Last week I ran into a woman who, earlier this year during my very short stint as the editor of the Edible Alaska website, successfully pitched me an article. I shared with this woman, an objectively superior writer and MFA graduate, that her published article was one of my favorite pieces to read and I wondered why she didn’t do more paid freelance work. She replied, “I just don’t know how to sell myself like that.”
There is some cognitive dissonance necessary with crafting a pitch. The writer must convince herself that she is the authority, the expert, the best possible person to write the proposed story. One might need to be a bit of a social worker of the self – a cognitive behavior therapist – to achieve the notion that you, the freelancer, are the foremost expert on “best hairstyles for cats” or “how to pack for the backcountry entirely with Costco items.” As silly as it seems, you must convince yourself that one does have a PhD in cat hairstyles or Costco shopping in order to “sell” your story to an editor.
The feminist in me truly believes that everyone has valuable and numerous story ideas, but a good pitch is very different than a good story. The pitch succinctly summarizes what you will share with the reader, why the story is not only appropriate, but a must-have, for the given publication, and again, why you are the very best person to tell the story. And when you get better at these key factors, you can add to the list: why you should get paid more than the editor initially offers to write the proposed article.
Like a group of children who construct different looking structures out of the very same pack of Legos, a savvy pitcher can finesse the same story idea for completely unrelated publications. For example, a few years ago I was making the rounds pitching a story about my experience as a reader for the Advance Placement (AP) exam in the subject of psychology. I pitched this story to New York magazine as a series of confessions by AP readers. Good magazine received a pitch that was an exposé style reveal of how schools that send teachers to the AP reading are privy to insider knowledge that benefit their students. I sent McSweeney’s Quarterly a pitch that was a comical account of eating in the cafeteria with the other AP readers. Same general story – three different pitches – none sent simultaneously in order to abide by pitching etiquette.
There can be something a little disheartening about the pitching process. For some, manipulating a story to meet the needs of a publication can feel really soulless. For others, like myself, I just want to get my (or “the”) idea out to the public and I’ll do what it takes to get it there and to get paid. And then there is the waiting game… those moment (or weeks or months) between sending out your pitch to the editor and waiting for your inbox to ping back with a response. It’s like waiting for a college acceptance letter weekly as an adult. But when (and if) a positive response does arrive it’s shear elation. I’ll never forget hearing back from the New York magazine editor. I had to do everything in my power not to instantly respond to his, “We think that idea is hilarious!” email and instead, as one would do after receiving an email from an ex-lover, to wait an hour before writing back to accept his story terms. Note, I’ll save you the time in googling the article: it never got published. Sometimes a good pitch comes at the wrong time in an editorial calendar. But a savvier pitcher than I was in my early career knows these calendars ahead of time and can suggest stories to meet the editor’s needs.
A solid pitcher is a true craftsman with a healthy self-esteem and a working knowledge of the business. A good pitch may get you in the door, but good writing gets you invited back.
Bree’s three hour 49 Writers class, Pitch Perfect: Fundamentals of the Freelance Pitch, is Saturday, October 1st, 2-5 pm in Anchorage at the Alaska Humanities Forum. $45 members / $55 nonmembers. Learn more and register here.
Bree Kessler is a #SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) of @tiny.park.ranger, laid-off editor, adjunct professor of community engagement, and a trained, but not practicing, social worker. Her newly revised travel guidebook Moon: Big Island of Hawaii hit bookshelves earlier this month. Learn more about her writing at www.breekessler.com.