Pitch Perfect

Great work day yesterday. I managed to get a good chunk of work done on my article. If my day hadn’t been interrupted by an appointment, I would have finished it. Today, for sure.

I worked a little later than usual – 6 pm – because of the interruption. I spent an hour trying to locate a home for my latest article idea. I narrowed it down to three possibilities and went for the one that paid the best. Why not? If the idea fits and I can slant it to their particular style, why not get paid top dollar for it? The other two markets could work with a little tweaking of the slant. And if all else fails, I can make it a regional story that could fit at least three different regional pubs.

As I walked through some of the writer’s guidelines, I noticed some that seemed to fit given their titles, but on closer inspection clearly weren’t going to work. Had I not looked, I’d have wasted time and effort. Not that my pitch will be accepted, but I’ve increased the chances by doing the homework.

How do you go about pitching ideas? I ask myself these questions:

Do they publish this kind of idea? Browse the online magazine or head to the library or bookstore (are any bookstores still open?) to see what content appears.

No, really – do they publish this kind of idea? Don’t kid yourself. If you think it’s a killer idea and they’ll love it despite the fact it doesn’t fit, you’ll be disappointed.

What do I need to do to fit their style? Who is their audience? What do they read most? Luckily for us, most magazines have a “most read” and “most commented” section of their online version. What stands out? How does my idea fit with that theme?

Are they going to be okay with an electronic submission? I’ve done paper queries, but they take up a ton of time (and paper). If there’s a publication that allows for email queries, I’m going to pitch to that one first.

Whose voice do they want? What kinds of experts are they going to need to see in the story? Or is this a story that’s from a personal perspective only?

What samples do I have that can convince them I’m the one for the job? Because my own samples are from business and trade mostly, I choose ones that have a more conversational tone for consumer mag pitches. Choose ones that have strong hooks and showcase your best writing.

What process do you use to make sure your pitches are near perfect?

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  • Cathy Miller July 21, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I don't do much pitching as 99.9% of my articles are ghost-written and pitched by my client. But, your Who is your audience question is key. On one of my ongoing gigs for ghost-written articles, my client writes (through me) for an audience different from her norm. Sometimes I have to remind her that she is writing for that different audience.

    Great tips here, Lori-per usual. šŸ™‚

  • Ashley July 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    This reminds me of an idea I had pitched, but it wasn't a fit. I need to shop that idea around a bit because it would make a great story. Just gotta figure out who would want it šŸ™‚

    Great tip on looking at the "most read" and "most commented" section. Super easy to do, and provides great information.

  • Paula July 21, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    I love the idea of checking on the magazine's website for reader comments.

    A couple of other things to ask or consider:

    When was the last time they covered a similar topic? (Most magazines won't revisit the same topic right away; others might have a monthly feature on that particular topic – but it might be written by their regular columnist.)

    What sidebars or extras can I offer? (A short sidebar on a related topic? A quiz? Photos? An info box? etc….)

    When I'm narrowing which market to pitch an idea too, I number the candidates. Highest pay first, but another big consideration is: how many freelance articles to they really use?

    That info can often be found in Writer's Market, but if you flip through a magazine and compare bylines with the masthead you'll get a better idea of how much of the writing is done in-house.

  • Paula July 21, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Of course I meant "to" and not "too." What can I say? It's not even 10 AM and it already up to 85 in my office.

  • Lori July 21, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Switching audiences is tough, Cathy. Good thing she has you there to give her that reality check!

    Ashley, you could also try landing on a publication you want to work with and modifying the idea to fit it. Why not work it in reverse?

    Great advice, Paula. I've found if the idea's been done within the last two years, they won't touch it unless you're coming at it from an entirely different perspective.

    I've done the same with seeing whose name is on the byline. If yu see four or five articles per magazine per staffer, your chances of an assignment are slim.

  • Ashley July 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Good point, Lori. Looking at it from both directions just provides that many more opportunities to get it assigned!