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How to Pitch Articles to Major Web Publications

by David K. William | The Web Writer Spotlight: Jul 6, 2014

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A pitch, known as a query letter in book publishing, is a tentative suggestion to a print or web publication about an article, story, feature, report, review or essay you would like to write for the publication. It can be a letter sent to an editor to propose your idea for an article, a phone call to an editor about a story idea that highlights your research and communication skills or even an e-mail to an editor that demonstrates your ability to organize thoughts and information in a clear, logical and engaging manner when writing a piece.  

Anyone can pitch a story. You don’t even need major connections to query and get published on iconic publications like The Washington Post, the New York Times and the behemoth of feature magazines – The New Yorker! Editors are always looking for fresh story ideas that fit their publication. Besides, pitching story ideas to these iconic magazines and newspapers is the method the editors expect to be approached.

A successful pitch on a big publication will help build your credibility, enhance your visibility and boost your reputation. It will give you access to a sizeable audience where you can spread your message to a much wider readership. Moreover, a successful pitch will help you generate buzz and excitement about your expertise, product and brand, leading to more conversions. Hey, you might even be paid top dollar for contributing to big media outlets!

 

Proven tips to ace your pitch

 

Like anything worth striving for in life, getting the attention of big media publications can be difficult. Editors are bombarded with pitches on a daily basis, which can make it quite tricky to stand out from the crowd. For example, The New Yorker doesn't accept many 10,000-word essays from unknown writers (unless you've just landed a major book deal).

That said, if you attack pitching with the right approach, it becomes fairly easy to ace your pitch and gain access to the publications you really want. Here are 11 proven tips to help you nail your pitch and score major media coverage.

 

  1. Blog

One of the key goals of pitching is to persuade an editor, journalist or blogger that you can write in an authoritative way and connect with the publication’s readers when given the opportunity to write for them. Your knowledge of important people or your personal interests in a topic won’t count for much if you cannot demonstrate you can write with authority and engage readers.  

Position yourself well to score major media coverage by keeping a blog. A blog is a good place to house clips of your best work that can demonstrate to editors what you can bring to the publication that other writers can’t. Blog regularly on web 2.0 platforms or on your own website. The benefits of blogging are many, not least of them to build up a portfolio and develop a distinct writing style.

 

  1. Get the media targeting right

The success of your pitch will depend largely upon targeting the right media outlet. Given the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, chances are high that whatever you think of pitching has already been written before. It is, therefore, absolutely important that you find out what, where and how ideas related to yours have been written. This will help you identify areas that have not been covered adequately where you can pitch. Thorough research before submitting anything to a publication cannot be emphasized enough.

Check what articles have been published on your target site and the angle and tone that has been used to determine if the publication is a good fit for you. At the very least, read a bunch of articles in the publication’s archives. Consider pitching smaller features within departments or sections of publications instead of main features. You may find it easier to get published there than on main features. Just don’t pitch a site you know nothing about because it will probably be a waste of time.

 

  1. Make a connection beforehand

Avoid contacting editors, journalists or bloggers only when you want something from them. Try to make a genuine, personal connection with them well in advance. This will help to establish a warm relationship that will compel editors to at least consider your pitch when you eventually send one. Request someone you know who knows someone at the publication to introduce you to the editor where applicable. Arrange to meet and interact with the editors in real life, such as at events and conferences.

Don’t forget to connect on social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn at least six months prior to pitching. Share stories the editor produces with your own social networks and leave intelligent comments on their articles without going overboard and coming off like a spammer. This can get an editor’s attention and prompt them to want to learn a little about you, which will help your pitch later. It’s easier to trust and work with people you know something about than total strangers.

 

  1. Pitch your idea, not portfolio

Pitch an idea so relevant to a publication’s readers that the editor will have a hard time saying no to you. However, don’t submit your full resume or portfolio unless these are expressly required, absolutely relevant to your pitch or especially impressive in some other way. Most editors are pressed for time and can’t read through long details of everyone’s professional background in pitches.

Submit only your idea, what makes your article's angle different and highlights of your expertise and experience drawn from your professional or personal life. Be very clear about what you can offer and what you want. Address the editor or blogger by first name to make communication nice and friendly. ‘Hi Bob’ or ‘Dear Mary’ is much better than ‘Dear Mr. Bob’ or ‘Hey Mary.’  

 

  1. Ride the waves of a trend

Powerful web articles draw readers in and arouse a reaction. They are interesting and/or entertaining. Improve your chance of pitching something powerful by riding the wave of big trends or events that people are already talking about. For example, let’s say you come across a tech start-up that is experiencing an uptick in sales when every other tech firm in the niche is experiencing a down turn. Pitching a story about the start-up can be a good story for a tech magazine because it will be at least interesting.

If you cannot find current or seasonal news items that you can leverage to give relevance and immediacy to your story, be creative and come up with a juicy story either way. Prove to the editor your story will be interesting whether it rides on a big trend or not. The goal for most publishers is to engage their readers and generate more views, subscribers, leads or sales. Something boring certainly won’t make the cut.

 

  1. Steer clear of quotidian questions

Don’t query an editor about mundane things that are already available on the publication’s FAQ page, submission guidelines or obvious just by reading the publication and which might be premature anyway, such as submission word count or pay rate for contributions. Asking quotidian questions is a blatant giveaway that you are an amateur and a certain deal breaker.  

Editors are a stressed and hurried bunch who are up against hard deadlines. Make their job easier by steering clear of quotidian questions that would unnecessarily consume their time and make their work harder. The only question you should probably ask after you present a convincing argument for your pitch is, — “Are you interested?”

