Despite the fact I did an MA in magazine journalism, and they taught me how to pitch, I was still crap. Thankfully I learned from my mistakes, spoke to a variety of freelancers and collated these excellent tips so you don’t have to.
NB: yes, there are a load of places that won’t take pitches if they don’t already know you, but remember there are loads more (especially online) that will. If it’s a good pitch.
Start with a headline
You should always include a headline in a pitch, but coming up with one also helps you figure out if the idea is focussed enough. If you can’t summarise it into a snappy header, then it doesn’t have a sharp enough angle. Imagine telling a friend in a pub what your article is about, and if you go on for longer than a sentence and start saying “but it’s not exactly that, it’s more sort of..” then simplify it. Often you’ll have about nine angles without realising, so identify them all, pick one and stick to that. Or buy a protractor (HAHA).
Second comes the subheading.
Remember the last article you nearly read but immediately stopped reading because the first sentence bored you/made no sense? Me neither! And neither will the person you’re pitching to, so frame it like a subheading on the dreaded Daily Mail sidebar (no I’m not linking) in order to suck them in like editorial Jumanji. If the headline displays what it’s all about, then this sentence tells the reader why they should keep reading. For example: Kanye leaves Kim: she was going on secret dates with her own arse! FYI lawyers, that story isn’t true.
Make sure you’ve covered the WHO, WHAT and WHY.
Who will be involved in the feature (three case studies of women who’ve all fallen in love with their own arses and a psychologist), what it will be (short explanation with some pop psychology followed by three ghost written stories) and why (because it’s relevant to now and it fits in with your readership). All features have a news peg, something timely that makes their piece not only essential reading, but essential reading RIGHT NOW. Check out Ideastap’s article on finding a news peg for help with how to do this…
Tag it to a regular feature
Because, if they’ve never heard of you before, this is what an editorial team will be most likely to respond to. Mainly because journalists hate the admin involved in trying to find case studies for their Weekly Woman Who Loves Her Butt feature as much as you hate getting pitches rejected. If there isn’t a regular running article you can contribute to, tag it to a specific section. And flag up a past article you enjoyed in that section that this would be similar to.
Don’t give too much away.
Do not, for the love of all things plagiarised, give your case study’s full names and email addresses away. Because it’s not unheard of to get no response, then see your article re-angled a few months later, using the case studies you’d provided. It’s terrible form, but it can happen.
Pitch something only you can write.
The hardest one. I say this because, a few times, I pitched ideas to certain newspapers only to hear nothing back then see that article written by their staff writer. Mainly because it could be written by anyone. Exclusive interviews with celebrities will work for the smaller publications maybe, but certainly not most. You wouldn’t pitch an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger to Empire because they’re probably best mates with the guy. Find a weird trend or habit, find three people who have such a habit (like fall in love with their arses) and you’ll stand the best chance of getting it in the paper/on the site/in the mag. Because, again, journalists hate the admin of trying to find case studies.
Always know the features editor’s name, and use it. Sometimes a FAO: Annie (if her name’s Annie, obviously) in the subject line can work. Talking of subject lines, don’t write “a pitch” because they’ll chuck it faster than Kanye could chuck Kim when he catches her serenading her own buttocks. Here are some good tips for subject lines and, while they’re aimed at PRs pitching at journalists, they’re totally relavant because, hey, you’re pitching a journalist. Also, pitch twice. A few days later. The same email.
Include a link to previous work
Hyperlink it because it looks tidy. And don’t attach 40 scans of clippings, because not only is nobody going to look at them, they might get you caught in the spam filter. Oh, and make sure what you link to is relevant; link to a lifestyle feature, if you’re pitching a lifestyle feature.
Don’t email it at 4am.
Because you’ll look less Freelancer About Town, more Insomniac Who Doesn’t Know What Town He Lives In. If you write a pitch at 4am (and we’ve all been there) then save it as a draft and email it at 8am. As the day goes on, people start going to meetings, thinking about lunch, drooling over twitter and generally being less responsive to emails. You also want yours to be the top email in their inbox that day, because that’s the one they’re going to open first.
Choose your publication.
Yeah getting an eight page spread in The Sunday Times Magazine might be the dream, but will somewhere a little more realistic take it? And don’t be snobbish about the internet for god’s sake. Sometimes it’s better to try online before print because, hey, it could go viral. Or get reprinted on the Times website.
Do you have any more tips for pitching? Let us know in the comments below…