Elegant, practical, lively, funny (and lots of other words) advice from ACTUAL EDITORS about pitching.

Aren’t people great? Yes, yes they are. Isn’t the world great? Yes, yes it is. Sometimes. On Sunday I solicited advice from around 20 editors, features editors and commissioning editors about what makes a good pitch. The replies are trickling in and I thought it might be an idea to put a few of them up. I hope you find them useful. Frankly, I’m amazed and heartened that people have replied (on a Monday morning, no less) in such detail. Thanks again to all those who have contributed.

(But one question: Why the hell didn’t I do this before? Why didn’t one of you tell me? I’ve spent two years clowning around and fucking up without really giving the slightest attention to what actually makes a good pitch. Now, I’m beginning to get it. For those who have only a passing interest in journalism or pitching, just substitute ‘pitch’ for ‘life’ and ‘pitching’ for ‘living’ and I’m sure the advice will still prove fruitful.)

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To: Various editors/features editors/commissioning editors

From: Pitching the World

Subject: Can you spare about two minutes to help my doomed project please?

Date: 02/10/2011

Dear Ed,
What makes a decent pitch? (Sorry about all the blather below. The only bit you really need to read is in bold.)
As you may well know, just over two years ago I started Pitching the World, a project that so far has seen me attempt to pitch all 642 magazines listed in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and fail spectacularly. Well, perhaps not spectacularly. Miserably. And perhaps not even miserably, just half-heartedly and badly. All I’ve really done is harp on about how much I drink (lots), smoke (more than lots), pine (not lots), succumb to nervous breakdowns (lots) and have sex in bins (I’d rather not go into this, if you don’t mind).
Anyway, my point. My point is that I had a breakthrough in my thinking earlier on on this sunny evening. I perhaps should have considered this two years ago before starting this project that has torn my life to bits, but it occurred to me that I’ve been pitching a lot of publications without really considering what makes a good pitch. So I’m coming to you, fine editors or features editors or people who play some role in commissioning to ask what makes a good pitch. With that in mind: What makes a good pitch? In fact, what makes an excellent pitch? Any examples that shine out? Any answers most welcome, whether a word, a sentence, or a five thousand word rant. 
Apologies for the mass mailout. This email is going to you, and nineteen other editors or similar who I’ve either written for in the past or have had some sort of correspondence with that suggests I could end up writing for them. I’ve been promising my readers – a spirited bunch of journalists, students, drug dealers, single mothers, architects, analysts, doctors, the chronically unemployed and so on – useful advice for some time now and have failed to deliver. And whilst we’ve all had a ball over the last couple of years at my gormless harrumphing and general misfortune, it’s time to move on. I’m 36 and need to grow up. And I’m not getting any younger. Imagine that: both refusing to grow up AND not getting any younger. It’s unbearable, at times.
In short, I’m in a tight spot and could do with a hand. Your lovely advice may help to get me out of that tight spot.
Yours sincerely,
Pitching the World
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A really boring picture of magazines, earlier.

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To: Pitching the World

From: Ronnie Whelan*

Subject: Can you spare about two minutes to help my doomed project please?

Date: 03/10/2011

Dear Pitching the World,

I hope this finds you well, and may be of some help/interest to you.

