This post is dedicated to Tracy Chappell (1973-2015), the late senior editor of Today’s Parent. It seems fitting as Tracy accepted several of my pitches – though admittedly not all! She was a very supportive editor, and I was lucky to have worked with her. It’s hard to imagine the loss of a mother with girls the same ages as mine, and I join the Today’s Parent team, along with her family and friends, in mourning her passing.
One of the biggest questions freelancers have is how to perfect the art of the pitch. While every editor is different, I thought it would be informative – and fun – to ask a few of my favourite editors for their best gem of advice for writers trying to break into their publications.
Here are their thoughtful contributions, in their own words:
Multiplatform Editorial Director, Canadian Living
A mistake that I see rookies and longtime pro writers make over and over is to pitch a story that’s been covered by the magazine within the past year. Take some time and read a year’s worth of back issues (this is literally one of the first things you’re taught in journalism school). It could be that a story merits updating with new information the freelancer has access to; if that’s the case, then include that in your pitch, along with why the update is merited.
My number one recommendation for all freelancers is, if they are new to the publication they are pitching, contact someone closer to the bottom of the masthead. Going straight to the EIC may not be the most efficient way of getting your pitch the attention it deserves. Look for an assistant or associate editor to reach out to, as they are interested in growing their roster of fabulous writers, too. Finally, face-to-face meetings are much more effective than emails or random phone calls; take a junior editor out for a coffee and they will be much more willing to listen to you.
Editor-in-Chief, Today’s Parent
The most important thing I look for — and I rarely see — is to build a case for your pitch using digital metrics. Even for a story that originates in print, you can show there’s an audience for it by using analytics from free tools like Buzzsumo, Google Trends, and the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. So, for instance, if you can show that searches for “ADHD” spike at a certain time of year, or that searches for “ADHD medication” are on the rise, you’re proving that there’s an audience for your story. Add in a unique POV, and you’ve got an assignment!
Editor-in-Chief, Parents Canada
- Do as much research as you can to determine whether the publication has recently covered the same topic
- I get a lot of pitches from bloggers. If you are a blogger, be sure to demonstrate that you understand the difference between a blog post and a piece of reporting and that you will do the reporting required for a magazine article
- If you are sending a link to writing samples, send the actual links, not a link to your website or blog. We don’t have time to parse through and look for your writing samples. We are also very lazy that way. : )
Health Director, Chatelaine
Editor-in-Chief, Canadian Health and Lifestyle
I get so many pitches and often they start with long, rambling paragraphs that talk around the idea, or explain at length who the writer is. No one has time to read those kinds of pitches anymore. So, my advice is to “think sales.” Basically, your job as a freelancer is to sell your idea to an editor – and if you can’t write your idea in a quick and compelling single sentence (the elevator sales pitch), then you don’t have a story. So, lead with that and then quickly and smartly substantiate your idea to show both that you’ve done your research (i.e. that you know the editor, the magazine, the audience and why your story is timely) and that you have a solid plan for executing the story.
Managing Editor, Parents Canada
1: Get the name of the magazine right!!! We get so many pitches for Today’s Parent or Canadian Family—and that drives me nuts. I usually won’t respond.
2: In school, I learned how to write queries and they were quite long—typically a page in Word. Don’t do that. I like short, to-the-point queries. If you are pitching a 500-word article, the pitch itself should NOT be 500 words. Get to the point. Describe the main points of the article, the sources you have in mind, and in which section of the magazine it would appear.
3: Don’t suggest a column or a series of articles. Do you know how hard it is to land a column? And most magazines do not have the room for a regular column.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share, ladies – and I hope your inboxes show the results!
Random observation: my husband always tells me that I need to smile with my teeth more on TV and in photos…and I noticed all of these ladies use gorgeous teeth-smile shots on social media. Not at all related to pitching, but no post of mine would be complete without one of my deep thoughts.
You can catch up on the entire Adventures in Freelancing series here: