It might be hard to believe, but magazine editors are human. That means they don’t like being begged, cajoled or patronised. They also don’t enjoy being bored. Sadly, many well-written articles don’t get a look in because of a poorly-worded pitch. It’s important to know how to approach an editor effectively, maximising your chance of getting published.
Pitch or complete article?
Generally it’s best to send a pitch first. Once the editor expresses an interest, send in your article. If they don’t respond to the pitch it means the idea itself is unsuitable for some reason. It doesn’t mean your article is crap – so you save yourself that agony at least!
Email or snail mail?
Assume email unless the publisher’s submission guidelines say otherwise. The guidelines might be printed in the magazine itself. In any case, you should be able to find them on the publisher’s website.
Addressing the pitch
This isn’t always obvious. If you peek inside the magazine cover, you may see a long list of confusing titles. Editor. Chief editor. Deputy editor. Assistant editor. Features editor etc, etc. Who do you send your pitch to? Check the submissions guidelines and make sure you send it to the right person, or risk it going astray.
Often the guidelines don’t provide a name, just a job title. It’s worth going the extra mile to learn the name of the actual person. The easiest way is to simply ring up and ask! And then comes the next question – do you address them by their first name or last? Dear or Hi? For first approaches, it’s probably best to play it safe and go formal. For later correspondence, follow the editor’s lead.
The all-important first paragraph
This is where the ‘editor’s don’t like being bored’ bit comes in. They read many pitches every day. You need to be able to grab their attention, just as surely as you need to grab their readers’ attention.
Don’t start off with, ‘Hi my name is blah and I’ve written an article.’ Yawn. Come up with a hook that makes the editor want to read more. It may well be the first paragraph of your actual article, or something like it. One of my workshop students sent a pitch beginning, ‘I watch porn for a living.’ As you can imagine, the editor pricked up her ears and the article was snapped up quickly!
What’s the article about?
Once you’ve got the editor’s attention, tell them a bit about your article. A bit. Keep this paragraph short and sweet. Editors are busy people. Just tell them enough so they get the idea. You’re not trying to provide a summary of the article.
You’ve sold the article concept, now you’ve got to sell yourself. If you have any writing credentials, mention them. Have you had anything published elsewhere? Do you write as part of your job? Are you a keen blogger? Have you attended any writing courses? Include anything that shows you take your craft seriously.
If you haven’t written much before, don’t despair. Everyone has to start somewhere! Think about what else you can say to help sell yourself. I used my legal qualifications to help me sell my first article Conveyancing without going crazy. Are you able to write your article because of your job? Does it relate to your hobby, your passion, a matter you feel strongly about? Does your cultural background give you an insight into the issues? Does your article feature an interview with someone the readers will be interested in?
Ask the editor if they would like to see your article. Make sure you thank them for their time and look forward to their response. Don’t be pushy or demanding … but don’t sound insecure either. Confidence and professionalism walks the thin line in between. If you’re not sure about your tone, leave the pitch for a day or so. Re-read it out loud, and check it doesn’t make you cringe! Good luck 🙂
Photo credit: Robbert van der Steeg / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
6 thoughts on “Writing for magazines: how to write that perfect pitch”
Thanks Stella for this informative email. I haven’t written to many magazines yet.
Thanks, Elizabeth, you should give it a go! Try the dept of Education mags.
Good, practical, points. Methinks that similar concepts apply to pitching long fiction. Would you agree?
Absolutely, Steven! These concepts apply across the board, with a bit of fine tuning, of course.
So nice to read you again, Stella! First, I love the illustration of the magazine and writer hugging each other. I have never submitted for the magazine non fiction market, but the rules for fiction are quite similar. More and more magazine editors, at least here in the US, ask for a query before requesting the manuscript if interested. I haven’t submitted to magazines since a while but I used to do it very often. Even rejected I found the experience valuable and helpful. Thanks, Stella for the great tips. See you soon.
Thanks, Evelyne, nice to know you’re still with me! Queries seem to be the way to go everywhere now. Makes sense!
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