I’ve been an editor, and I’ve been a freelancer so I know how pitches work from both sides of the table. Here’s some advice from what I’ve gleaned over the years. Let me know if you have questions!
Do Your Homework
Before pitching make sure you’re talking to the right person. There’s nothing worse than getting pitches about dog food promos when my bio clearly states I’m into neurology.
Google the story to make sure it hasn’t been covered extensively—or by the publication you’re pitching. Oftentimes, a pub won’t want to cover the topic if their competitor has already touched on it. You’ll need to make sure your angle is sufficiently different and interesting enough to warrant another article.
What to Write in a Pitch
Is this a breaking news story? Your subject line is- “URGENT: Insert Enticing Headline Here” (Remember that this needs to be short enough so it doesn’t get cut off in their email browser!)
Have you never written for the publication? If you have a contact, your subject line is- “Betty Garcia said I should get in touch”
Have you never written for the publication? If you DON’T have a contact, your subject line is- “PITCH: Insert Enticing Headline Here”
If you’re pitching someone who has a PhD, use Dear Dr. Last Name. If not, go with a Dear First Name. No one expects you to be so formal as to use Mr. or Ms.
Two sentences max
Who are you? How do I know you? What connects us? Name drop, name drop, name drop!
Paragraph 2 and 3
~4 sentences. This depends on the publication. When I was an editor, I wanted pitches as short as possible, but some pubs, like Nature, want a 1k word write-up. Do your homework, and know your audience.
What’s the story? What’s the news peg? What’s the lede? Who are your sources?
How does this story fit my publication? What makes it a piece for me and not my competition? What’s your background? Why should I have you write this article instead of someone on staff? What do you have that no one else does? What can you offer me in the way of photos/multimedia? Always include a line telling the editor that you’re going to pitch this to other publications in X number of days. It’s a good story, and you can’t sit on it forever!
What to do When an Editor Doesn’t Respond
Never, ever call an editor about a pitch unless they’ve asked you to give them a ring. Phone calls are a huge time suck and knock editors off track. If you want to check up on a pitch, use email. Don’t be afraid to email repeatedly (five business days apart for features and as often as you like for a breaking news story). Direct Messaging an editor via Twitter or LinkedIn (if you’re THAT desperate) is also OK, but harassing an editor by cold calling them (yup, it’s harassment) isn’t going to get you far.
What to do After Pitching
Was your pitch rejected? Celebrate. Was your pitch accepted? Celebrate.
Pitching is a bitch. There is WAY too much work involved to let a rejection or acceptance go unrecognized.
Reward yourself for a job well done. Even if your pitch wasn’t accepted, you learned something. Maybe that something is you never want to work for that publication ever, ever, EVER. That’s still learning, and (believe it or not) it’s valuable knowledge that you can put to good use in the future.
So celebrate! Watch a funny YouTube video. Go for a short walk. Hang out with your cat. Dance on the table. You’ve done well!
More info on pitches: