By Estelle Erasmus
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As a former magazine editor-in-chief, widely published journalist and writing coach, I’ve been on both sides of the desk when it comes to pitching an article or personal story. As an editor, some were easy to assign, because they filled in all the details and got me excited about the story, and others fell into the reject pile rather quickly.
Whether you want to write a personal essay, or a scientific, medical or business article, a good pitch letter with a great spin on a topic, a timely element, a celebrity connection, or an unusual personal experience will get you the attention of an assigning editor.
Here are my tips on how to write a pitch that will get you published (see what my students are saying about me, here).
Image: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery via Flickr
Find the Editor
A lot of people send their pitches to general email. You shouldn’t be one of them. It’s always best to find an actual editor to submit to (unless the pub instructs you to use Submittable).
Struggling to actually find an editor? Twitter is your friend, as is LinkedIn and Google. Simply type in the publication you want to look up or type in editors and the publication, and you will see the names of editors. Make sure you pick the right editor for the section you want to be in.
Do your research. Editors like to know that you read their publications (you do, don’t you?). So make sure you’ve looked up a recent article and mention it. “I loved your recent article ‘When the Child Becomes the Parent.’ I have an 800 word parenting article I’d like to write called…”
Facts Are Your Friend
It’s always a great idea to include statistics, new studies, the latest research, or something that makes your pitch stand out as timely and compelling and credible. So check out the key organizations relating to your topic.
For instance, if it’s about your struggle with adult-onset Type 2 diabetes, see if you can find recent research cited by The American Diabetes Association, or check out Google Scholar or Pub Med to get recent studies.
Often you can find an organization with a fact sheet or report online (check the public relations part of the site) that gives you the background you need for your topic.
Keep it Short for the Sale
Unless it’s on a complex topic, a good pitch should be no longer than one page. You need to capture an editor’s attention instantly, so make sure that your pitch covers the five W’s you learned in elementary school (who, what, where, when and why). If you have a lot of information to convey, use bullet points.
Write to the Reader
Gear your pitch to the magazine’s audience not its editor. One trick is to write the opening sentence of your pitch as if it could be the first paragraph of the article.
A few other ways to elicit an editor’s interest: start with a dramatic anecdote, compelling (or scary) statistics, an intriguing quote from an expert you already interviewed, or a vivid, action-packed description. Don’t be afraid to be provocative.
Titles Are Important
Include a pithy title in your pitch and in the subject line of your email. I think it helped when I pitched the Washington Post On Parenting with the title: My Child Is Out of Control. A catchy subject line will always up the chances of a quick response.
A Better Bio:
Make sure to include a brief (as in two to three sentences) bio, including your credits and other relevant credentials. Also link to up to three other articles of work relevant to your pitch. I say in mine:
Pitches that Landed
Here is the body of my pitch to Stir Journal, which resulted in the article, Going to the Dogs Eased my Child’s Cynophobia.
I love Antonia’s piece, “For My Child, Actions Teach Louder Than Words,” and it made me think of an idea: “No More Tears for Fears: How Going to the Dogs Made a Difference in My Child’s Night Terrors”(working title). I’d love to write about how last winter after a very traumatic experience where a strange dog jumped into our car, my daughter lost her fear of dogs by going dog sledding in Vermont with a very unusual dog sled team, one that is kept unchained by the owner. A big part of the experience, much like the Equine Experience (with horses) at the Miraval spa in Arizona, which I’ve had, was to groom and feed the dogs in order to bond with them before and after going out in the sled.
We really targeted this experience to help her, because it was educational, healing and fun. She no longer has a fear of dogs. I will use studies (about immersion therapy to reduce fears) and author or therapist quotes to support. Also, adrenaline-based activities release powerful and positive endorphins, which added to her healing experience, so I can also add a bit of science as well. I also have some great photos of the dogs and her.
Pitch for Quartz. They asked for it on spec, and accepted it. I didn’t include my bio because I had already worked with the pub before. This is the piece.
I have a piece that I would like to write based on the death of Debbie Reynolds, and other childhood icons titled, Identifying with The Dying of Our Icons
I have been feeling a great deal of anxiety since the recent deaths of celebrities, and it culminated in a panic attack after Debbie Reynolds, former old Hollywood star passed away yesterday, a day after Carrie Fisher died.
Her pivotal role in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” made in the decade I was born, was very much the soundtrack to my life. My husband always says that where other people see boundaries, I don’t, and that’s what Molly, at least in the movie had, too.
In the movie, she learned how to read and write. Got into society, found sophistication despite all odds. I also beat the odds.
I got married in midlife in my forties, after hearing the now debunked study that a woman had as much chance of getting married after 40, as she did being in a terrorist attack. Then, when all the naysayers said no, I had my daughter in my mid-forties after a bout of infertility.
I was once a magazine editor-in-chief several times over (of five national consumer publications), but then changed fields after 911. I was out of the spotlight but like Molly, I never gave up. After deciding to get back into the publishing world in 2014, I’ve since been published in highly credible publications (The Washington Post (in print), The New York Times, Salon, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping), became a writing coach and teach writing for Writer’s Digest. I’m also the chair for the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference in NYC this May.
Now, on the precipice of a New Year, with a fraught political, economic and cultural climate, the hands of time are ticking for everyone, whether it is the ones who identify with George Michael’s sexual identity and drug struggles, the people relating to Carrie Fisher’s struggle with mental health or like me, the ones who grew up watching Old Hollywood even years later and identifying with movies. We feel no matter what generation we are in, that we are at the end of a point in time. We feel vulnerable and that is scary.
Thanks for your consideration for this piece. I could turn it in very quickly if you want it.
Leave Them Wanting More
Always end your pitch with the sentence, “Thanks for your consideration.” Don’t say — unless you know the editor personally — “I look forward to hearing from you.” It reads as pushy.
What are you waiting for? Go pitch a hit!
And check out my tips in this article on Advice from 59 Top Journalists on Buzzfeed
Note: A version of this piece was originally commissioned by BlogHer, and appeared on the site.