Step One: Target the Right Publication
Having a great story idea is the most important part of pitching, but no matter how good your pitch is, it will fail if sent to the wrong audience. Have a wicked story about local politicians gone bad? Don't pitch it to Vogue. Want to write about the poor treatment of food industry workers? Chatelaine probably isn't interested. If you want to impress the editor and get your foot in the door, you need to do some reconnaissance. Get a feel for different magazines, newspapers and other publications by browsing their content - this will ultimately help you choose the best options for your own stories.
Step Two: Target the Right Editor
Small publications may work under the supervision of one acting Editor, but most popular magazines and newspapers actually employ several editors to work on various subjects. It's very important that you target the right person when submitting a pitch! Emailing the wrong person will get your carefully-crafted message deleted, overlooked, or archived and then simply forgotten. Find the name and contact details for the editor responsible for the section of the paper you want to write for, and make him or her your primary point of contact.
Step Three: Send a Pre-Pitch to Test the Waters
Editors are busy people. They're in charge of finding story leads, recruiting writers, overseeing the editing process, and making sure everything fits into the alloted publication space exactly on time. If you want to hold the attention of a prospective editor, keep your first email short and succinct. As a general rule, you don't want to waste space introducing yourself or giving a list of references and recently published material. Get right to the point. "Hello Mr. Randall! I am a freelance writer based in Marlborough, Wiltshire, and I have some interesting story ideas for your publication." Title and describe your story ideas briefly, and thank Mr. Randall (or whomever) for his time.
Step Four: Be Patient
Seriously. Experts suggest waiting 1-2 weeks before checking in with whomever you've contacted from any publication, because - again - they are busy over there. If you haven't heard back in a week or so, go ahead and send another message. Don't reiterate your entire pre-pitch, just send a quick email to ask whether or not the editor is interested in running your story. This process can go back and forth for weeks before you get an answer. Stay calm!
Step Five: Offer the Full Pitch
When an editor comes back to you and wants to know more about your story, it's time to expand your original pre-pitch. This time, be more detailed about your main character and the elements that will keep readers interested. Include 2 or 3 sentences at the beginning of your letter to explain why you are qualified to write this story, and link to your website or online portfolio. Then, in 4 or 5 paragraphs, outline the article. Soon, you'll find out whether or not this publication is going to run your story!
Never waste space in a pre-pitch or a full pitch! Proofread, address the correct editor or manager, and intrigue him. And if it doesn't work out? Pitch to someone else :) If your ideas and writing skills are strong, you'll get through eventually.
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