 

  1. Share your sources

Share with the editor the people you will be consulting or interviewing to inform your work if any. Identify your sources by name and mention their credentials. For example, if you are pitching a story about a massive explosion in your city, you could mention a survivor who is a long-time friend that you intend to interview. The more pertinent your source is to your story, the better for your pitch.

Don’t include sources that you are not reasonably certain you can reach. For example, you might want to avoid including sources from the White House if you are not sure you can reach the sources and have them inform your article. If you are drawing supporting information from published material, mention the material and provide links to them inside the body of your e-mail pitch. Make the links apparent and not random links thrown all over the place.

 

  1. Keep it short and simple (KISS)

Keep your pitch short and simple. Don’t monkey around with your ideas. Get to the point in the opening two to three sentences of the pitch. Summarize your story to give the editor a sense for what your story is about. Don’t submit the entire article or start the pitch with long sentences describing events or scenes from your story. Just a brief outline of your story will do.

Generally, your pitch should not be more than 200 to 300 words or one page of five paragraphs maximum. If you can say all you want to say in 50 words, all the better. Editors appreciate it when you communicate the gist of your pitch immediately. It shows you are a good communicator and readers will likely also understand everything you write with ease.

 

  1. Give thought to the subject line

A good e-mail subject line can help an editor picture how your story would appear on their publication straightaway. If an editor’s first impression of your subject line is that it can be a good fit for their publication, the editor will be more inclined to open and read your e-mail. A catchy e-mail subject line will also improve the chance that the editor will go back to your pitch if he or she did not open it the first time when sifting through hundreds of pitches. However, if your subject line sounds dull and irrelevant or looks like spam, they’ll quickly delete it.

So, get your e-mail subject line right. New York Times bestselling author, Daniel H. Pink offers useful tips on how to do this in his book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others; "Your e-mail subject line should be either obviously useful (Found the best & cheapest photocopier) or mysteriously intriguing (A photocopy breakthrough!), but probably not both (The Canon IR2545 is a photocopy breakthrough.)” It should offer a promise or benefit to the person reading it, drive curiosity, or include ultra-specific information.

 

  1. Follow Up

Wait one or two weeks after you send your pitch and then send a follow-up e-mail if there is no response. It is possible your e-mail went into the editor’s spam box. In this case, you could try to send the pitch again from a different e-mail address or try a different subject line. You can also use a free e-mail add-on like Yesware that sends you a notification when an e-mail you send out is opened.

Don’t wait for months before sending follow-up e-mails and don’t be pushy when you do send them out. The editor is not obligated to respond to any of your pitches. Also, don’t resend the whole pitch each time. Just a brief reminder will do: "We talked a few weeks ago about my story about... (summarize the story in one sentence). Just wanted to check and see if you had a chance to look at it yet." The point is to stay persistent without being overly aggressive.

 

  1. Keep going

If you get a response from the editor rejecting your pitch, take it in your stride. Submit something else or move on to another site and submit the rejected pitch if you still think it is good. The most successful people at pitching are ruthless about turning rejected pitches in to winning ones. It is not a big deal to get rejected and there is no shame in that. 50% of pitches from even the most talented writers get no responses at all or are rejected entirely. There is almost always nothing personal in a rejection.

Resist the temptation to pressure, pester or be uncivil with editors if they don’t want to cover you. Just keep submitting to that or other publications. This is called putting your hustle on. If your submission is accepted, keep up the good work! Continue turning in quality stories within set deadlines. Your professionalism and hard work will carry the day in the end.

 

Here’s an example of a query letter from the Freelance Success Book:

 

Dear (magazine editor),

Several of your recent ‘Scuba Law’ columns have focused on the legal obligations of dive operators. As a divemaster and lawyer I see something just as bad every weekend: Divers who have no idea that agreeing to be a dive buddy implies serious legal risks. I want to write a 750-word article for your ‘Scuba Law’ department that details for divers what those risks are and how they can be managed.

Sincerely,

John Doe

 

See how simple and effective a pitch can be? Submitting an article’s word count helps the editor envision the article and is especially useful if a publication doesn’t specify a word count.

 

Here’s another excerpt of a pitch sent to Jeff Hadden of Inc.com:

 

“Women currently control $13 trillion of the world’s $18.4 trillion in consumer spending, yet 71% of women feel brands only consider them for beauty and cleaning products. Want to hear how brands can better market to women?”

 

Short, precise and straight to the point. Jeff considers this a better pitch than paragraphs waffling on about a story. He gives it a nod with an emphatic: “Why, yes. I think I do (want to hear about it).”

 

Finally, here’s a template that Neil Patel of KISSmetrics uses when pitching to popular blogs:

 

Subject: you should blog about {insert your guest blog post topic}

{Insert their first name}, as an avid reader of {insert their site name} I would love to read about {insert guest blog post topic}… and I think your other readers would as well.

Your content on {insert existing post from their website #1, insert existing post from their website #2, and insert existing post from their website #3} are great, but I think you can tie it all together by blogging on {insert guest blog post topic}.

I know you are probably busy and won’t blog on it so I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.  How about I write it for you? Don’t worry, I’m a great blogger and have had my posts featured on {insert previous guest post URL #1} and {insert previous guest post URL #2}.

Let me know if you are interested, I already know your blogging style, plus I understand what your readers love… as I am one.

Look forward to hearing from you,


{insert your name}.

 


David K. William is a web writer, publisher and entrepreneur. Every thing he writes is inspired by life experiences and study. David is also founding editor of WebWriterSpotlight.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidKWilliam.


Screenshot courtesy of the Washington Post

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