Making This Common Query Letter Mistake? Here’s Your Pitch Fix

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Welcome to Pitch Fix, The Write Life’s newest column! Once a month, we’ll take a look at a real pitch from a real freelance writer and figure out how to make it better.

Pitching is one of the most important parts of a freelancer’s career — it’s how we get the gigs that make us money, as well as how we form relationships with editors and publications.

We’ve written before about how to identify whom to pitch, as well as how to track your pitches after you send them, but we haven’t written much about what goes into a good pitch.

So we’re going to fix that. With Pitch Fix!

Let me introduce our first Pitch Fix subject:

Connor Relyea’s comics pitch to Paste Magazine

Connor Relyea is an actor, editor and writer who has been published in The Billfold, Fangirl Magazine and more. He’s looking to build his freelance writing portfolio, and he agreed to be Pitch Fix’s first subject.

Relyea was curious about whether his pitches were too short. He wanted to showcase his expertise to editors, and wondered if that meant he needed to lengthen his pitch emails. Little did he know that I’d be providing the opposite advice!

Here’s Relyea’s troublesome pitch to Paste Magazine:

I recently graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism with a bachelor of journalism in magazine editing. I have been reading Paste Magazine for several months and I am looking to write for the comics section of the magazine.

I have experience writing about comic books for an independent comic book site, All-Comic.com, where I wrote reviews on Marvel and Image titles. I also currently contribute comic book reviews to a new feminist, geek magazine called Fangirl the Magazine. For the past few weeks, I have been following the Marvel Secret Wars event and providing coverage of the updates for that magazine.

My general focus has been on Marvel properties as this publisher is where I follow the most titles. Recently, it was announced that Kelly Sue DeConnick would be leaving the Captain Marvel property that she has been working on for several years to pursue work on other projects, including the TV spot with Universal with Matt Fraction. I am looking to cover the change in writers on this title, and potentially, if it is possible, secure an interview with Kelly Sue DeConnick to discuss her next steps after she leaves Captain Marvel, what she hopes to accomplish with the final lap of her run and look back on what she has accomplished over the past three years.

Relyea is off to a good start — he has clips and he has a strong set of credentials — but this pitch needs a lot of work. It’s wordy, and it focuses on what Relyea wants from Paste rather than what he can offer the magazine.

Pitch fix: Get to the point

Opening the pitch with “I recently graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism” makes it sound like Reylea has no experience.

If he wants to include this information, he can include it in his bio section — but he shouldn’t lead with it, and shouldn’t draw attention to the fact that he just graduated.

“I have experience writing about comic books for an independent comic book site” doesn’t provide an editor with useful information. Is that site reputable? Is the writing good?

Instead of describing his experience, Reylea should link to his clips — which should be good enough to speak for themselves.

“My general focus has been on Marvel properties as this publisher is where I follow the most titles,” Relyea writes. This comes across as “I read comics, please pay me to write about them,” which is not what an editor wants to read.

Instead of focusing on his interests, Reylea should focus on how he can benefit the publication.

On hoping to, “Potentially, if it is possible, secure an interview with Kelly Sue DeConnick”: Don’t go to Paste unless you have the DeConnick interview in hand. A magazine has no reason to respond to your pitch if it’s only about something that is potentially possible.

Also, even though it sounds nitpicky: “potentially, if it is possible,” is redundant. Keeping your pitches as clean and tight as possible shows editors you know how to write clean copy without wasting words.

Here’s how I’d rework this pitch to send to Paste:

Recently, it was announced that Kelly Sue DeConnick would be leaving the Captain Marvel property that she has been working on for several years to pursue work on other projects, including the TV spot with Universal with Matt Fraction.

I’ve secured an interview with DeConnick about her next steps after Captain Marvel, as well as what she hopes to accomplish with the final lap of her run. Would Paste be interested in this interview?

A bit about me: comic reviewer and blogger focusing on Marvel properties. University of Missouri J-school grad. Clips here: DeConnick Rocks the New Captain Marvel Title, [second link to a piece you’ve written]. Full portfolio available at [link to full resume/portfolio with active links to all articles].

Thanks,

[Name and contact info]

I sent my edit of his pitch back to Relyea, along with a few questions about the experience. Read on to learn more about how he’s changing up his pitching game.

Q&A with Connor Relyea

ND: How do you feel about this pitch critique? Are any of these ideas you want to implement in future pitches? Is there anything you disagree with?

CR: I am really thankful for this critique. My pitching needed a lot of help and all my pitches were essentially the same format as the one that you helped me with, which was probably why I wasn’t getting much work. I have taken all the ideas that you gave me in this critique and applied them to my pitches and I actually landed some more stories. (Ed note: check out one of Relyea’s most recent pieces, The Cost of a Comic Book Hobby.) I don’t disagree with anything that you gave me. It was all really helpful and I feel like I have a better handle on pitching and landing clients now.

What is your current freelancer pitch strategy? How many pitches are you sending out per week, and what is your average response?

Actually, I have been able to slow down on my pitching strategy because I was recently picked up as a local reporter for several newspapers in the Chicago suburbs….I usually send out one or two pitches a week, and normally I don’t hear back, but for some places, like The Billfold, they were really positive and I’ve started to make connections with some editors.

What advice would you have for other freelancers who send out a lot of pitches?

My advice for other freelancers is to learn how to be succinct, which is definitely something that I had to learn how to do. If you can boil your story down to a few key sentences, use those to sell your piece. Plus, editors will love you because they are juggling so many different things and it will be easier for them to decide if they want to run your work or not.

