industry politely for contacts from time to time. Be prepared to reciprocate if they ask for a contact you might have.
Also, always ask your friend before you drop their name in a conversation with the editor. If you become friendly with an editor, you can ask if they mind if you put another writer in touch with them and take it from there.
Q. What constitutes a great subject line that will make editors pay attention?
A. This might be the trickiest of all things. If it’s an editor you know, start with the words “Story Idea:” followed by a teaser title for the article you propose. You can also try using what you think might be a good headline. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t be long. An editor should get the gist of it in a quick glance.
Be sure it reads as an editorial pitch and not a PR pitch.
Q. What other advice do you have for people who want better luck with freelancing?
A. Start local or in a community you are already a part of, be it religious, political, or other. In my experience, editors of niche publicatons are more likely to write back, especially if it’s a niche you know. Use those clips as a step to a slightly larger publication. Think of it as climbing a set of stairs. It’s easier if you take one at a time than trying to leap across several. Work and bylines build on themselves.
Join a community of people interested in writing and food, whether that’s online or in person. Attend conferences, lectures, and events at book stores in your area. The more people who know you are interested in this space, the more likely you are to break through the noise. A good way to stay on top of these sorts of events is to find a local publications, even just a neighborhood newsletter, that doesn’t have an event listings section and to offer to write a weekly listings column. It will keep you in the know and give you an opportunity to write at the same time.
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