Many publications have specific guidelines about how to pitch your ideas. Some want you to pitch an article, some want you to pitch a column, and some want you to submit a completed article for consideration. Others offer no guidance at all. But every pitch incorporates the same core elements.
To determine which publication to pitch, you first need to develop a pitch strategy. The pitch strategy will help you create a series of filters based on your business goals and objectives so you can narrow down the list of potential publications to pitch. Once your publication roadmap is in place, you can evaluate the shortlist of publications to determine which ones complement your writing style.
Once you’ve identified your top-choice publication, you can focus your efforts on crafting a pitch that editors will love. But you’ll need to do a little research first.
Familiarize yourself with your top-choice publication.
Does your top-choice publication have guidelines? Do they want you to pitch a specific editor? Or do they have a form they want you to complete? Do they want you to pitch an article or a column? Review their contributor guidelines, style guide, and media kit so you can understand as much about the publication (and its readers) as possible.
If the publication does have guidelines, follow them. Exactly. Failure to follow their guidelines will likely result in your pitch being rejected. Not all publications have contributor guidelines, and those that do, don’t always make them easy to find. Use the publication’s search bar and look for terms like “contributor guidelines,” “contribute,” “write for us,” or “submission guidelines.”
Subscribe to your top-choice publication and search for articles about your area of expertise. Review the headlines and notice how the articles are categorized. If most articles appear in a specific section on the website, look closely at that section. These articles are part of the conversation you want to enter, so read them carefully and look for places where you can add to the conversation.
Develop your idea for an article or column.
Your article or column must add something to the conversation about your area of expertise. What are the gaps in the conversation that you can fill? What is missing from the conversation right now? How can you give the publication’s readers a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the topic?
If you’re pitching an article, you need an attention-grabbing headline and a few key points that show the editor how your article adds to the conversation. If you’re pitching a column, you’ll need to come up with several article ideas.
Download the editorial calendar template to help you capture and develop your article ideas.
Craft your pitch.
A well-crafted pitch gets right to the point. It isn’t cute or clever; it’s clear. In a few short paragraphs, you must show the editor that you’ve done your homework, will be easy to work with, and will provide a ton of value to the publication’s readers. Unless the publication’s guidelines say otherwise, you will pitch your idea by email. Here are the seven elements every pitch should include:
1. Subject. Keep the subject line of your email simple and clear so the recipient knows what to expect. For example, “Pitch: [Article Title]” or “Pitch: Column on [Overarching Idea].” If you’re pitching a column, spend some time developing the overarching idea for your column.
2. Salutation. If pitching an individual editor, make sure you spell their name correctly! Keep the greeting formal and professional. Unless you know how they like to be addressed, it is often best to address them by their full name.
3. Hook. Grab the editor’s attention with a strong first sentence. The hook is the same kind of lede you’d use in an article. What is your article or column about? Why should the publication’s readers care?
4. Beat. What are you going to write about? If you’re pitching an article, give the editor the key details in a few sentences. Include a working title and a summary that explains how the article will unfold. If you’re pitching a column, explain how it adds to the conversation and why the publication’s readers should read it.
5. Credentials. Explain why you are qualified to write this article or column in one paragraph. What are your credentials? Have you written for other publications about this same subject? Have you been featured in other publications? Have you worked with well-known clients? Were you trained at a prestigious institution? The editor wants to know they can trust you to give their readers solid, actionable advice.
6. Clips. Links to three relevant clips (writing samples) that show you are a good writer and strategic thinker. Ideally, these links go to analogous publications, but they can also be links to your blog, Medium, or an article on LinkedIn.
7. Close. Thank the editor for their consideration, and (unless the guidelines dictate otherwise) let them know that you will follow up in 10 days.
Once you’ve crafted your pitch, you will want to refine it. Make sure it is as short as possible and easy to read. Incorporate some white space and use a bulleted list for your clips. If you have difficulty explaining your article or column in a few sentences, you may not have thought it through enough. Once you’re happy with your pitch, double-check your grammar, triple-check that you’ve spelled the editor’s name correctly, and then hit send. Make a note on your calendar to follow up with the editor if you haven’t heard back from them in 10 days, and then get on with your day knowing that you’ve done everything you could.
* * *
Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications and a strategic thought partner to consultants who wish to build their authority and increase their visibility by publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Inc., Entrepreneur, and Fast Company. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles.