As the associate editor of The Writer’s sister publication Volleyball magazine, many freelance pitches find their way into my inbox. Some I love – and I’m excited over a new contributor to the publication. Others are immediate turn-offs and either receive a gentle letdown or languish, untouched, until meeting their ultimate doom in my elaborate network of email archives.
What makes one pitch stand out from another? How can you increase your chances of being noticed and invited to submit work to a magazine? Here are the criteria that I’ve put together from my experience as a magazine editor.
Make a good first impression.
The first part of a pitch I see is the email subject line. You might think the key is to be creative, come up with something funny or witty, but I actually prefer the subject to be straightforward. For example, “Feature pitch for Volleyball magazine.” The caveat here is that I probably rceive fewer pitches than editors at larger magazines you may be interested in writing for, so I am unlikely to pass over simply titled email.
Present clear, concise copy.
There are many components to this. You obviously should not have spelling or grammatical errors in your pitch, but you should also not use crazy fonts or unusual text size. No font colors either. Keep it basic. Not Courier basic, but rather the clean-looking Times New Roman or Georgia. If I’m thinking about your font choice when I read your email, you’ve done something wrong.
Let your pitch communicate your style.
If you’re a good writer, your email should reflect that. Write your email with as much care as you put into your written work if you want to get noticed.
Know the magazine.
If you’ve never read the magazine before, it will be obvious. No one knows that magazine better than the editor fielding the submissions, so you had better be on your a-game. “The most frustrating pitches I get are ones where it is clear the freelancer has not read the magazine recently,” says The Writer managing editor Aubrey Everett. “Either they pitch an article topic or subject we have recently covered, or an idea that would clearly not fit within the parameters of our publication and audience. Reading the magazine doesn’t mean you have to be a subscriber (although we welcome that!). Most public libraries have a large selection of magazine titles available to read.”
Really have something to say.
I recently received a pitch from a writer who had spent the last few months sailing around the South Pacific with his wife. They ended up playing quite a bit of volleyball with the local people on these islands. Many pitches might have stopped right there. But he continued on to say, “[Volleyball] has become an integral part of the social dynamics on many islands. But what impressed me most was the islanders’ physical prowess, technical skills and their happiness to include outsiders, as if a passion for the game is the only language that is needed.” With these additional details he provided an interesting angle and a reason for the magazine to share his story.
“The best pitches show awareness, and also have a strong storyline, a takeaway for our readers and an understanding of our commitment to craft at all levels, in all genres,” says The Writer editor-in-chief Alicia Anstead. “Commitment to craft” is TW’s mission, but what is the mission, the key, to the magazine you’d like to pitch? When you can identify that, you’ll be much more likely to send them something they’re interested in.
Include, and highlight, previous writing experience
Reading previous work from a writer is the best way for me to decide whether he or she fits what I’m looking for. Listing the publications or websites you’ve written for in the past is great, and essential, but go a step further and send me a link so I don’t have to Google you. Some editors don’t like receiving attachments with submissions so I would be cautious about attaching PDFs or word documents of previous work in your first email.
Offer a concrete pitch, not services.
Editors don’t all feel the same way about this, but I personally would much prefer you have a specific article idea when you contact me for the first time. Photographers especially will email offering their services in whatever area of the country they’re based, and I greatly appreciate that. But the truth is, until you write or photograph something for me, I am very unlikely to remember you when I do eventually come across a story and am looking for someone to cover it. Instead, pitch me an article. Write it and write it well, and then, when I’ve become more familiar with your writing or photography style and have developed a relationship with you, I am much more likely to think of you when something comes up in your area of the country or field of expertise.
Once you’ve managed to get a contract out of me, you’d better deliver (and do so on deadline). Nothing turns an editor off like spending his or her time reconstructing the article they paid you to write. Do your research thoroughly. Read your work out loud to make sure and catch those small, sneaky mistakes. The pitch may get you in the door, but your first submitted piece can earn you a long-term relationship with that editor and publication.
Finally, there’s no one-size-fits-all pitch. Send pitches out liberally, trying out a variety of strategies and see the responses you get. Like anything, you will get better with practice.