This post is part of a series contributed by MJ Bear Fellows, journalists under 30 who are driving innovation in digital news. The deadline to apply for the 2018 MJ Bear Fellowship has been extended to July 9.
As a former editor and a freelancer, I know how pitches work from both sides of the table. I cover health, science and the environment, but these tips are great for any beat reporter looking to pitch popular publications. Here’s what I tell my students when I teach freelancing classes.
Do your homework
Before pitching, make sure you’re talking to the right person. There’s nothing worse than getting pitches about promoting dog food when my bio clearly states I’m into science, health and the environment.
Google the story to make sure it hasn’t been covered extensively—or by the publication you’re pitching. Oftentimes, a pub won’t want to cover the topic if their competitor has already touched on it. You’ll need to make sure your angle is sufficiently different and interesting enough to warrant another article.
What to write in a pitch
Of course, there are plenty of different ways to write pitches, but this is a good way for you to get started. I’m going to break it down for you.
Is this a breaking news story? Your subject line should be “URGENT: [Insert Enticing Headline Here].” Remember that this line needs to be short enough so it doesn’t get cut off in their email browser!
Have you never written for the publication? If you have a contact, your subject line should be “Betty Garcia said I should get in touch.” If you don’t have a contact, your subject line should be “PITCH: Insert Enticing Headline Here.”
If you’re pitching someone who has a PhD, use Dear Dr. [Last Name]. If not, go with a [Dear First Name]. No one expects you to be so formal as to use Mr. or Ms.
This opening should be two sentences, max. Be sure to address these questions: Who are you? How does the editor know you? What connects you? Name drop, name drop, name drop!
Paragraphs two and three
This section should be about four sentences, though this depends on the publication. When I was an editor, I wanted pitches to be as short as possible — but some pubs want a 1,000 word write-up.
Remember: Do your homework, and know your audience. What’s the story? What’s the news peg? What’s the lede? Who are your sources?
This last paragraph should be about three sentences. How does this story fit the publication? What makes it a piece for this outlet and not the competition? What’s your background? Why should the editor have you write this article instead of someone on staff? What do you have that no one else does? What can you offer the editor in the way of photos or multimedia?
Always include a line telling the editor that you’re going to take this pitch elsewhere in X number of days. It’s a good story, and you can’t sit on it forever!
What to do when an editor doesn’t respond
Never, ever call an editor about a pitch unless they’ve asked you to give them a ring. Phone calls are a huge time suck and knock editors off track. If you want to check up on a pitch, use email. Don’t be afraid to email repeatedly — five business days apart for features and as often as you like for a breaking news story. Direct messaging an editor via Twitter or LinkedIn is also OK, but annoying an editor by cold calling them isn’t going to get you far.
What to do after pitching
Was your pitch rejected? Celebrate. Was your pitch accepted? Celebrate.
Pitching is tough. There is way too much work involved to let a rejection or acceptance go unrecognized. Reward yourself for a job well done. Even if your pitch wasn’t accepted, you learned something. Maybe that something is you never want to work for that publication ever, ever, ever again. That’s still learning, and — believe it or not — it’s valuable knowledge that you can put to good use in the future.
So celebrate! Watch a funny YouTube video. Go for a short walk. Hang out with your cat. Dance on the table. You’ve done well!
This post by Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato was originally published on lospatiperros.com.