Your most attractive credential to a magazine editor, blogger, or agent might not have anything to do with your writing ability. As it turns out empathy, professionalism, and plain ole’ good manners might be the very thing that gets your foot in that door you’ve been banging on.
Last night at my local writer’s group meeting, published author, journalist, and editor Kara Bachman gave myself and twenty other writers some inside information on how NOT to pitch a piece to a publication. As a magazine editor who has to replace her delete button a few times a year due to a high volume of clueless queries, she should know.
So if you’re bound and determined to never get paid for your work, carefully adhere to the following guidelines when shopping your work.
1. Clearly demonstrate that you don’t know the needs of the magazine.
Instead of getting a feel for the tone, content, and audience of the magazine, most people try and force their one-in-a-million article idea upon the publication. DELETE.
Pro Tip: Do your research. Be empathetic. Seek to be generous and helpful. Show the publication that you want to help them reach their goals. Remember, they are busting their hump too.
2. Negotiate your fee in the cheesiest possible way.
The following pitch happens all too regularly: “I’ve got this really amazing piece that I want to give you. But I need a hundred dollars for it first.”
Although the price is not very negotiable at many publications, editors are willing to pay for work that will make their magazine look good. But it’s downright offensive for a cold pitch to ride into their inbox on a high horse. DELETE.
Pro Tip: If you know that the magazine pays their writers, include something along the lines of, “What is your publication currently paying for pieces such as this?”
3. Give WAY too much detail.
We writers are a wordy bunch. Inexperienced ones don’t make that adjustment when querying. Instead, they give way more information than an editor has the time or even cares to read. Some even go so far as to include tear-jerking stories of how their great-grandmother inspired them to be a writer in the fifth grade. DELETE
Pro Tip: The cold hard truth is that most of the time, the editor only reads the very first line of a query…unless it’s good, then they read the second. You’re probably getting paid if they get to the third.
Therefore, a writer MUST master the art of packing tons of relevant information into the FIRST THREE SENTENCES. Bachman emphasized this point several times throughout her thirty-minute talk. (She also mentioned it to me one-on-one after the meeting.)
4. Blatantly pitch multiple editors at once
Often writers make it far too obvious that they’re pitching many editors simultaneously. They do this by NOT using the editor’s first name in the greeting, crafting a pitch that is obviously generic, explicitly CCing multiple editors in the email address box.
Pro Tip: Always include the editors first name in the greeting. If you’re doing your homework, your pitch should include publication-specific details that ensure it doesn’t come across as generic. So do your homework.
From time to time, Bachman is jolted out of her delete-button daze by a pitch that stands apart from the rest. Many times, these queries are good enough to earn the writer some ink and a pay day.
Bachman said of these queries, “You can tell the people who are different. The ones who get it. They stand out from the rest.”
Notice how the veteran editor didn’t say the queries were different, she said the people were different. Although writing consists of spending most of our lives behind a computer screen, it still is a people business.
And writers who get that don’t get the DELETE button.
The Structure of a Good Magazine Query
Bachman concluded her talk by suggesting the following outline when pitching a publication (or blog):
- Article Description: Pitch the proposed article in three, well written, succinct sentences. This is the MOST IMPORTANT PART.
- Article Title
- Word Count
- Value Add: Give a brief statement about why your article would be a good fit for their publication
- Bio: Two sentences max.
Bonus: Unless the submission guidelines suggest otherwise, copy and paste the entire article in the body of the email so that the editor doesn’t have to click on a link and open Microsoft Word, etc. to access your piece.
Making life easy for the editor often is the difference in your piece getting selected over another comparable one.
The playing field in the writing world is not as crowded as we sometimes think. Yes, there are lots of talented writers churning out great work, but a good many of them don’t have the professionalism and good manners to match their prose.
Did I mention that writing is still a people business?
And people still like to be treated with respect.
Even that editor behind that email address you found through your Google search.
Call to Action
What has been your experience with pitching publications? Are you an editor with additional tips that writers would benefit from hearing?
I would love to hear from you in the “comments” section.
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