Advice from the experts: What makes a good pitch great?
Published: 29 Jun 2018 By Sian Meades
I don’t know many freelance writers who enjoy cold pitching. We like coming up with ideas and we very much enjoy getting commissions. Sometimes we even enjoy the writing. But emailing someone we’ve never spoken to about an idea that might, for all we know, be completely terrible? That’s no one’s idea of fun.
Even when you’re an established freelancer and you get it right most of the time, a lot of pitches can still go unanswered, or get rejected. Even if the initial idea is good. So how do you turn a good pitch into a great one?
It goes without saying that you should be spelling an editor’s name and the name of the publication correctly. Of course your pitches should be interesting, lively and sound like you actual know what you’re talking about. And you’re definitely tailoring your rejected pitches to a new potential editor, right? So if you’re doing all that, what’s going to take your pitch from maybe to absolutely yes please have this filed by next Tuesday?
Sometimes I get to be on both sides of the fence, pitching one day and commissioning the next. When I’m commissioning, the pitches that make me sit up and pay attention are specific. There’s no fluff. I can picture the article before I’ve even got to the end of the pitch. A lot of emails I get aren’t so much pitches as a vague sprinkling of ideas and even if it sounds promising, I don’t want to have to do the legwork. I don’t always have time. I assume if a pitch is vague, the resulting feature will be as well. If you can’t narrow your feature idea down to a short paragraph or two, it still needs work.
Want to take your pitches from good to amazing? I spoke to some brilliant commissioning editors and asked them for their tips on how to make your pitches even better.
Natasha Lunn, Red Magazine
A good pitch is one that means something to the writer. I think you can tell – as a reader and as an editor – when a writer cares about the story they are telling. I don’t think there is a magic formula for pitching, but I would say that the more important thing is to dig deep into the things you care about and work out how to pitch stories that really mean something to you.
Lara Watson, Project Calm
The pitch has to show that the writer is familiar with the style, tone and kind of content in the magazine I'm editing. Whenever writers also offer box out ideas, it's shows me they are thinking editorially about the whole offering and will likely deliver a well-considered piece.
Lottie Gross, loveEXPLORING
There's one thing writers often forget or neglect to explain when they're pitching: why should they be the one to write this? If a writer can tell me why they should be the person to write this - because they have expertise in the destination, or they have a real passion for or extensive knowledge about the culture, for example - they'll have a much better chance of getting a commission. I need to know why I should trust you with this piece, so show me.
Helen Graves, Pit Magazine
It's important to get the right length. Unless I've worked with someone before, a one-liner seems slapdash. Equally, I don't want several paragraphs. One should do it. Don't worry too much about crafting the writing – a great idea will stand out regardless.
Frances Ambler, The Simple Things and Oh Comely
I always like knowing what images are available to accompany a pitch. Show me some low res samples that capture the mood of your pitch – I want to be able to picture them on the pages of the magazine.
Jonny Cooper, The Telegraph
Sell the story first, then yourself. It's the story that editors are interested in, so explain what it is you're offering before detailing your experience and suitability. Often pitches come in the other way around and I end up skimming to get to the meat of the email.
As someone who predominantly works online, I've got an unhealthy obsession with the headline – it's what I'm thinking about when reading pitches. If a strong and clear headline jumps out at you, suggest it in the subject line of your email. It will help to grab attention and give the pitch shape.
Miranda Thompson, YOU Magazine
Why now and why YOU magazine? That’s what I always think when reading a pitch. What are our readers going to take away from this and is there anything to peg it to in recent news? It doesn’t have to always be a recent stat but could be something that everyone’s been talking about. I also really appreciate a headline suggestion. It can help us immediately get to the heart of what the piece is about and is really useful when it comes to selling it to the editor.
Sian Meades has been freelancing for the past 10 years, she created and curates content for the daily Domestic Sluttery newsletter and creates a weekly freelance job alert. Sian can be found tweeting at @SianySianySiany. See Sians previous article here.