How to Pitch Editors Your Story Ideas

Land writing assignments with these important steps

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If you're pursuing a career in writing, you'll need to master the art of a good pitch. A pitch is a writer's description of a potential story and explanation of why it should matter to an editor. A pitch can be delivered verbally—if you're on staff pitching to your editor—or sent via email.

A pitch essentially makes the case for doing a certain story at a certain point in time, and most importantly, for why you're the best person to write it.

Writing a Successful Pitch Letter or Email

A good pitch letter should quickly and succinctly do a few things:

  • Introduce the author
  • Summarize the story the author wants to write
  • Explain why that story matters and why you should write it

You first have to be able to sell an article or an idea before writing and being paid for it. Even if you have never worked with a particular editor before, your pitch should be able to make a lasting impression, so that you stand out from the crowd and have a better chance of landing the assignment.

Approaching Editors With a Story Idea

Since editors often work with large numbers of writers, publicists, advertisers, and readers, unless you already work for the editor or the editor knows you personally, it can be difficult to pitch a story to them. It's not impossible, but editors get an enormous amount of email, so you have limited opportunity to get their attention. If someone you know can make an introduction to the editor you want to pitch, don't be shy about asking.

If you don't hear back from the editor you've pitched within a week, do follow up. If you still don't hear back, chances are good they're not interested (or don't have time to work with you). You should feel free to pitch that idea elsewhere if you don't get a response from your first attempt. 

Do Your Research Before You Pitch

Some publications have specific guidelines about how to pitch them and when, so take a careful look at their website before you fire off that email. It's also good to know whether a publication accepts unsolicited pitches (many don't). 

One excellent resource that contains this information is "Writer's Market," a guide published annually by Writer's Digest. It contains information about hundreds of newspapers, magazines, and other publications, including how much they pay, how they prefer to receive queries (another word for pitches), and contact information.

It's also a good idea to be familiar with a given publication's editorial calendar, usually available on their website (sometimes under the advertising section). Do they have a wedding section every May? Don't wait until April 15 to pitch that idea about wedding cakes. And do your research: Make sure your great idea hasn't already been covered by the publication you're pitching. 

Pitch Your Idea to the Right Person

There are few things more annoying to an editor than being pitched a story idea that is outside their scope. Don't pitch the sports editor your breaking business story. Check the publication's masthead (a list of the editors and their titles) to make sure you're approaching the right person.

And make doubly sure you spell the editor's name correctly. Nothing gets a pitch binned faster than misspelling the receiving editor's name. 

Pitch With a Formula in Mind

A well-written pitch should be clear, concise, and grammatically correct. Here's what you want to include:

First, introduce the story idea and define the angle. Explain what you want to write about and explain your point of view and argument.

Explain why your idea is timely, important, different, or otherwise of interest to the particular audience and readers of the publication you are approaching. Be clear about why you're the person to write the piece. Expertise in a given area or an interest in a topic are fine reasons. A personal relationship that may signal a conflict of interest is not.

Give a realistic estimate of the deadline for your piece. Include your contact information—both phone number and email address. Some writers attach writing samples to demonstrate experience, but many editors won't click on attachments from people they don't know. It's better to include a link to your personal blog or website that will have examples of your work. 

Don't Give Up

Lastly, be prepared to deal with some rejection or outright radio silence. It takes time to master writing a good pitch, and it often takes many pitches to start catching editors' attention. Be patient and persistent. Eventually, you'll break through.