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How To Pitch Your Story To Editors

Oli Rahman

NCTJ graduate Oli Rahman

What are commissioning editors after from their freelance writers? How do you get published? What do you need to know about how the whole process works? Oli Rahman shares his tips…

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to get a free pass for a Guardian Masterclass to find out how to write the perfect story pitch.

Speakers included Time Out’s features editor Caroline McGinn, The Guardian Comment Is Free editor Natalie Hanman, and Delayed Gratification’s Editor Rob Orchard.

They all gave us their insight into how to pitch to editors, starting with something that rarely gets discussed: what does an editor’s job involve?It turns out (perhaps unsurprisingly) that they’re extremely busy people.

They’re struggling to keep the advertising team happy by ensuring that their copy contains a few references to toasters or some other irrelevant product, but they’re also trying to make sure they don’t break too many hearts by ‘spiking’ stories (killing them off before they go to print). And then they have to think about the budget and deadlines on top of that.

Being an editor in short, can be a stressful job. That’s why, when sending in a pitch, you need to be sure that it is something they feel is worth taking the time to read.

Imagine your name is John Doe and you are the features editor for Country Living Magazine. An email arrives in your inbox:

“Dear Joan,

I’m a journalist and I have a great idea for a feature for County Life Magazine.

I know that County Life is an amazing magazine with lots of amazing stuff to do with the county. So I was thinking of writing a feature about amazing stuff in the county, such as riding on horses and rolling in hay scented fields!

Please let me know how much you will pay me for my awesome skills with words.

Regards

Ben Smith”

Hopefully there aren’t many out there who would write something quite as bad as this, but it serves to illustrate my point. It captures everything wrong that can go wrong with a pitch email. It states the obvious “I’m a journalist” (No, really?) and is clearly a generic email that has been copied and sent to lots of people and only hastily edited.

The idea is mentioned but not actually elaborated on. There’s no talk of pictures, and the slightly pushy question about pay is inappropriately early. The pitch doesn’t seem to be tailored to the publication in any way. To add insult to injury, the editor’s name is misspelt, as is the publication’s title. And the idea itself sounds awful.

What an editor actually wants is a person who takes away the stress of them having to use their imagination – they already have far too much on their mind as it is. They want the idea to be almost fully formed so that they can picture how it would look on a page.

Including pictures or at least giving ideas about where good images could be sourced from is always advisable. Being polite can also work wonders. If an editor suggests a change it’s probably because they know their readership a lot better than you do as a freelancer.

The template pitch below is from Timeout’s features editor. She described it as the best pitch email she received in 2012:

“Hello Caroline,

Hope you’re well. I’d like to pitch this story to you as a potential 2-page feature for Time Out magazine. You’re always great at finding a new angle or new way to see the city, so I think Time Out would be the ideal place for it.

Urbex- London’s Secret Explorers.

SELL The rise of place hacking in the capital

When it comes to secret spaces there isn’t a better place to be than London. The combination of dereliction and development in the capital means there are dozens of places people don’t want you to go.

But that hasn’t stopped ‘place hackers’, professional urban explorers who, every night, go in search of the city’s off limit areas. The movement is spearheaded by Professor Bradley L Garrett, a researcher at the University of Oxford, who used the activity as the focus of his dissertation, and subsequently became one of Urbex’s key members in the process. He’s also developed a reputation among police and building site owners as a menace, and has subsequently been arrested (on a plane on the way back from Singapore), and had his house searched by the authorities.

The feature goes in search of the activity known as ‘urbex‘ and the man who leads it- Garrett is releasing a book on his time as an urban explorer later this year.

Links to images below.

I write regularly about new happenings in London on my blog, which you can see here: xxxxxxx.com

I’d love the chance to speak to you about this idea and whether you think it might be appropriate in some way for Time Out.

Many thanks for your time,

John Smith”

There are no clear rules for the right way to pitch, but according to the editors I heard at the masterclass, the above email is pretty close to perfect.

Always remember: the more you’ve thought about your piece and why you’re the right person to write it before you pitch, the less likely it is to end up being deleted or ignored.

Have you struggled to get your story pitches picked up by editors? Or have you been successful with your ideas? Share your thoughts by commenting below or joining the debate on Twitter with @Journograds

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I expect I won’t be the only reader saving this as a template!

    Reply
  2. Thanks for the great advice & tips! Totally recommend all aspiring journos to read this.

    Reply

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