To our readers: Do you agree with this Pitch Fix? When you’re proposing an article that includes an interview, do you secure the interview before or after you pitch?

Got a pitch that’s striking out? If you’d like to be an upcoming Pitch Fix subject, please contact Nicole Dieker at dieker.nicole@gmail.com.

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Nicole Dieker is a freelance copywriter and essayist. She writes regularly for The Billfold on the intersection of freelance writing and personal finance, and her work has also appeared in The Toast, Yearbook Office, and Boing Boing.... .

Nicole Dieker | @hellothefuture

Nicole Dieker
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Comments

  1. I dont think giving pitch is bad in anyway as far as you trust client.

  2. Yaaaay! New column!

    Hi Nicole and Connor,

    I like your critique here. I’ve finally left the dreaded content mills and just started pitching clients (like, just in the past 5 days), so this is perfect timing for me to spot this column. Thank you so much for doing it. And thanks to TheWriteLife too for hosting it.

    I’m proud to say that I spotted the problem with the pitch being wordy, and as I was reading the second paragraph, I was thinking, “Just link, Connor. Just link.”

    So yeah. Do I get points for spotting that? =)

    As for the interview tip, that is the part that really stabbed my in the eyeballs from this piece. Thank you SO MUCH for that tip. I’m scared to death of interviewing someone, even though I did it for my college newspaper back in the day.

    I don’t even think about interviews much, but now that I’ve read Connor’s pitch and your feedback, I can see how having that interview in hand can DRASTICALLY improve your chances of landing the gig.

    I mean…that’s a HUGE TIP.

    Maybe it’s common knowledge to other freelancers, but it’s news to me, so big thanks for that.

    Okay, so now I can’t wait for the next column.

    Did you say MONTHLY?

    Uggh.

    Okay, I guess I can wait that long.

    Aloha,

    Chris Desatoff
    Writer for hire

  3. All of your suggestions were dead on. If you don’t grab the associate editor in the first few sentences it will never make it to the editor’s desk for further consideration.

  4. Hey Nicole, love this post and the idea behind it. So many times I look at my pitches and can see something’s wrong but just can’t put my finger on it. Thanks for breaking the critique down in so much detail, I look forward to the next one.

  5. Hi–I haven even finished reading your critique and I’ve already found it helpful. Most articles on query writing give such broad guidelines that I can’t tell whether mine fits the requirements. This is far more useful. Thanks!

    One question: I’ve published 2 nonfiction books, have co-edited two non-fiction anthologies, published a six article series for American Baby (and looking back at them, I wonder how they got accepted), chapters for other non fiction books—all over 25 years ago. Now I’m doing memoirs/essays. I’ve just started to submit stuff, so I have no clips–and would hate to send the American Baby articles, Any suggestions for how to deal (or not deal) with that?
    Thanks again–
    Jean

    • Jean,
      Submitting guest posts to some of your favorite blogs/sites might be a way to get more recent clips. Not every site pays for guest posts, but sometimes having a byline on a site in your field can still be valuable.
      Good luck!
      Lisa Rowan
      Editor

    • There are also plenty of online publications that accept personal essays from writers with no clips. I’d advise you to write your post ahead of time so that an editor can open your email, read the proposed post, and say “yes/no.” That’s how I got started when I had no clips.

      • Thank you for that tip! It might sound so obvious, but I’ve read so many submission guidelines that say not to do that, so I just assumed that it would never work for anyone.

        But…you.

        I will definitely try that on my next batch of pitches and see if I get some responses. So far I’ve sent about 20 emails out, but only 3 replied back.

        One said no.
        One said my pitches sucked (but to repitch).
        One said to resend my resume and samples.

        • Sounds like you are an ideal Pitch Fix candidate, if you’re interested in sending one to us.

          • Hm,

            It is starting to sound like that, isn’t it?

            I’m working on getting some guest posts right now with bloggers I’ve become friends with over the past few years. Once I get those clips, then I’m going to try leveraging them to get on a larger blog that pays for guest posts. So I guess when I’m ready to pitch to those guys, I’ll submit it to you first for a critique.

            How’s that sound?

            We’re talking sometime within the next 30-60 days, I think.

          • Totes great. 🙂

  6. A very informative stuff Nicole,
    It usually your pitching that will either land you the job or get you rejected but, most of us always find it very difficult to come up with great pitches like the one you used here.

    When i was reading Relyea’s pitch, i was saying that its a very good one and i love it but not until you criticized it.

    I so much love how simple and straight to the point yours is and i will take note of that.

    • Thank you! Yeah, it isn’t that the original pitch was bad, just that it needed a little tightening. Trust me, I’ve seen some REALLY bad pitches.

  7. This is a spot-on example of high quality content. Example of a full pitch (not an excerpt of a few sentences or paragraphs), a full example of the fix, and a concise description of the reasoning behind the changes made. I’ve bookmarked it and will be referring to it and sharing it often. I can’t wait till next month!

  8. Lisa–Thanks. I’ll try that (Tho, since I can’t keep my big mouth shut, I think I’ve already started doing it).
    Jean

  9. Ponmile Japheth says:

    My first time of seeing what a pitch looks like. Am just about to start my writing career. Thanks for this post, its right on time for me, would surely keep checking your blog post.
    Nicole I would really plead with you to help me as much as you can, as I don’t have any clip yet and I really want to move as fast as possible.
    Best regards

  10. Nice to read great article

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