– Get my fucking name right. And the title of the magazine, too. During my time at one particular men’s magazine, the amount of pitches I’d get that started “Dear Loaded” was incredible.
– Personality is key to pitches and should, in my opinion, try to match what you’re pitching. I don’t want to read a dry, dour pitch for what you’re professing to be the funniest thing I’ll ever read, and likewise I don’t want to read a slapstick pitch for an article on Third World starvation, or something.
– That said, your pitch doesn’t need to be a beautifully structured piece of prose that you’re hopeful of claiming a Pulitzer for. In all honesty – and this might sound harsh – I actually don’t care that much about what you’re telling me. I’ve nine hours in my day and a to-do list that extends to about 40 things before I’ve even sat down. Your pitch is meant to be helping me out – taking away some of my workload and stress. If your pitch of 1,110 works, complete with illustrations, makes my workload bigger and stresses me out more, I’m not going to read it. It could be the best idea in the world, but I’m not going to read it.
– On the subject of making my life easier, give me everything I need on a plate. When I’ve read your pitch, I’m going to have to go to my editor and pitch it again to him. In doing so, I don’t want to have to rethink your half-baked idea and work hard to convince my editor that it’s good for the magazine. I literally want to repeat what you’ve told me, so make it good, sharp and tailored to the title. I don’t want to have to work, here. I’m really, really lazy.
– Don’t chase me up incessantly. When I was commissioning, I used to read my folder of pitches maybe once or twice a month. Give me time to go through stuff in the way that I choose to. Remember: you’re meant to be helping me, not the other way around. And use a bit of nous here: if I’m on a monthly title, chances are I might take some time to get back to you, because I’m in no rush to do so. So don’t chase me 30 minutes after you’ve sent your pitch through.
– Basically, above all, remember how this relationship is meant to work: you’re essentially asking me for work. And money. You’re one of hundreds of people doing so, and chances are your pitch isn’t the only one of its kind I’ve read today, let alone this week. So don’t be a cunt about it. You, Pitching the World, were one of my favourite writers and go-to people not because I thought of you as the single greatest thing to ever happen to journalism. You were one of my favourite writers and go-to people essentially because I liked you and I knew that you weren’t going to make my life a total nightmare. And you weren’t shy about offering to buy me a pint while you pitched work. That’ll always go a long way.

Ronnie Whelan*

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Splendid advice, isn’t it? Yes, yes it is. The best/worst bit was when I chose to delete the ‘not’ from the following sentence. In my mind at least:

You, Pitching the World, were one of my favourite writers and go-to people not because I thought of you as the single greatest thing to ever happen to journalism.

The second best/worst bit was when I wrote back to him to say thank you very much and began the email, “Dear Loaded.” That was fucking hilarious, that.

Anyway, onward.

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A really boring picture of newspapers, earlier. 
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To: Pitching the World

From: Joel Snape. Features Editor, Men’s Fitness

Subject: Can you spare about two minutes to help my doomed project please?

Date: 03/10/2011

Hi Pitching the World,

The Muay Thai piece is a non-starter, I’m afraid – we did basically exactly that about four months ago. Should be a goer somewhere else though, as you might have found by now.

What I can do, though, is talk about this. Probably like most people you’ve written to, I could write an essay about this, but instead I’m going to give one bit of advice to budding freelancers:

Show That You Have Read The Magazine

Seriously. Even if you’ve only picked it up once, in WHSmiths, to find out the name of the features editor. Which you are doing, right? Because if you’re sending an email to Sir/Madam it will almost certainly get deleted. It will also get deleted if you suggest a feature that simply won’t fit in the features section, or worse, a series of features to go in some unspecified, previously unheard of section of the magazine – we’re not changing our remit for you, however brilliant you are. Instead, look at the magazine, and see where the thing you’re pitching fits into that – which section it would go in, how you would approach it (self-experimentation-based investigation? Story with loads of quotes?). Spend about 100 words telling me how you’d do that, along with why whatever you’re suggesting is an interesting story in the first place and why it is interesting to OUR READERS SPECIFICALLY.

Pick up bonus points for suggesting boxouts, experts that you’d interview, or including links to the subject matter that might help me make up my mind. If you do all that, you’ve exponentially raised your chances of being commissioned – and even if you don’t get it right first time, I’ll certainly keep you in mind for future stuff. If you send me a pitch that looks like you’ve just cut-and-pasted my name into the opening line of a mass mailout, I’ll probably ignore you in the future.

Cheers,

Joel
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More excellent, welcome advice there from Joel Snape. So welcome, in fact, that I barely noticed him not commissioning my Muay Thai piece.

You want more? You’ve got more…

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[Except you haven’t. Not for the time being at least. I began writing this post at midday yesterday, shortly after the above replies came in and expected to be flooded with other replies throughout the day. Except I wasn’t. Editors are busy people though and I imagine more advice will come in this week. If it does come in, I’ll put it up on here. Let’s see, shall we?]

*All contributors who wish to remain anonymous will be named after players in Liverpool’s 1987-88 title winning side.

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20 responses to “Elegant, practical, lively, funny (and lots of other words) advice from ACTUAL EDITORS about pitching.

