The Great Big Pitching Post

One of the most frequent questions we get is “how do I pitch?” Pitching sometimes feels like an opaque process, and this question is probably better termed “how do I pitch and get a piece accepted?”

Unfortunately there’s no magic formula for getting accepted, but we can help demystify this process a little to increase your chances.

Decide what you’re going to write

Writers, especially early career writers, often make the mistake of approaching editors with an overly-broad topic, rather than a specific story. Think “I want to write about public transit” or “I am really interested in cooking.”

If you’re having trouble differentiating, think about the last few stories you read and really enjoyed, and dig down on what they were about. Instead of “I read a really interesting article about horror movies,” ask yourself what made the review interesting: “This movie review foregrounded a feminist perspective in analysis of the depiction of women in horror, exploring tropes in the genre and their connection to larger social issues.” (Like this piece in Bitch on how our hatred and fear of aging interacts with the horror genre.)

Topic: Potatoes

Story: For potato farmers in Idaho, climate change is proving devastating. A surprising alternative crop might help them weather the coming storm.

Topic: Cooking

Story: A continual misogynist debate swirls around recipes with lengthy essays seen on cooking blogs, but is anyone talking about the disability implications?

Note that the “stories” here are also loglines you can use to pitch your piece.

Decide how you’re going to write it

Once you have a handle on a specific story, decide: Is it going to be a personal essay? Reported feature? Investigative piece? Opinion editorial? Think about how you will build that story out.

For example, your feature on potato farmers in Idaho: Do you have sources lined up? If not, do you know where to find them? Do you think the piece will require travel? Is there a multimedia component? Is there research available to draw upon?

Think about prior reporting, as well: What makes this piece unique? What are you bringing to the conversation that is fresh and distinctive? You want to think about this ahead of time because it should be in your pitch, and an editor may ask for more details.

Also ask yourself why it’s important now. Maybe it’s a response to something in the news, or to a cultural conversation happening in society as a whole. If it’s a timeless feature, it still needs a clear hook. Why do you want someone to read this now, instead of a year ago or six months from now?

Decide where you want to place it

Hopefully you’re already reading widely, so you have a good general idea of where a piece like this might go. The recipe story might be a good fit with Eater, or with Bitch Magazine. The Counter, Grist, High Country News, or Civil Eats might be interested in the potato feature.

Think about why you want to submit to a specific publication; not just “I’ve always wanted to appear in…” but what it is about a particular publication that makes you feel like the story belongs there. Do yourself a favor and search the archives to make sure they haven’t run something substantively similar already, and to identify work you can reference in your pitch or in conversations with the editor.

Once you’re feeling ready, figure out who to contact and how. Some editors list their emails on their social media bios or the publication’s website, some outlets have a submission email or use a submissions manager like Submittable, others may write threads soliciting stories that include their contact info. If you’re reaching out to a specific editor, take note of the spelling and styling of their name and the pronouns they use.

Writing the pitch

This is the part everyone’s always anxious to get to, but the above was all necessary to get you set up for success. Be aware that every editor is slightly different; you may have heard pitch emails need to be short, other editors love longer emails, others genuinely don’t care. Some publications have pitching guides you should definitely take advantage of. In all cases, your pitch should express your voice and lay out the story you want to tell in a clear, compelling way. It should also tell the editor who you are and provide clips so they can learn more about your writing voice.

If it’s a simultaneous submission, say so; most editors are reasonable people who don’t get mad at writers for this (and you should withdraw your piece if it is picked up elsewhere). Also include any information about potential conflicts up front (“my sister is a physician in this hospital system, but she works at a different facility and is not a neurologist”).

Also be aware that some editors are jerks. Some have very rigid expectations of what should and shouldn’t be in a pitch and how you should communicate. If an editor never responds or sends a nasty reply, that’s on them, not you, even if it stings. Think of it this way: You may have avoided an unpleasant experience.

A pitch could look something like this:

Subject: Pitch: A theoretical title for my story

Dear editor,

I hope you’re doing well. I’m a freelance writer who has appeared in publication, publication, and publication, among others, with a focus on reported features about my beat. I’m writing with a story that I think will interest you, given your coverage of related topic: Logline.

Here’s some more specific information about the story I want to tell. I visualize it as a reported feature and have already been in contact with two sources; I also have connections through a local organization. There’s also some scientific research and data to draw upon, and I plan to contact state and local officials to explore policy implications.

