Pitching takes guts. Even after 20+ years of brainstorming article ideas and sharing them with publishers, I still get butterflies in my stomach. They flutter about as I wonder if my pitch will align with the client’s brand voice without overlapping discussions previously published.
Pitching really is a jigsaw puzzle. So, let’s chat about it.
A week or so ago on Twitter, one of my writer friends and blog readers (Hey, Steve! ) asked if it’s possible to overthink pitching.
Oh, yes! I do all the time. He went on to ask:
Here’s another: can you overthink pitching? There’s so much written about the competitiveness of pitching and how your pitch has to be perfect. Does that discourage writers from getting pitches out there? If an editor digs your idea, does format matter over substance?
— Steven Auger (@Corner_Cube) January 30, 2019
Well, since I’m on the writer’s side of pitching, I can only answer based on my experience with what happens after an editor accepts or declines my pitch.
In brief, I think the overall tone and format of a pitch matters immensely.
Think of it this way: Creating a pitch is your first unofficial assignment for this client. They’re looking at that body of text initially to see if you read and followed their pitching guidelines, have a writing tone that fits their brand voice, sent over the information they’re seeking (nothing more, nothing less) and if you met the pitch deadline.
After you’ve passed that unofficial first pass, they’re paying attention to the story angle and content you’re actually proposing as an article idea.
How do I know this? I’ve had pitches declined because my idea was geared at the wrong audience or campaign. Oops. (I’m human.) Some clients speak to several populations, or have multiple content hubs, so pay close attention to where your potential future article is going to publish.
So, yes, the format is important. But, so is substance.
I’ve found that my most successful pitches share a few common elements. If you’re pitching a publication that doesn’t share pitching guidelines, include this information to show that you have a well-developed idea brewing at your keyboard:
- A snappy sentence or two that sums up the topic and angle you’re writing about. Think of this as a section that could potentially be used in the opening of the article.
- A sentence about why this idea is a good fit for the client’s audience. Does it feed into one of the client’s core values?
- A list of subheadings and/or points you’ll make in the body of the text. Keep them brief in the pitch, but these will be the fleshed-out substantial arguments, facts and supporting information that fills the majority of your article.
- A list of potential sources or who you will interview as part of your research. Sharing names, affiliations, links and credentials to show their authority or relevance is good!
- Which campaign/vertical/section/audience the pitch is for. This is critical for clients who produce a variety of content across multiple channels.
- When you can start working on the project and how long you’ll need. Check for any set deadlines in the pitch guidelines, then go from there. Be realistic about your time frame and what type of deadline you can meet. If you have to do research or conduct original reporting, the people you reach out to may not be available right away. Build in some lag time for scheduling and conducting interviews.
I discuss pitching often at WebWritingAdvice.com and around the web. Here are a few posts that might be helpful as you work to put your pitching paralysis on the back burner and share your ideas with the world.
Pitching ideas to a publisher challenges your creativity and confidence like no other. It forces you to be vulnerable. It is hard. Prepare for feedback that could improve and finesse — or squash and dismiss — the topics you’re interested in exploring further.
Pitching may also set a foundation for ongoing work in a niche you love. It’s worth the potential rejections to pitch publications and brands that you’d love to work with.
You have a 50/50 shot at getting a yes, so why not try?
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