Writers: How to Pitch Your Stories to an Editor

“Help a young writer,” read the subject line of an e-mail I received from a newspaper copy editor friend. He’d landed a gig moonlighting as a journalism professor, and one of his female students was itching to break into the glossies.

So I showed her three of my pitches, along with their laminated published counterparts in my portfolio. But equally as beneficial to the newbie writer (and upon reflection, to me) were the stories not on the pages – the real deals behind what it took to get each byline, and the education gained with each clip:

Pitch lesson #1: Get in where you fit in.
Simultaneous submission freak that I am, I pitched an article titled “Ten Ways to Beat the Stay-at-Home Blues” to several parenting publications, but no one bit. Then one night many months later I saw the article’s headline printed in a magazine’s index in my dream. Moving on divine impulse, I dug up my old query, rewrote the boring thing into a lively and punchy pitch, and shot it off to ePregnancy.

A senior editor at the magazine named Julia Rosien was interested, but said her editorial calendar was chock full of features. She gave me three choices: to wait it out and try to squeeze in the following year, cut it down and sell it to them as a filler, or pitch it somewhere else.

Letting go of my center-spread fantasy, I cut out huge chunks of tips and so did Julia, leaving a scant 350 words and $50 fee. Why did I choose this drastic route? With its current readership of 1.6 million, ePregnancy was a clip worth “slaying all my darlings” to get – ASAP.

Pitch lesson #2: Give editors tons of space and grace…
Soon after I sent the pitch that became “Dutch Twins: How to Manage Two Kids Under age Two” to MetroBaby magazine, I received a handwritten note from an editor saying she’d look at it on spec. I completed the manuscript, shipped it off with excitement, then heard nothing but silence. I slumped into my writer funk, assuming she hated it.

A whole year later, I received a package containing the latest issue of the magazine with my 4-page spread and a $100 check. At first I berated my neophyte self for not following up sooner, but in retrospect, this wait-and-see tactic was a lot more successful than the antagonizing “tell-me-yay-or-nay-now-Busy-Editor-so-I-can-pitch-this-gem-to-a-more-worthy-monthly” approach I adopted later.

Unexpected manna in the mailbox taught me that editors need time to respond – a lot more than eager scribes afford them. Proposed ideas may flourish when allowed to germinate and resonate, to nag at guts till folks can’t help but call you. Forget about that latest pitch for the time being and get busy planting lots more good seed in other markets. Besides, magazines shift focus. Scheduled articles fall through. Planets shift. Don’t be a bugaboo.

Pitch lesson #3: …but move like lightening when they call.
I was lounging around in bed when Woman’s Life called and asked me to write “Guests Coming? Six Fast and Fun ways to Clean,” a letter I’d snail-mailed them the previous year.

Instead of seething over the fact that my genius took forever to climb Mt. Slush, I dug up what I promised them to begin with (some pitches were languishing on my old computer in the basement) and got busy writing. After a while I had another much-needed mag to add to my bio and 250 more bucks in my bank account.

All in all, what rang true for one pitch rang true for the trio. I learned that the trip from initial query to tear sheet can be a matter of patience and proper timing. And that peddlers of words need to be flexible, forgiving and fast – lessons well-worth the journey it took to learn them.

Real-life Pitch #1:

Ms. Julia Rosien
Senior “Steps” Editor
ePregnancy
5742 West Harold Gatty Drive, Suite 113
Salt Lake City, UT 84116

Dear Ms. Rosien:

Cabin fever in a house with kids can drive anybody to the brink of The Shining-like madness.

“Ten ways to beat the Stay-at-Home Blues” is a 750-word article that helps caregivers overcome some of the major downfalls of raising children full-time.

The piece describes how to convert the house into a haven for both adults and kids, plus lays out a plan to develop some of the fun activities which children in formal day-care settings experience. Quotes from successful full-time mothers are included.

Accompanying photographs are available by request.

I am a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom of two who specializes in parenting topics. Enclosed please find my recent clip from Pregnancy magazine that appeared as a cover article.

Please reply to cpmooney@aol.com or return the enclosed SASE to request a copy of the article or to discuss other assignments.

Sincerely,

Paula Mooney

Real-life Pitch #2:

Ms. Susan DeMaggio
MetroParent Publishing Group
22041 Woodward Ave.
Ferndale, MI 48220

Dear Ms. DeMaggio:

“Wow! You had them close together,” most people exclaim upon seeing my 3-month-old daughter and 21-month-old son. “How do you manage?”

“Manage 2 Kids Under 2” (sic) is a 750-word article which helps parents raising a baby and a toddler together keep their sanity.

The piece details how to synchronize sleep schedules, make everyday tasks such as grocery shopping easier and keep an infant safe from their rambunctious older sibling. Quotes from parents of two children under two years of age and experts in the child-rearing field will also appear in the article.

Accompanying photographs are available upon request.

I am a freelance writer who specializes in parenting topics. Enclosed please find a copy of my cover article that appeared in a recent issue of Pregnancy magazine.

Please return the included SASE or email cpmooney@aol.com for a copy of the article.

Sincerely,

Paula Mooney

Real-life Pitch #3:

Mr. Jennifer L. Knaack
Articles Editor
Woman’s Life
500 N. Commercial St.
Neenah, WI 54956

Dear Ms. Knaack:

It’s Saturday; you’re relaxing. Suddenly your husband’s parents call from their cell phone to say they’ll be over in ten minutes. Your mind’s eye darts from the line of grime that circles the tub to the shards of Doritos enmeshed in the carpet. What do you do?

To the rescue comes “Six Fast and Fun ways to Clean,” a 750-word article that explains how to spruce up quickly and have a blast doing so. Included are tips to help readers:

Tidy Up Fast…
…via disposable cleaning products (and how to create inexpensive home versions)
…through doubling up on appliances like vacuum cleaners and clothes dryers
…by practicing daily tasks that cut time spent cleaning huge weekend messes

Make Chores Fun…
…when you turn straightening up into a game and involve the kids
…by employing music to distract from the most distasteful duties
…with the latest storage gear designed to make organizing enjoyable

As for me, I’m known as “Burn ‘Em Up, Jr.,” offspring of “Old Burn ‘Em Up,” as my dad fondly dubbed my mother. Neither of us are gifted to cook – our forte is cleaning.

I am a freelance writer who specializes in parenting and marital topics. Enclosed please find a copy of my cover article that was featured in the November issue of Pregnancy magazine. Accompanying photographs are available upon request.

Please return the enclosed SASE or email cpmooney@aol.com for a copy of the article.

Sincerely,

Paula Mooney

Paula Mooney is editor-in-chief of Real Moms magazine.

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