You can see my clips at my website; my piece “Name,” which ran in publication, may be of particular interest.

I hope we get a chance to work together on this; if not, hopefully we can collaborate on something in the future.



What might that look like with one of our stories?

Subject: Pitch: We’re leaving disability out of the recipe blogging wars

Dear Eater Editors,

I hope you’re doing well. I’m a freelance writer who has appeared in Saveur, Bitch Magazine, and New York Magazine, among others, with a focus on reported features about the intersection of food and disability. I’m writing with a story that I think will interest you, given your coverage of the eternal “just get to the recipe” controversy and your interest in physical accessibility at restaurants: A continual misogynist debate swirls around recipes with lengthy essays seen on cooking blogs, but is anyone talking about the disability implications?

As George Stern’s blockbuster piece on inaccessibility at cooking websites illustrates, there’s a thirst for information about accessibility in the online culinary sphere, but surprisingly little of it. While numerous conversations pro and con have revolved around lengthy essays and headnotes, few have explicitly connected this issue to accessibility: Do these photo-rich essays make it harder for disabled people to use recipe sites? Does a lengthy block of text pose a barrier? These and others are questions people aren’t asking — and they should be, because they are an issue for some disabled readers, but they don’t have to be.

I visualize this as a reported feature and have already been in contact with two experts on web accessibility as well as two recipe bloggers. I’ll also draw upon research about content accessibility, looking not just at blind and low-vision friendly features but cognitive accessibility and other elements of access. I anticipate being able to talk to Researcher (University) and Researcher (Disabled-Led Organization) about their work around online accessibility, issues with cooking websites, and how we can fix them. Since this is a topic of conversation in disability spaces, I anticipate being able to speak directly with disabled people who experience this as an access barrier, along with disabled cooks and recipe developers.

You can see my clips at my website; my piece “The Question Isn’t Whether the Domino’s Website Is Accessible: It’s Whether Anyone Else’s Is,” which ran in The Verge, may be of particular interest.

I hope we get a chance to work together on this; if not, hopefully we can collaborate on something in the future.


Me, A Fictional Person Who Wrote This Pitch

Now what?

Now you wait. Sorry!

Some editors are very good about getting back to you fast. Others are not, or may process pitches in batches or need to discuss them at editorial meetings before responding. That means if you pitch on, say, Tuesday an hour after the weekly editorial meeting at a small outlet, you won’t hear back until next Tuesday.

If it’s timely, checking in after a week is okay. If it’s more timeless, two weeks. If it’s EXTREMELY timely, say so in your initial pitch (“a rally is scheduled for Thursday, so I envision getting this into copyedits by Wednesday so we can take advantage of public interest”) and in your subject line.

Responses are likely to fall into four categories:

I love this, let’s go for it. Great! You can start negotiating specifics, like rate (yes, you can ask for more), kill fee, deadline, and other matters (publications like Pipe Wrench publicize this information so you can read ahead of time). You want to be under contract before you start, if possible, for your protection.

I’m interested, but have some questions. Maybe an editor wants a few more details about the story, wants to confirm that you have sourcing, or would like to offer feedback. Don’t feel like you have to rattle back a response immediately. Take your time to answer thoughtfully.

Pass. It happens! Some editors may provide feedback (“we just commissioned something similar” “it felt like there wasn’t really a story here”), others may not. If you disagree, definitely complain to a friend, but don’t fight with the editor or subtweet about it. If you want more info about a pass, one polite email is totally reasonable (“thanks for letting me know; can you let me know a little more about what you’re looking for so I can tailor pitches more appropriately in the future?”).

Nothing. This also happens, and aside from nudging there’s not a lot you can do about it other than taking note for future reference, and knowing it’s not something to take personally.


Welcome to the Disabled Writers Blog

One of the foundational principles of Disabled Writers is connecting writers and editors with resources. That includes our database, but also mentoring and sponsorship (coming soon!) and our blog, in which experienced writers and editors talk about the challenges they’ve faced, dole out advice to help early-career writers and editors avoid their mistakes, and talk frankly about the media industry.

We’re pleased to host a variety of people on the blog from all walks of life and all stages of their media careers, and we hope that you find someone whose words resonate with yours or who offers useful insight into a frustrating process, whether it’s pitching or chasing down invoices. (Speaking of pitching, if you have a submission for the blog, email — we pay $250 for 1000-1200 words.)

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