  1. Yes. That was very interesting and potentially very useful. Although also strangely depressing. Thank you.

  2. Fucking superb commentary.

    I’m the son of a stationary tycoon and I’m seriously considering hiring you as my scribe. How does £68,000 a year sound? Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to wank me off.

    Anyway, thoroughly enjoyable read. Can the next anonymous contributor be called Nigel Spackman? I liked him. He was shit.

  3. I hear you – I think – Karl. I suggest popping by from time to time for more advice from Eds. Don’t worry, if I don’t get any further replies I’ll just make stuff up. Thanks.
    Do you mean he was THE shit, General Mao? Did you know Nigel Spackman began his career at my team, AFC Bournemouth? Was it superb commentary? Was it helpful? I’d like to think so. Am I asking you lots of questions? I’d like to think so. £68,000’s not enough, I’m afraid, but thanks for thinking of me.

  4. Barry Venison is also an excellent name. I suggest this for inclusion.

  5. I’m looking forward to assigning John Wark to someone. Perhaps a woman. Clearly this is contingent upon other editors getting back to me.

  6. Right, other editors, if you don’t reply to me soon, you’re going to receive one of my sarcastic “Thanks very much…” emails. So, you know, be careful.

  7. Ah. A stationary tycoon. Thank God – I HATE it when they move around.
    Watch out – here’s comes the totally-inappropriate-hashtag-because-this-isn’t-twitter: #forchristsakelearntospell!

    Thanks for the post, Pitching. Very interesting. (I can call you that, can’t I?) 😉

  8. Yeah, that’s right Alison Runham: you tell him. I’m glad you found the above interesting. Thank you. Do you mean can you call me “Very interesting” or “Pitching”? Either’s fine. Can I call you A-Pipe?

  9. A-Pipe? Sounds a little like an anus, as in “I’m gonna do you up the A-Pipe” (probably didn’t need to add that.).

  10. Not sure I’d want to work for an editor who said “amount of pitches”, but that’s just me. Looking forward to seeing what the others say.

  11. I’m looking forward to what the others say too Polly. Do you know what I think they’ll say? Nothing, that’s what. Still, there’s hope.
    L: Did you really write: “I’m gonna do you up the A-Pipe”?

  12. I think so…

  13. Little things mean a lot Pitchboy and the mention of AFC Bournemouth (known as ‘Boscombe’ when I were a lad, had the longest name in the league and beat Man Utd once) on your world renowned, award winning (allegedly) blog thing has rounded off a miserable week on a high note.

    PS. I hope it’s acceptable for oldblokes to wander off the subject

  14. I love old blokes wandering off the subject. You still hear the big eared old blokes on the terraces calling AFC Bournemouth ‘Boscombe.’ I like that. Except they’re not terraces anymore, more rubbish plastic seating. I don’t like that. Glad to have helped end your week on a high. To stay on a high, I suggest you don’t read my latest post about God chaining my best friend to a bear.

  15. I accidentally tweeted this post to the account I run for a surgical journal. Perhaps someone will click through and provide some practical advice about the A-pipe.

  16. Perhaps they will Chloe. You never know. I’m not sure I know anything anymore. Imagine that. Actually, I do know that I wouldn’t mind running an account for a surgical journal.

  17. It’s only a Twitter account. But feel free to chip in some ideas, I have no idea what to say: http://www.twitter.com/ANZJSurg My favourite article title in the current issue is “Complex anal fistulas: plug or flap?”.

    The tweet that I sent to the correct account is getting the fuck retweeted out of it, by the way. (Translation: lots of people are now tweeting about this blog post of yours.)

  18. The fuck retweeted out of it? How splendid, thanks Chloe. I’ve joined Twitter now but I’m not terribly sure about it. @pitchingsucks, if anyone’s interested.
    As for complex anal fistulas, I’d go for plug.

  19. Re: “amount of pitches”
    Considering I wrote that on a bus, with one hand (my left, by far my weakest), I’m just pleased that I managed to get a reply to Pitchy at all.

    In retrospect, perhaps I should have underlined the phrase “don’t be a cunt about it”.

  20. I’m pleased too Ronnie Whelan, very pleased, and grateful, and especially pleased that you did it on your bus journey. What a clunky sentence. Oh well. I miss being on the bus in London. I never thought I’d think/write that.

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