Pitching Your Ideas
You have a great story you're just itching to tell. Your mouth waters with excitement at the thought of it reaching the public. You excitedly dash off a query letter to an editor, certain he'll jump at the chance to print your piece. Your heart races as you push "send" on your computer or drop the envelope into the mail. Then, you wait.
And… wait a minute… is that a rejection letter?
It's the bane of every writer's existence - the "thanks but no thanks" notice. Though authors try not to take these letters too personally, it's tough. But the bottom line is this: Was your idea dreadful or was your pitch simply all wrong?
Sometimes, the pitch is the problem. Many authors do not think like editors; therefore, in their excitement to write for a publication, they forget about the overworked person who has to sift through dozens (or hundreds) of query letters. As a result, theirs gets lost amid all the rest, and no contracted articles are forthcoming.
To really maximize your pitch, you need to think like an editor, imagining you're the one poring over endless papers and emails, trying to decide what fits best into your editorial calendar and the newspaper or magazine space available.
Pretend you, as the editor, receive the following letter from an enthusiastic author:
I am a freelance writer from the north east of England and would like to write a piece on the different dialects found in my region of the country. Throughout my life, I have noticed that people who live in relatively close proximity may speak very differently; thus, I have been intrigued by the phenomena and believe others will be, too.
My rate for this article is £120 payable upon acceptance.
If I do not hear from you in a month, I'll give you a call to find out the status of this query.
As an editor, would you be impressed?
Obviously, this writer has a very specific idea in mind and is probably gung ho about writing a piece; however, it's unlikely that an editor will share his enthusiasm due to the many gaps in his query. For instance:
- Is this person a professional author? Nowhere in the letter does he mention experience.
- How will this writer research his piece? Does he have contacts with linguistics professionals?
- Why does he feel this piece would resonate with this publication's readers?
- How long does he expect this article to be (word count)? And how soon can it be delivered?
- Is this query letter being sent to other publications? What rights is he offering?
- Why is he setting a price before negotiations even begin?
- Why is he going to call the busy editor instead of waiting for the editor to call him?
Following is a rework of the sample that addresses the concerns noted above:
As a professional freelance writer for over 20 years with a background in language studies and many contacts in the linguistic field, I would like to write a piece for your publication on the different dialects that are found in the north east of England.
By examining the various dialects, I believe I can find a common linguistic connection for all. As your readership is primarily comprised of historians, I feel such a piece would be of great interest to your audience. Correspondingly, I am offering you the exclusive first rights to the story should it meet your approval.
The article I'm proposing would be approximately 2,000-2,500 words in length and could be delivered to you within four weeks of speculative acceptance.
I have attached a copy of my resume and two recently published writing clips. Should you wish to see more examples of my work, I would be happy to provide them to you. I have also enclosed a self-addressed, stamped envelope for your return convenience.
I can be reached at 04298 992221 or email@example.com.
Thank you for your consideration.
This letter is a huge improvement over the first one which, though shorter, leaves out important details that an editor needs and wants to know. The overall tone is professional, making no mention of set rates or unexpected (and unwelcome) phone calls. Finally, the author makes it easy for the editor to contact him, as he provides the postage to guarantee that any materials are returned.
Though no pitch is guaranteed to succeed, the more pertinent information it contains, the better its chances of making it to the eyes of an editor. And that means more clips for you… not to mention more coins in your coffers!