As head of operations, which is a heading for ample responsibilities, editors are busy people. Busy people have no time for deciphering pitches that leave much to the imagination. An untidy pitch does not show you can deliver and this inability leaves you at a dead-end as a freelancer in magazine journalism.
“What the commissioning editor is looking for is someone who can make his/her life easier” – Andrew Williams, Editor, William Reed Business Publications
Writing is the easy part, the hard is having something to write about and finding someone to publish it, which is why the pitch is so important. Below are some guidelines to help create a pitch:
Tip one: Think about what you can do rather than what you want to do, ideas are ineffective if you cannot provide a property piece, a solid pitch. As appealing as interviewing Pope Francis may be you cannot submit something that you are unable to carry out.
Tip two: Tailor the pitch to the publication so the editor knows you can write and provide what they are looking for. If you want to submit to a glossy magazine then write in the style they print by researching the publication, better yet (and if you are not already), become a reader. See here for notes on audience/consumer categories.
Tip three: Include images. Magazines, as mentioned here in last week’s post, are very much image led. The readers want something to see, something to illustrate the story. If you can get the editor to picture your piece in the magazine it is worth much more than the words as compelling as they may be. Images can also establish the reality behind the story and that is what sells, real life. If images are not available until after the pitch then give ideas about how and where they can be sourced.
Tip four: As stated above, reality sells, something that strikes sympathy, tears, laughter or shock. If you have a piece that can strike these elements, say why and how it is relevant, how it impacts the real world and why anyone should care.
Tip five: Keep it professional. Spelling and grammar are the obvious yet overlooked fundamentals, spelling and grammar mistakes are easily made so make sure you triple-check. Everything else could be flawless but if the spelling or grammar is off it strips the pitch’s intelligence and looks amateurish.
Tip six: Keep it as simple as possible. Try to keep everything you can in the email’s body rather than attaching various files. Opening/downloading files is time consuming and generally redundant if the content can be placed in the email. Plus most systems usually check files before opening and ask the user (editor) to click a yes or no option to the question ‘Do you know if this content is safe?’, how can they if they have no idea who you are.
Tip seven: Contacts are key and can help build trust almost instantly. For example placing “Joe Bloggs suggested I email you” into the start of the pitch, let us assume Joe Bloggs is a well established freelancer, it shows you are known, honourable and have reliable references.
There is no defined pitch structure but below provides an example and outlines the basics:
To (insert the editor’s name, research if unknown),
Joe Bloggs (renowned journalist) suggested I contact you.
The recent storms that have battered the south coast have destroyed homes, drowned farms and ended lives, this is the story of a coast side family desperate to find their lost boy after their house was violently thrashed out to sea… (This is your first par and should be the most compelling; this is where you need to hook the editor, have their interest pinned and provide a summary of the story with an image or images)
(Pars 2 & 3 should capture the editor’s attention further, why do we care about the story? How does it impact people in the real world?)
I have exclusive interviews with the X family, their neighbours X and X ; I also have an interview lined up with Mr…(This par is based on the plans for reporting, who? Why? And what is he/she an expert in?)
(The final par should wrap the pitch up; state why it is relevant and why it is worthy. Here you should also provide some details about yourself, who you are and what relevant experience you have)
Once your pitch has been submitted it depends on the publication as to how long it will be before you receive a response. Monthly publications may take weeks whereas daily publications could reply within a day or two. Be patient and remember if you do not succeed the first time, adapt it and try again elsewhere.