Most editors are short on time and even shorter on patience when it comes to poorly written pitches. From copy-and-paste emails with the wrong name to queries riddled with spelling errors, you’d be surprised at what editors are sent on a daily basis.
The main problem, however, is that the majority of queries are off the mark. Fortunately, you can stand out among the rest by addressing these three questions that editors really want answered in your pitch.
Truly study the publication you’re pitching to. Whether your target publication is print, digital, broadcast, or sent by a medium that hasn’t been invented yet, this part is extremely important. Most magazines, blogs, and webzines publish writers’ guidelines somewhere. Nearly every set of guidelines will tell you to study past issues and articles to see what works for their publication.
Show the editor that you’ve taken the time to figure out the type of stories that the publication goes for. Read through the latest issues and get an idea of the style, word count, point of view, and tense. Read the letter from the editor. Sending the same pitch to dozens of different editors is equivalent to telemarketing, direct mail, or spam. You need to show that your story belongs in their specific publication.
Michael Yessiss, co-founder of WorldHum.com explains, “It’s easy for me to say ‘No thank you’ to writers who obviously haven’t taken the time to become familiar with the types of stories we publish. Successful freelancers know their target publications.”
Craft your query with specific references to the publication—showing you’ve done your homework—and make the subject line relevant to your idea. After all this, you’ll at least have a shot at getting noticed. Ignore these steps and your query will be lucky to even get a form letter rejection.
A former editor at Travel + Leisure said when interviewed for my Travel Writing 2.0 blog, “As an editor, I’m looking to match a story with the most appropriate writer…and knowing your strengths and writing style will help you stand out among the crowd.” Editors need to know why you’re the right person to write the story. Many look first at a writer’s credentials, second at their idea. A terrific writer can make almost anything sound interesting, while a bad writer can take the greatest trip in the world and turn it into a dead-boring story. You need to show your areas of expertise. Why should an editor assign this story to you, and not someone they have on staff—or a freelancer they trust already?
Leslie Trew Magraw, editor of National Geographic Online says, “Sell yourself, but don’t oversell yourself. Let your work stand for itself and be direct, concise, and polite.” She emphasizes, “Let me know if you have a particularly high level of familiarity with a place or topic. In fact, pitch me stories that get at those strengths.”
Editors need to see that your story is timely and will be relevant for upcoming issues. Remember, with magazines, Christmas is in July and summer travel is in January. That’s how far ahead they’re working on stories. Stories need to coincide with the publication’s editorial calendar, covering topics that either haven’t been written about or will be dated if they aren’t written about soon. Looking ahead to events, festivals, movie releases, and historic anniversary celebrations can give your pitch something an editor can grab onto. If it’s an evergreen story, why is it more relevant now than it was two years ago?
Also, what is the publication not covering that would seem to be a natural match for your expertise? When listing traits of good writers, Gregory Hubbs, editor of TransitionsAbroad.com notes that, “They see gaps in our coverage and offer ideas in detail on how they might approach them.”
Without the “why now?” element of your pitch, it becomes easy for an editor to ignore your idea. You’ll likely get rejected or filed away into a wasteland “someday” folder in their email archives. If your topic hasn’t been written about recently, highlight that and show the editor that your query is perfect for an upcoming issue.
In the end, editors love writers who make their job easy by submitting well-crafted ideas that are easy to say yes to. Become a travel writer who does that regularly and your percentage of pitches that get a go-ahead will rise considerably.
Great advice that NEVER gets old and ALWAYS bears repeating, thanks for sharing this Tim!
I would say that easily 85% to 90% of the pitches I get for the websites I manage content for are submitted by wanna-be writers who cluelessly do NOT follow this advice, they clearly don’t even bother to read the submission guidelines.
If you’re a writer or blogger reading this and you’re wondering why your pitches get declined or even ignored, take a good hard look at how you’re pitching, and whether or not you’re answering these three vital questions. If not, most editors won’t consider you, and many won’t even respond.