What does it take to land an article in one of your favorite publications?
Luck and personal connections may help, but here at The Write Life we believe that doing the work — and doing it over and over again – helps you achieve expert level.
But crafting the perfect pitch can be tricky, even for experienced writers.
Here, we’ll dive into three real examples from writers with various industry experience. While each takes a different approach in their pitching style, all three got hired to write the story they pitched. And each has lessons you can take back to your own pitches.
Example 1: Expert sources seal the deal
The article: America’s Obsession With Social Media Is Undermining The Democratic Process by Lisa Rabasca Roepe, appearing on Quartz
Hi [redacted for privacy],
I saw your post in [private Facebook group] a while back asking for pitches for the Ideas Section of Quartz.
Here’s a pitch for you to consider.
Voters are creating an election echo chamber
Voters today are embracing presidential candidates who appeal to their specific passions and ideals much like they only trust news sources that align with their ideological views.
Our ability to self-select our newsfeed via Facebook, Twitter and even whether our main source of news is MSNBC or Fox News is creating an echo chamber for voters. As a result, the only news voters get about their candidate is favorable and the news about the candidates they don’t like is always negative.
This piece would focus on how voters are no longer receiving balanced (and, in some cases, accurate) news about election candidates. This is not because the media is biased but because voters have an unprecedented ability to self-select the news they receive.
This article that would include interviews with:
- Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of API and former director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.
- Carroll Doherty, director of political research at Pew Research Center
My articles have appeared in Fast Company, Men’s Journal and Daily Worth.
Please let me know if I can provide you any additional information or clips, or if you have any feedback for me.
Why the pitch worked
Rabasca Roepe was ready with backup info when her potential editor had questions. After being asked how she would prove that voters were self-selecting their news, she crafted “a response full of facts and figures, demonstrating my knowledge on the topic,” she explained.
She was able to think fast and back up her argument to give the editor confidence in her ability to write a convincing piece.
Here’s what she wrote back:
There is a fair bit of data available through Pew Research Center about consumers self-selecting their news channels and who and what they follow on social media. Plus, for many people Facebook and Twitter has become their main source of news.
For instance, a study conducted by Pew Research Center in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, finds that clear majorities of Twitter (63%) and Facebook users (63%) now say each platform serves as a source for news about events and issues outside the realm of friends and family.
Pew has also done research on which news channels a majority of liberals and conservatives trust. No surprise here. Most liberals favor MSNBC, The New York Times and NPR, while most conservatives trust Fox News.
I can tell you that I’m guilty of this myself. I never watch Fox News. My three favorite news sources are, in fact, The New York Times, MSNBC and NPR.
Some added background about me: I’m the former managing editor of Presstime magazine, the monthly magazine of the Newspaper Association of America. I worked at NAA for about 10 years and I also worked at the American Press Institute for two year, right around the time that news websites first started to allow readers to “customize” their new feeds.
I think the key to this article will be interviewing experts at Pew and API about the growing trend of consumers self-selecting their news.
An hour after sending her response, Rabasca Roepe’s pitch was assigned.
“This editor was great to work with and we ended up working on several stories after this initial piece,” Rabasca Roepe says. “She even bumped up my rate.”
Example 2: Personal essay personality
The article: I Work in PR But I Hate Statement Necklaces by Lauren Sieben, appearing on Racked
[Name redacted] pointed me in this direction for a pitch about the collection of statement necklaces I’ve amassed but that I admittedly don’t like all that much.
A few years ago, statement necklaces became a professional crutch for me. When I made the switch from journalism to PR, I felt like the shlubby and out-of-place little sister who walked in on a party of much cooler, older, prettier high school girls. I moved from my job at a local newspaper in Iowa to a PR job in a bigger city, and overnight I became hyper-aware of my dress pants that were too uptight and my Target basics that were too, well, basic. Every woman working at an agency in town seemed to own the same variation of that chunky J. Crew statement necklace, so I went out and bought one of my own (a much cheaper version at Charming Charlie’s, but it was the gateway necklace). Years later, I’m still working in PR, but I’ve settled into my own style and I don’t feel the need to cling to costume jewelry to fit in. And now I’ve got all these damn statement necklaces that aren’t my style at all.
I’d love to explore this topic as an essay for Racked. About me: I’m a Milwaukee-based writer and a reader of Racked. For a look at some of my past work, you can find my most recent essays for The Billfold and for A Practical Wedding. My complete portfolio is here.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I hope to hear back from you and hopefully we can collaborate soon on this piece.
Why the pitch worked
Sieben focuses her pitch on how one type of jewelry has impacted her personal style, rather than trying to fit her entire jewelry box into her essay.
She admitted to The Write Life that her pitches can be too wordy, but in this case the finished essay delivers exactly what she proposed — something editors always appreciate.
Sieben was asked to add a small section to her essay, but “It went up pretty much as I had submitted it,” she says. “The only downside is that piece went up months ago and I’m still waiting on payment because of some payroll glitch.”
Sieben returned to the editor who picked up her first piece and has another in the works.
Example 3: Adaptability and a new angle
The article: A Wine Drinker’s Guide to Climate Change Winners and Losers by Jamie Cattanach, appearing on Vinepair
Hi [redacted for privacy],
Pleased to meet you! I saw your call in [private Facebook group], and I’ve got a story I think might be a fit for VinePair.
I’d like to write a piece explaining how climate change could completely wreck winemaking as we know it, and even render certain varietals and blends impossible to create should temperatures rise too far. I would briefly explain how varietal characteristics depend on terroir — which, in turn, is defined in part by climate — before imagining how certain varietals’ expressions might change should temperatures reliably increase by even just a few degrees.
Long story short: if we don’t take action, our children might not be drinking the same elegant, cool-weather pinots or slatey Chablis we enjoy today.
I spent more than a year on-staff at The Penny Hoarder as their head food writer, and I’ve also worked with the Purple Carrot subscription box, Ms. Magazine, BUST, Roads & Kingdoms, RVshare, Santander Bank, Barclaycard and others. I have a piece forthcoming on SELF magazine’s website, as well. Here are a few relevant clips, and you can also take a peek at my website and full digital portfolio.
Thanks for your consideration; I’m looking forward to hearing what you think!
Why the pitch worked
Without getting too deep in the weeds about the science of this piece or her potential sources, Cattanach sets the scene for a piece that has wide interest even for a niche publication.
Cattanach’s initial contact at Vinepair left the site between the assignment date and due date, which caused some confusion. She had to adjust her angle in the midst of researching her piece, as a similar article was published on Vinepair about a week before Cattanach’s.
“I had to change my angle from ‘What will happen to terrior?’ to ‘Where will the new fancy wine regions be and also, by the way, some wine growers are totally thinking about switching to pot, isn’t that funny?’
Despite the challenges, she was paid promptly and was proud to get her first clip in a wine-focused publication.
The common thread: Networking
All three of our pitching examples included mention of a personal reference or Facebook group for writers. That doesn’t mean that these three writers have endless connections in the industry. It just means that they’re paying attention and taking advantage of opportunities as they appear.
As a colleague reminded Cattanach: Your story idea definitely won’t get picked up if you never pitch it anywhere.
You learn by taking the chance, and doing so with confidence. Good luck, writers!
Note: We’ve removed some of these contributor’s clips that they shared in their pitches, but the text of their pitches otherwise remains as emailed.