Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How to pitch an article idea – and get it commissioned

One of the most daunting things for young journalists starting out is how to pitch article ideas to commissioning editors. Here’s my – in-no-way-guaranteed – recipe for pitching success. 
  1. Tailor your pitch to the magazine or website you’re getting in touch with. Got a great idea that you think could work in GQ and Elle? They’ll want very different things from it, so don’t send the same treatment* over.
  2. Find out the name of the commissioning editor you want to pitch to. Start off with an introductory email, outlying briefly what you do and what you’re interested in writing about. If you’ve not written for a “proper” title yet, point them to your blog. If you’re an unpublished journalist and haven’t got a blog, then you’re obviously not serious about making it in this game. Go and work for the council instead.
  3. Get your “treatment” right. This is where you outline what what your piece will be about, who you’re going to talk to in it and where it will fit in the publication. Make it any more than 200 words and the editor’s will glaze over and it’ll end up getting binned. Use bullet points, too – people get lost in long paragraphs.
  4. Email your pitch over, and follow it up with a) a phone call and b) a second email. After that, give up – you’re just becoming a nuisance. Try somewhere else.
  5. Remember, people with commissioning jobs in the media are lazy – they’ve been on staff for too long (no-one leaves of their own free will any more), so all they’re looking for are writers who’ll deliver winning copy that keeps them in their cushy jobs. Getting invited to posh parties and receiving free gifts through the post is very hard to give up.
  6. Do the commissioning editor’s job for them. If they’ve asked for 1,500 words, write 1,500 words – you don’t get extra money for going over your wordcount, but you will increase the editor’s workload. Also, check out your chosen title’s style guide – how they write numbers, headlines etc – and follow it. The sub-editors will appreciate the fact they’re not having to completely rewrite all your stuff, and they’ll let your commissioning ed know.
  7. Develop a thick skin. Your work will be mocked, dismissed as worthless and even ripped off by the person you sent it to. Deal with it.
  8. Finally, your fee. If your idea is commissioned, the editor will more than likely give you the rate for the job. If not, ask them. 

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:30 am

    As a Dep Ed on a mag, these are really good tips.

    I'd also add:

    9. Accept that you will be paid 30 days after the article is published. It may take a little bit longer after that with bank transfers and weekends/bank holidays etc. Don't call and hassle unless it's two months or more. But if your article is dropped you should expect a kill fee. It should really be the same amount as if it had been published, but certainly no less that 50%. After all, it's not your fault that big preview of James Gandolfini's forthcoming TV series can't be used.

    10. Pitch early. There's no point pitching a Christmas feature to a monthly mag on December 4th. Leave that sort of daftness to PRs. Earlier the better. Nothing gives an editor a work-boner like having good features ready in the bag.

    11. If you're young, you probably know more about what's new and what trends haven't hit the mainstream yet. Certainly more than old hacks cocooned in the office [see point 5]. We don't want another piece about Mad Men fashion trends [it's on series 6 ffs] we want to know what new and what's about to be big.

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    1. Great comments. The thing about payments is true though if you're writing for a weekly it *may* be shorter.

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