Are online publications really that much different from glossy mailbox delivered ones?
Some aspects…yes. Others…not so much. After all they both accept articles, stories and photos.
So where do you start when you want to pitch a story idea to an editor?
Can you use the same information, the same tactics and even the same article? Perhaps. There are some commonalities but there are differences as well.
How do you know which way to focus?
Before you write, read
First, your initial step should be the same for either an online or offline publication. Read it. I don’t mean glance at the publication and then think you know all about it. Read the articles, look at the editor’s column, check out the writer’s guidelines, know how long the articles are and get a feel for what this publication is all about. Not only will you have a better idea for your article or story idea but you will be able to intelligently speak about the fit of it as it relates to the publication.
Speaking of guidelines, be sure to read them… and then follow them closely. Are photographs required? If photos are not allowed, please do not send some with your article “just because they are so special and will make my article pop”. That’s a sure sign you haven’t really read the guidelines. How many words do they require? Online publications may be asking for shorter more intense articles. If that is the case, you will need to have your title or your description tight and to the point. Grab the attention quickly…of both the editor and the reader.
Know your audience
This sounds simple but you need to ask yourself “who reads this publication?” Many times the reader for an online one is greatly different than for an offline one. You may need to pitch your idea and your article differently, possibly even rewriting it as needed.
Write your query letter accordingly. Online publications probably want a query by email. Offline ones may or may not. This information will be in the writer’s guidelines. Either way, address your query to the correct person with the correct title…spelling everything correctly.
Keep it short, but don’t forget the hook
Queries for both types of publications need to be short enough to read quickly, contain enough information to explain your idea or article and include enough of a spark to catch the editor’s attention. Too long, too flowery, not enough white space or too short are all queries that probably won’t grab the editor. Remember you only have a few seconds to get his or her attention.
What if a query letter is not required? Again, read the guidelines. And once again, follow them exactly. How about attachments? Are they allowed or does the publication want the article in the body of the email?
Editors of both online and offline publications are looking for interesting stories, well written articles, and writers who can follow their guidelines and then deliver. They need to sell their publication. If you can help them do that, you have a chance of being included. This is the time to branch out. If you have never written for one publication or the other…try it now.
Finally…be sure to have all of your contact information readily available. Do not make an editor of any type of publication have to search through a long email or letter just to find out how to contact you. Chances are…they won’t.
Do you have success with your pitches? Share your advice!
Some great advice here. I agree that reading thoroughly what the publisher requires is very important, nothing worse than spending time on writing a quality article then not getting submitted because you didn’t follow the simple requirements of the publisher.
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Great advice, thanks!
Interesting post with some great advice. It always surprises me how much more difficult it seems to write a good cover letter/email, compared to writing the actual article.
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As much as I love writing for print, I’ve found that online publications are more receptive for pitches simply because there it’s a lot easier to publish more content. It’s easy for quality to falter online, so I actually think a strong, quality pitch to an online editor is much more likely to be well-received.
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Good tips. I limit myself to pitching only one or to print magazines a month because I have found too often in the last two years that I spend time on a pitch, discuss details with the editor (sometimes even get a contract) and the magazine puts a freeze on freelancing or even folds.
I will continue to do occasional work for print, but my guaranteed income is coming from online.
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As an editor of a well paying print magazine, I was always amazed at how many submissions weren’t appropriate and made it clear the writer hadn’t bothered to look at the publication. Since we published mostly essays, we looked at things on spec – and it is much more time consuming to read an entire article than a cover letter. Anything a writer can do to make an editor’s job easy is always much appreciated. For instance many writers also ignored preferences for format (codes can get wonky in a Word doc unless saved as RTF) – On certain days I swear I think I accepted something just because a writer took special care and got that right. Great advice! :) PS -I think the whole thing of having to spend more time writing cover letters than actually writing is kind of sad :)
Excellent advice. Read read read is very good common sense information that I don’t think people follow. I want to send more articles in from my travels right now, but I haven’t had the time to research the publications that I want to send to, so I am holding off until I have the time to really read their archives. I would hate to look foolish by sending in something that doesn’t suit their content or has already been written about recently.
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It always surprises me how much more difficult it seems to write a good cover email
It always surprises me how much more difficult it seems to write a good cover letter/email, compared to writing the actual article.
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Some good advice here. I often tend to do things my way to make the article unique. Has worked good so far for me.