On Monday I opened my email to see a note from my editor: “Got an assignment for you if you want it – potential for a byline!”
I didn’t even bother to open the rest of my unread messages. I just grabbed my notebook and my pen and walked as calmly as I could to my editor’s office. We chatted about our weekends, and then I asked, “So you said you had an assignment?”
My editor explained that he had an idea for a new front of the book feature, but before they could go ahead with it they needed a list of six to eight ideas. If my ideas were approved, I could even write some of the features!
So I ran back to my desk and started searching for feature ideas. I had a few other tasks to complete, but I blew through those as fast as I could to have time to get back to my feature pitches.
A few days later, I sent a list of pitches to my editor that I was very happy with. But of my eight pitches, my editor liked two of them.
When I got my editor’s email back telling me to keep working, it felt sort of like a punch in the gut. This was a chance for me to demonstrate my creativity and news judgment, and to get a byline, and I was disappointed that I didn’t blow my editor away.
So I kept researching, despite the blow to my ego, and a day later I sent my boss a new list of ideas. After a few more emails, I had a full set of eight approved pitches that are now waiting to be written. It was a lot more work than I expected, especially considering these are 200-word front of the book features, but I learned a lot about pitching for a magazine along the way. Here are some tips:
1. If your magazine has a really long lead time, you can’t pitch stories based on front page news. At my first internship at a newspaper, the way I had been told to find story ideas was to read The New York Times and other papers and to see if I could find a new angle to one of the stories. I tried this for my mag pitches – took popular news stories and found an angle appropriate to our readership – but my editor pointed out that when the story runs in eight months, it’s going to seem strange.
2. That said, a pitch still needs a news hook. My editor’s favorite pitches were the ones that were based on developing stories that might still be in the news six months from now. This is hard to do, because it sort of requires trying to look into the future. But it does make for some interesting stories.
3. Do your research. The more you know about the topic you’re pitching a story about, the better job you’ll be able to do of selling your pitch and convincing someone else the topic is interesting. I reported some of the pitches – made phone calls and did research – and it really helped, even though it took more time.
4. Sell it. Come up with a creative lede. Give your editor enough information about the topic to intrigue her, and then ask questions that you want to know and that your editor, having been given a little bit of information, will be dying to know, too.
Obviously I’m not an expert, but these are a few things I picked up during my first attempt at pitching. What are your secrets to pitching stories, Edsters?
Until next time,