You have a brilliant idea for an article. You want someone else to read (and pay for) this brilliance. Here’s how to put together a perfect pitch

Pot luck pitching

Pitching is pot luck much of the time. Some editors receive hundreds of pitches and press releases and sometimes batch dump them to feel in control.

I’ve pitched, and I’ve been pitched to – and it’s not a precise science. Sometimes as an editor you grab at something just because it’s there and other times you might lose something juicy because it gets buried.

All you can do is give your pitch the best chance of making the grade.

Because pitches are the lifeblood of many media outlets. Perhaps they don’t need you more than you need them – but nor are you dealing in junk mail or spam. Your idea could be exactly the one they’re looking for.

And here are some essentials tips that I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Find the right person

Find the decision maker or a key influencer at least. If you want to be paid for your idea you need to find the person who has the power to give the green light. Do your research. Pitch and hope is a waste of everybody’s time.

2. And in the right place

Pitch to someone who might be interested. Check the marketplace. Does it fit with their readership? What are you offering they can’t do themselves or give to one of their regulars?

3. Construct your pitch

Just think of the shortest distance between your gem of an idea and the journalist’s brain. Think what might impede the transfer of that knowledge. Remove those obstacles. Get to the point and quick.

So what’s in the pitch?

Create a sexy subject line – punchy and grabbing. Here are some tips on what that means.

  • Be clear and concise – say it in 10 words.
  • Use catchy words – check out how the experts do it on Buzzfeed.
  • Put numbers in – people love “5 things” – hey, we do,
  • Offer a reward – how the reader’s life will improve if they read this article.

4. And don’t forget the pre-header text

If it appears in the email app as a snippet, that’s another valuable piece of real estate and another chance to make a claim on an editor’s attention without them needed to click on the email. Don’t fill that with dates or fluff. Always send a preview to yourself first so you get an idea what it might look like.

5. Get to the point

  • Use the editor’s name.
  • Introduce yourself in a personable manner (one sentence max).
  • Pitch in two paragraphs or 100 words.
  • Outline your unique angle or hook – remember, there’s nothing new in substance, just fresh takes and expert insights. This is where you should spend your time – honing these key paragraphs.
  • Include the key take-aways, why the story matters to their publication (the value proposition) and why it’s essential you write it (your special skill, insight or access).
  • Make it clear this is an exclusive pitch (for now) to ensure they don’t set it aside for later. You want them to feel the clock ticking so they take action.

6. Are they still interested?

If they’re still on the hook, keep the sell going but start furnishing some practical details. You want to be seen as a professional who knows what an editor needs.

  • What is the format of the piece – list, interview etc – and how many words.
  • Who it features – key contributors to your article, especially if they’re well-known.
  • Why it fits the publication and what is the practical reward for the reader – will they learn something, are there actionable tips.
  • How long they have before it’s no longer exclusive (24 hours) and how long after acceptance it can be delivered.

7. Say who you are and what you do

Provide a taster of the article you are pitching or, if that’s not possible, links to previous articles so an editor knows your style and where you might have featured before.

Include social media links – perhaps in the footer – especially if you have a strong following because this will be marketing tool for the publication too. Always provide name, phone number and email at the very least.

8. Go back and make it even tighter

Do all of the above in the most concise way possible so the email, when opened, doesn’t look forbidding. As a clue, this article would be way too long as a pitch. The whole thing should be less than a side of A4.

9. Remember all this

  • You must be able to write an article that matches the pitch, even if that means you have to do the research, line up the interviewees beforehand. On the flipside, writing an entire article without a commission is a huge gamble, especially if you’ve called on other people’s time to contribute.
  • Only when you have a solid track record can you start pitching the promise of an A-lister interview (for example) on the basis that you’re pretty sure you can land the celeb.
  • Check your grammar and spelling, of course.
  • One pitch per email, one pitch per editor per week.
  • Pick your moment. Forward plan so you’re not pitching Valentine’s Day pieces on February 12. Check the lead in times on magazines especially, as they will have long lead-ins. Websites can usually turn articles round quickly.
  • If it’s newsy, be fast. It’ll need to be delivered within 24 hours.
  • Don’t talk money yet. When a commission is accepted, ask about rates of pay. Don’t send the final article without knowing.
  • An opinion piece only matters if you have relevant and direct experience of an issue.
  • Wait, don’t hassle – but also don’t give up. A gentle nudge will remind them of the deadline (if you’ve given them one) or wait a week before sending a reminder. That said, an editor’s biggest gripe is people who ring up and ask if they’ve received your email. Their second biggest gripe is people ringing up for a definitive answer if it is going to be used. Tread carefully.
  • Send an invoice and be prepared to wait and hassle. Big companies just hang on to their money till the last possible moment and only then when their fingers are prised open.

Final thought

Learn to love rejection. Or at least don’t let it affect you. The overwhelming majority of pitches will be rejected. They are not rejecting you as a person or a writer. There are myriad reasons a pitch isn’t accepted and most are incredibly mundane and underwhelming. Nothing to see here. Move on.

Read more: How would our great writers cope in the lockdown?