Pitching and Punting

April 17, 2024
By Merrie Meyers
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For many of you, pitching a story is a no-brainer. You could do it in your sleep. You have a solid reputation of delivering for a chosen media outlet, and they only have to read one or two sentences to know that your idea will be what their readers/listeners/viewers want. Or maybe you have a client or an employer who depends on you to craft their stories for insertion into company publications, and so you’re just waiting for the next assignment.

But the rest of us, me included, are in the position of having to pour our ideas onto a computer screen in the hopes that someone on the other end of the screen will be as enthused as we are about your proposed idea. So, how do you turn a pitch into an engagement? Here are some tips about marketing your ideas that can give you the edge over other writers.

1. Don’t wait to develop an idea.

I have a digital file folder (and a paper one as well) of ideas that I think could be developed into interesting stories. Ideas don’t care who they happen to. I get mine from news stories, conversations with friends or just driving around. A thought might come to you that can be used with the right opportunity. If an editor or client asks if you have any thoughts/ideas/research on a topic, this file will come in handy.

2. Find the right outlet for your idea.

Make sure you are pitching something to a media entity that is actually in their wheelhouse/editorial realm. An old standby, The Writer’s Market 2019, $14.99 at bookstores and Amazon, offers a plethora of information on who is interested in what. They also have an interactive website that is available on a subscription basis, writersmarket.com/. Of course, you can also consult your friendly, local librarian. They may offer access to additional resources free of charge (and you can probably also use their copy of the Writer’s Market).

3. Do the research.

So, you’ve got a publication that you think might be interested in your work. But, when was the last time they ran something on this topic? Do the research and make sure it wasn’t last month’s cover story. Or, if it was last month’s cover story, figure out an angle that will expand on what was presented in a new and unique way.

4. Cover the basics.

Your pitch should include a clear focus on the idea (vagaries need not apply). Layout the general approach you will take and offer a brief, general outline of the piece. The pitch should show off your writing skills, and detail your experience with writing, the topic, or familiarity with any other element that builds your credibility and solidifies the reason you should be the writer selected to provide this content. But, above all, be brief. One page, over and done!

5. Understand response time.

Hopefully, in the editorial guidelines that the outlet offers it will say how long to expect to wait for a response; two to four weeks, four to six weeks. This will often depend on the editorial calendar (how often they publish, etc.)

6. Follow up.

Sometimes publications will dawdle in responding to new proposals. After waiting the stated amount of time, don’t be shy about following up to see if they are still considering your idea. Like anyone else, editors are often overworked and even great ideas can fall through the cracks. If they’re not (and, gosh, wouldn’t it have been nice to get a rejection so you could move on?) you can consider plan B.

7. Start over.

After you get a response (declining your idea), you can submit the pitch to another publication/outlet. Unless you want to burn a bridge with one or both of the outlets, it’s not a good idea to submit to two entities at the same time UNLESS you are using the same set of facts/research/experiences but presenting them in entirely different ways. Perhaps you have collected a lot of information about training hunting dogs. Perhaps one pitch is about contemporary use of bird dogs, another could be about the historical development of the practice.

Regardless of the subject, following these steps will help you introduce yourself, present your ideas and hopefully lead to a future engagement.

This article first appeared in Ruff Drafts, Summer 2019.