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Dear I Have Notes,
I’ve written for local/regional magazines and other publications. I’m trying hard to break into national publications and really struggling. I find editors almost never reply. It’s so hard to even find contact information on whom to pitch. I’m not giving up and I know there are a million resources out there to help, but I was wondering if you had any pitching advice to share?
— A Freelancer
I’ve received several variations on this question since launching the newsletter. Of course, every publication is distinct and every editor is looking for different things, so offering general pitching advice is a bit of a challenge, but I’m happy to share my thoughts as someone who used to edit full-time while freelancing on the side. Even if not all of this information is new, I hope at least some of it proves helpful to you and to other readers who’ve sent in similar questions.
A pitch should describe the piece you want to write, lay out the case for why it matters, and make it clear that you are qualified to write it. Sometimes you can do this in a few sentences; sometimes you may need a few paragraphs—in any case, you will want to be as succinct as possible and open strong, because editors can see dozens of pitches a day. As they read yours, they will be trying to quickly determine whether your piece would be at home in their publication, whether you are supplying a new angle or perspective on an issue, and whether you have the necessary reporting and storytelling skills to deliver. Doing your research, understanding how your proposed story fits into the broader discussion, and crafting the best pitch you can will make it easier for them to get to yes. Be sure to include links to any relevant work you’ve done that will demonstrate your ability to write the story. If you’ve got a website where all your published clips are rounded up, link to it, too.
As an editor, I was always keen to get a sense of a writer’s style and voice in their pitch, no matter how brief (this was particularly helpful if they didn’t have many clips to share). I liked working with writers who were clearly curious about the world and trying to make sense of it—who were able to guide readers through a thought process in a generous and compelling way—and kept an eye out for pieces I thought might push an audience to question or reconsider their assumptions. And of course, it was always a pleasure to find myself transported by a well-told story—I appreciate when good storytelling offers a way into a topic I may know very little about, or one I wouldn’t have gone looking for on my own.