I’ve been advising a few clients lately whose main goals are to pitch magazine articles (and hopefully get some assignments as a result). I’ve also been teaching pitching in my classes the last few weeks, and I’ve been working on my own pitching. So. I’ve been thinking about pitching a lot. And here are some things I’ve learned, just from talking about it and doing it so much lately, all of which have more to do with the mentality and approach behind pitching rather than how to write the pitch itself (which you can learn about here):
1. Talk through your idea with someone else. It’s easy to get everything all jumbled up in your head. And the more great research you’ve done, the more jumbled it can feel. Once you start trying to convey that out loud to someone else, you start to streamline the story and highlight the best points on your own. Then the person starts to react; their face lights up at certain points, they ask more questions about certain points. If your listener is also a writer, or is at least savvy about how articles work, he or she will often spit back to you a crystallized version of your idea, synthesizing its best parts. He or she also often has ideas about where your story might fit in. It’s easier to see others’ work as a whole from an objective standpoint than it is to make sense of your own.
2. Just get that first pitch letter done. Sure, you probably plan to eventually send it to a couple of places; chances are that your first try won’t work out. But the hardest part is getting that first pitch written. Even if you’re considering multiple targets, pick one and write the first draft right to that editor. Pitches are best when they’re as targeted as possible, not when they’re written like form letters. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to use this letter as the basis for your similar pitches to other targets as well, with some tweaks in terms of audience. But once you have it down, it’ll be easier to do this; and thus you’ll be more likely to actually get it done.
3. Get to your point quickly. There’s nothing worse than reading sentence after sentence and thinking, “Okay, but what’s her point?” I say this even as someone who is paid to read pitch letters and provide feedback on them. A busy editor won’t take the time to figure out your point.
4. You’ll know when it’s a good one. Not every one of my pitches is brilliant. But I always feel it when they’re solid. That doesn’t mean they’ll definitely land. But every one of my pitches that has landed has been the kind that I knew were good from the start.
5. Pitching takes longer than you think. It seems like an idea should kind-of magically appear on your computer screen once you’ve had the thought, right? It’s annoying to figure out how to convey it to another person, making clear why it’s so good and unique and would be perfect for this publication at this time. It’s even more annoying to figure out which publication that is, and which editor at that publication, and etc. But if you don’t do your homework, it’ll be obvious, and you’ll get even more rejections than those of us who do the work. You’ll be wasting even more time, on balance, that way, than if you took the time to study up and aim your pitch. This means taking time to just sit and read, which, I know, feels maybe a little indulgent. Maybe you get distracted and actually read more pieces than you need to. I don’t think this is wasted time. I think it’s getting a feel for the market. This is hard, because it’s not for any guaranteed outcome. But it’s worth it.
6. Did I mention the rejection? Yep, get used to it. And don’t let it get you down. We’ve all been there, and, in fact, we’re all there right now with you.