Advice on pitching (UGa, 21 Oct 2011)
Maryn’s not-comprehensive short course on pitching
(prepared for Magazine Journalism, Grady College, University of Georgia)
A good pitch requires a fleshed-out idea
- It is not enough to have a topic. A topic is not a story. Topic + news, or + characters and narrative arc, make a story.
- A pitch should be newsy but not time-sensitive.
- For most magazines, the minimum production timeline, if pitch is accepted immediately, is:
- 1-2 mos reporting/writing
- 1-2 mos editing/production
- So you can see that something that is news today will be old when a magazine comes out — and therefore will not be a successful pitch.
For a successful pitch, you must do research
- Expect to spend at least 10 solid hours on this. (Yes, this is unpaid work.)
- Lexis-Nexis or Factiva
- If the pitch is successful, these will become your first round of story research
- Therefore, you must take good notes and keep your research organized.
- If you sell the story, you will be required to prove where every quote and fact came from, so start being organized now.
For a successful pitch, you must also research your target publication
- Identifying the right editor is the LAST task.
- The first task is ensuring that your idea matches, or can be tuned to, the magazine’s target demographic
- E.g., women’s magazines:
- SELF, women 18-35
- Health, women 20-45; aspirational
- More, 40-60; upper income, professional
- Good Housekeeping, LHJ; 30-50, more likely to be moms with kids
- Your idea and your characters/quoted sources must match the target demo.
- Therefore, you must research the magazine.
- Go to a library and analyze the paper magazine.
- Magazines that exist on paper and the web are still making decisions on the basis of how the paper magazine is organized (front of book, middle/back of book).
- Websites, even iPad apps, to this point do not allow you to assess the decisions that magazine has made, about placement and relative value of a story
Expect to have several rounds of communication with an editor
- Initial introductory email
- Pre-pitch email, one-graf description
- If they agree to look at more, then:
- First-draft pitch email
- Discussion by email or phone
- Second-draft pitch email
- Usually requires additional research
Successful pitches accomplish several things at once
- Demonstrate you understand the magazine
- Display your comprehensive idea
- Show that you have done some research
- Showcase your compelling writing
- Give the editor ammunition for pitch meetings (more on that below)
- Do not provide any reasons for hitting the delete key
- bad idea, poor demographic choice, talkiness, bad spelling
Most pitches have a fairly rigid form. This is not the time to get creative.
- Short version: Why this, why now, why you.
- Long version: The basic components are:
- Topic background
- Story proposal (literally: “I propose a story about…”)
- Whom you will speak to (and have already)
- In some magazines, which academic research you will review, with titles and links
- Whether this has been covered before and where
- How long a story you envision
- Why you should write it and who you are
- There are variations:
- Some magazines request 1-page only.
- Some ask for long pitches. It is possible for the initial pitch to be longer than the final assignment (1000-word pitch v. 750-word story.)
- Some look for anecdotal-lede pitches, but if you use an anecdotal lede, it must be short.
At most major magazines, an assigning editor does not make the pitch decision alone.
- Your pitch may be reviewed by:
- Executive editor and editor in chief
- Editorial board of editors competing for space
- Monthly pitch meeting of editors with veto by EIC
- Therefore, your pitch (and phone conversations) must give the editor you are talking to enough information to allow him/her to defend choosing your story
Rejection is common
- Do not take it personally. Be pleasant and positive
- if they like their interaction with you, they are more likely to think of you for an idea of theirs
- Do NOT say “another magazine is interested”
- Do not simultaneous-pitch. (Writers disagree about this but editors universally hate it.)
- Do be prepared to follow up:
- Re-send 1x
- Augment email or seek phone convo 1x
- Then be prepared to re-pitch elsewhere.
- Pro tip: Assume you will be rejected. Redraft your pitch as soon as you send it. Then it will be ready to send to your 2nd-choice target publication as soon as it is rejected by the place you tried first.
Sources of help:
- publications, e.g. Writers’ Market
- online publications, e.g.: MediaBistro’s “How to Pitch” series
- databases maintained by professional organizations:
- Association of Health Care Journalists,
- National Association of Science Writers
- American Society of Journalists and Authors
- pro bono and academic sites:
- Stanford Univ: Future of Freelancing