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Notes on Pitching
A quick guide for freelancers interested in pitching stories to me; or anyone else!
On June 22nd, I announced that I am the new Life Editor at the world edition of The Spectator, and put out a call for pitches. This was shared around — notably in Sonia Weiser’s ‘Opportunities of the Week’ newsletter — and I received a flood of almost 100 emails.
I was excited! I’m very keen to publish freelancers — particularly those with little or no prior experience — but I was very unsettled by the quality of these pitches. Except for a few, they weren’t the kind of pitches likely to warrant a response from an editor1, let alone acceptance; and some of these pitches would get you put on a straight-to-spam blacklist at some publications.
What this said to me is that many people simply haven’t been told how to pitch well.
So, I wanted to put this little guide together.
If you follow it, your pitches are far more likely to be successful; with me, or any other editor.
Note: any pitch ideas mentioned below are my own examples, or come from a trend in pitched stories.
The point of a pitch
A pitch is not a blurb or an outline for a piece you would like to write. Nor is it a summary of a piece you have written2. A pitch is a preview of a piece, and has three key purposes to:
Express the story and ideas at the heart of the piece you want to write
Show an editor the way you would write this piece
Answer why this story should be
written by you
published by them
Important Do’s and Don’ts:
1. Read a publication before you pitch them.
If you haven’t read a publication, read some of their articles before you pitch.
If you do, you’ll get a sense for the kind and style of stories they run, and can pitch accordingly, giving you an infinitely better chance of your pitch being accepted.3 A sports story in The Athletic will differ greatly from one in Vox; so their pitches will have differed greatly too.
This is also why:
2. Don’t send generic pitches.
Copying and pasting the same pitch might work, but you have a far, far better shot if you tailor a pitch to the publication. Many editors will blanket not respond to generic pitches.
Similarly, unless you are famous, do not use a third-party/agent to pitch on your behalf. Even if you are famous, I want to hear what you want to write in your own words, not those of a PR rep.
Also; don’t use ChatGPT to write your pitch. It will be obvious, I promise you.
3. Show, don’t tell.
You shouldn't say how 'important', 'thought-provoking', 'exciting' etc. this piece would be 'for readers.'
If you write a really compelling pitch, an editor will see that.
Related to this; don’t send a long list of links to pieces you've written. A one-sentence bio, with a link to your portfolio, is more than enough.
Conveying how you write is far, far more important than listing everywhere you’ve been published. If you send an amazing pitch, I don’t care how inexperienced you are.
4. Don't be rude
Be polite. If you’re not, you will not get published.
I know editors who will block your email address if you send a rude pitch email.
Say hello, thank you, who you are, etc. and get the editor’s name right. There’s no excuse not to.
5. Insure your idea is rock-solid
Some basic rules:
Make sure your idea fits the readership. We run food pieces at The Spectator: but we aren’t a dedicated food publication, so they have to connect with a more general readership than Gastronomica.
Make sure your idea hasn’t been overdone. If it’s a very popular topic (e.g. Barbiecore), you need to have a very distinct, interesting angle. And some topics are so over-covered — like ‘quiet luxury’ — that there are no interesting angles left.
Make sure the publication hasn’t covered the topic several times already. Example: the new Indiana Jones movie is a big deal, but we’ve already ran a couple of articles on it recently, so you’re not likely to read more from us on it.
Make sure you have an angle, and the topic isn’t too broad. A pitch about “why people love watches” isn’t going to get accepted. It’s too broad. That’s not a story; that’s a theme. By contrast, this is a better idea4:
“small, inexpensive watch brands, like Studio Underd0g, are embracing a more eclectic, humorous style, as a way to stand out in an established, over-serious market, appeal to collectors who are passionate about the art of watch making, and provide something you can wear in public, which can’t be said of more expensive watches if you live in major cities. It’s an interesting niche, but one that is now influencing larger brands like Rolex and Richard Mille, who are trying to get a taste of that style.”
Make sure it your idea has layers to it. Example: a piece on the significance of Tadao Ando’s architecture isn’t just about one man and his work. It connects to the rise of minimalism as a dominant architectural style; to the state of celebrity taste; to what a house should feel like; and how we define mastery in a domain5.
6. Be brief.
Your pitch rarely needs to be longer than the format outlined below.
What’s a good format for a pitch?
The first paragraph should feel like the first paragraph of the final piece, bringing the editor into your story, and giving them a feel for how you will write it. If it’s a funny piece, make the pitch funny. If it’s a dark, serious story, then the pitch should reflect that too.
The second and third paragraph should expand out from this opening, explaining the core story/argument of the piece.
The final, shortest paragraph says who you are, why it would be a good fit for the publication, and why it should be published now
Quotes and scoops are better than takes. If you can bring original reporting to an editor, it will always stand out.
If you really believe in an story, pitch it; but if you’re only half-hearted about it, then you’re unlikely to persuade an editor either.
The standard response time for a pitch is one to two weeks.
If you don’t hear back from an editor after two weeks, you can pitch elsewhere.
If your pitches get rejected numerous times, don’t give up. It’s not personal. Editors are (necessarily) picky, so just make sure your pitches are properly tailored to the publication, and keep trying.
If you don’t hear back from editors, don’t be offended. Our inboxes are stuffed, and our time is limited, so it’s often impossible or impractical to respond to every email.6
And that’s it!
If you have any further questions about pitching, email me at email@example.com with the subject line “Question about Pitching,” and I will happily answer.
And — if you’ve read and digested this post, visited The Spectator and got a feeling for the kind and style of pieces we publish, and have a story idea you think would be great for our Life section — pitch me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I want great pitches on travel, health trends, shopping, fashion, food, architecture, interior decorating, technology, cars, watches, or anything else in this vein.
I look forward to reading them!
— Ross Anderson, Life Editor at the world edition of The Spectator
For what it’s worth: I did respond to every one of them
With a few exceptions — like Quillette — publications do not accept finished drafts.
Or; you might discover that you really dislike what they publish, and don’t want to be associated with it!
Please do not copy this and pitch it to me. Also, this isn’t a pitch. This is a summary of an idea that could become a pitch.
If you know what I’m talking about here; please pitch me. I want to run a great Ando piece.
I will keep trying though.