The biggest mistakes people make when they pitch an article

No one is born awesome at pitching. We don’t slide forth from the womb, covered in that weird gakky white stuff, and immediately know how to grab the attention of an editor with a single subject line.

I’m a sex blogger, freelance writer, and person-who-has-sent-a-lot-of-pitches. I also sometimes edit and commission guest blogs for my own site as well as other people’s. This doesn’t make me the Queen of Pitching, but it does mean I can spot the most common mistakes – usually because I’ve made them myself.

What makes a good pitch?

A good pitch includes three key things:

  • A kickass idea, which fits well with the site
  • A reason why you’re the best person in the world to write it
  • Evidence that you can do what you say you can

For example, here’s a pitch I sent a while ago:


Why the bionic penis is nothing like a bionic penis

Hi [Name of editor]

You mentioned you wanted to cover pegging – have you seen the recent indiegogo campaign for the ‘ambrosia’ strap on? It’s bionic so it responds to touch, meaning you can peg and also get feelings from it. I’d like to write a post about the failures of ‘mutual pleasure’ strap ons, and some big fails on the part of sex toy companies to deal with the growing market for ladies who like to peg dudes. So it’d have a news hook and also be a bit angry and opinionated. Their funding round closes mid-July so it’ll be topical up until then, and I can submit any time in the next week.

It’s not perfect by any means, but it should give you the general idea. It’s a bit rough round the edges, and it’s missing ‘why I am the best person in the world to cover this’ because it went to an editor who already knew me. If it went to a new editor it would include this:

Hi, my name’s Girl on the Net – an anonymous sex writer. I’ve written for Big Magazine, Website That’s Like Yours, and many other publications.

When you’re pitching, these tips from the Writers’ Bureau are pretty helpful in terms of structure, although they utterly kill their usefulness with a tip about ‘accepting whatever rates the editor offers for now.’ Don’t do this – value your work. But in terms of pitch structure the rest of the advice is fairly solid, and a great help if you’re writing pitches to magazines and websites for the first time.

Sounds OK? Cool. Here’s how people fuck it up.

The biggest mistake when you’re pitching

This is going to sound harsh, so brace yourself:

No matter how brilliant your idea, you give way more of a shit than your editor does.

Sorry.

To you that pitch may represent the chance to break into a new space, a cool thing to add to your portfolio, or a chunk of money you can spend on gin. To your editor it represents just one of many possible options to fill a slot, or eat a chunk of their limited budget.

Given that, the most important thing you need to demonstrate to your editor (alongside the three things above) is that you will not take up too much of their time.

Compare and contrast:

“Here’s my kickass idea, here’s why I’m the perfect person to write it. If you’d like it I can get to you in 3 days time. Interested?”

Versus:

“I’ve got a good idea, but this slightly different one might also work. I’ve not written much for mainstream before but I’m happy to go back and forth a bit to make sure it’s what you really want. I’m busy this weekend but could probably get to you by Friday next week?”

The latter means well – it’s exactly the email I used to send when I first started pitching. Apologetic, humble, keen, self-effacing… all the things that an editor looks at and goes ‘argh – too much work.’ The editor doesn’t give a flying toss about your second or third idea – choosing between them costs her time: pick the best one and pitch that. She probably doesn’t want to go back and forth either – she wants to know that what you submit will be brilliant off the bat. Finally, she doesn’t care what you’re doing at the weekend: just tell her when you can get it done by, or ask when she needs it. Then deliver.

When your pitch is more work than it’s worth

There is only one thing which will kill you chances quicker than the pitch above, and it’s this one:

“I’d love to write for you but I’m not sure what I want to write. Do you have any ideas of things you’d like me to cover?”

The aim of hiring writers is that you’re paying someone to take the work out of your hands. Writing blogs takes time, which is why we pay people for their labour. But coming up with ideas is a significant proportion of the work. It’s the difference between 2 hours (to write it) and 3-4 hours (researching what’s been covered before, coming up with a unique twist or new idea, then writing it).

So if you email an editor asking for ideas, you have handed 50% of the work back to them. Chances are that editor is going to either ignore your request or send it to the ‘later’ folder.

When it comes to guest blogs on my own site, the aim isn’t really to ‘take the work out of my hands’: it’s to get unique insights on sex from people who aren’t me. However, even in that situation, pitches like this can still be tricky to handle. Saying:

‘I’m a writer – what do you want me to write about?’

…is as useful as saying:

‘I’m hungry – what do you think I’d like to eat?’

It’s great that you’re responsive to input, but it’s far more helpful if you can give an overview of yourself and what makes you unique and interesting. Otherwise, in order to respond to your pitch, I need to research you, find out what your specialisms are, consider which of those specialisms might be most interesting for the blog, and compose a pitch of my own to send back to you. At best that’ll take half an hour. If four people ask this question each day, that’s two hours I’ve spent researching things that they’d be much better placed to tell me themselves.

If you’re genuinely not sure (and that’s fine – I promise I’m not actually a horrible time-obsessed dragon), here’s a better request:

‘I’m a sex writer, dominatrix, and I’ve been involved in sex work activism for the last six years. Are there any particular topics in those areas that you’d like to see covered on your site?’

Immediately I can pick out at least three topics that would be fascinating for readers: ‘sex work and the law’/’client relationships in sex work’/’101 guides for people who don’t understand sex work politics’. As I say, it’s a last resort: ideally when you pitch you’ll always come with an idea. But if you want some guidance in the right direction, you need to give someone a starting point.

How to pitch when you’re out of ideas

The bottom line here, if I’m putting my ‘OMFG you’re so harsh’ hat on, is: don’t pitch when you don’t have an idea. Wait. Consider. Take your time. Be patient, until you have something you think will make an an editor scream ‘I NEED THIS ON MY SITE.’ But I appreciate that me standing on a soapbox screaming ‘HAVE AN IDEA’ is unlikely to help cure anyone’s writers’ block. So if you’re out of pitch ideas, but you really want to write for someone, here’s what to do:

1. Read their website. Read it over and over again. Make a note of the articles you like, and the topics they cover. Keep those notes somewhere nearby so that when you’re having a cup of coffee, tidying your kitchen, or cleaning up after a vigorous wank, your eye is drawn to those things and the spark of inspiration may strike you.

This sounds incredibly obvious, but I can tell you I have had people pitch me ideas (for my site or someone else’s) when they have clearly never read a word of the site they are pitching to.

2. Work out your USP. That stands for ‘Unique Selling Point’ and yes, it is incredibly wanky. Basically it means ‘what do you do better than anyone else?’ Are you the queen of chastity? The senator of spanking? What’s your niche area, and why is it interesting to whoever you’re pitching?

The brilliant thing about your USP is that – if it’s something you’re genuinely passionate about – you have an immediate head-start on it that no other writer has: contacts.

When I get asked to write a piece for mainstream about why people fuck on MDMA, or what kinky people thought about 50 Shades of Grey, I am streaks ahead of writers who’ve never dabbled in sex before, because my Twitter feed is crammed with delightful perverts who’ll be willing to answer my questions. Who are your contacts, and what light can they help you shed on the sex world?

3. Ask your mates. Not everyone is brilliant at blowing their own trumpet. When I first started blogging if you’d asked me what my USP was I’d have told you it was either cider or creative swearing. No one expects you to put your finger on it straight away. Ask people who know you – blog fans, readers, people who masturbate over your pictures on Twitter: what do I do differently? What would you like me to cover? They already know and like you, and they’re already familiar with what you do. So cut out the questions to the editor, and seek help answering those questions before you write your pitch.

 

Photo credit : http://www.cath-photo.com

Author: Girl on the Net

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