Pitch Perfect by Pamela Mytroen

Are you still waiting for publications to ask you for your stellar stories? Don’t wait! Whether you’re a regular writer with specific content assigned, or you haven’t broken in to the market yet, you can still pitch your own ideas. Publications appreciate potential stories, and it’s also an opportunity to write something about which you are passionate.

I have been pitching ideas to my local newspaper for awhile and have learned a few guidelines. This piece will cover the following topics: before you pitch, four steps to pitch, and after the pitch.

BEFORE YOU PITCH: Know Your Reader

Visualize this business chain with me:

Mixer Magic sells food mixers with a kneading hook.
They buy an ad in Foodie Magazine.
Foodie Magazine asks you to write an article about baking bread.
Readers who like to bake bread flock to the magazine and read your article.
Rita Reader sees the ad for a bread-mixer.
Rita Reader buys that bread-mixer.
Mixer Magic profits from Rita’s purchase and takes out another ad in Foodie Magazine.
Magazine stays alive. Advertiser stays alive. Writer of the bread article stays alive. Rita Reader is happily making bread, telling her friends about the wonderful magazine. And you, the writer, are asked to write another piece.

When I was asked to write for our paper, it was not the editor or the publisher that hired me. It was the Accounts Payable manager. She made it clear that the newspaper is a business which draws most of its income from advertisers. She explained that as a writer, it was my job to write relevant content that appeals to their readership so that the advertisers could sell pertinent ads.

IDEAS TO PITCH

To discern your reader, read recent editions of the newspaper or magazine. Then research the areas in which the paper is published and distributed. Ask questions of business owners, artists, coaches, school teachers, religious leaders and so on and soon enough you will have a full page of ideas from which to draw.

FOUR WH STEPS

WHAT: Write a short description of your idea. Describe who and what your story will be about and where it will be set.

WHY: Share why the paper needs your idea. Show how it’s relevant. Show how the readers would love this piece. Would they love it because it is similar to other recent features? Would readers love it because it fits in with their culture? With the current events?

As an example, I pitched my idea to interview seniors locked away in care homes during Covid-19. I described my story as a group of seniors sharing their brief history. My “Why” was that the Seniors had already persevered and survived many difficulties such as the Dirty Thirties, WWI, WWII, and cycles of tyranny and freedom. I pointed out that this piece would be relevant because we could benefit from the seniors’ wisdom as we struggle to navigate Covid-19. Because it tied in with the pandemic, it should also appeal to advertisers. I also added that it would benefit our seniors because it would give them a voice during the lonely hours of lockdown.

WHO – Why should YOU be the one to write this article? Do you have access to interview whereas other people might not? Have you written similar pieces before? Do you have special knowledge or training for the story you are proposing? Have you already spoken with the subject of your interview and determined that they have a story to tell? Did someone request you to write this great story? For example, when I proposed that I interview the seniors, I pointed out that I volunteer at the care homes and government housing projects from time to time so I had already gained the trust of the staff and residents. I also mentioned that I had previously written historical pieces.

WHEN – Give the editor a time-frame as to when you could have this piece finished. Stay in touch with the editor.

HOW – Visit or call the editor. Speaking is always better than emailing. Emails or texts can be misunderstood. While speaking face to face you can discern immediately if there is a misunderstanding by reading non-verbal clues. If you need to speak by phone, ask enough questions until you are sure you have a mutual understanding.

Follow up in writing after you’ve talked. Be sure to include the What, Why, Who, and When above. Most regular writers are given a word count for their pieces. If you think the word count will significantly exceed that, let the editor know and ask for their opinion.

One more idea: If you think your story idea has a series potential, ask for it. Going back to the idea on interviewing seniors above, I asked for a 3 part series and I was granted that.

While writing your pieces, it is a good idea to keep the editor posted, especially regarding timing, word count, and photos.

AFTER THE PITCH

What do you do after your pitch is successful and your piece is published?

  1. Feedback: If you have heard any comments on your published piece, either in person or online, provide that feedback to your editor. This will help both of you to determine your next steps. Decide if you would like to write more of the same, such as a series, or something similar. You will have learned from writing your piece. As an example, following my series on Centenarians (people who are over 100 years old), I had much positive feedback. I learned that people like local content with a historical yet relevant aspect. I learned which questions to ask for a successful interview with Centenarians, the optimum length for a brief history, and specific topics of interest from their history. This informed my next steps, which was to interview more seniors, albeit in a different season, and to pursue more historical writing.
  2. Consider pitching the same piece/s broader in other newspapers, magazines, or online publications. First, check with your editor about first rights.
  3. What do you do with negative feedback? I immediately received negative feedback from the publisher with my fist piece in the series. It was too long. I learned from that and shortened the next pieces. It’s always hard to cut out dynamic stories but the editor has assigned a word count for a reason!
  4. Continue the process of pitching. Don’t wait until your pitched piece has been written and published before you pitch again. You need to be working on your next piece as soon as you press “Send”.
  5. Keep a list of ideas handy so that you can keep the rhythm of pitching and writing.

Will you consider pitching to a nonfiction market?
Remember the key is to know your reader first, and then communicate with your editor.

If Pam Mytroen could spend all day in her kitchen baking pies, brownies, and making turkey dinner for friends, she would. But Murray Pura once told her to write first and then bake—advice that she is trying to stick with these days, except, of course, when her grandchildren stop in for milk and cookies.

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