*Show an editor what you can do.*
I receive a lot of pitches for guest submissions at Women in Higher Education, not as many as editors of larger publications, but enough that I see a variety of pitches, both good and not-so-good, from many different types of writers. WiHE mainly publishes articles from a regular group of writers, but I also accept guest submissions from journalists of higher ed, freelance writers, and practitioners within in higher ed. Now that I’m nine issues into my tenure as editor of WiHE and in my fourth year as a freelance writer, it’s become more and more clear that pitching is hard skill to master.
When a writer is pitching a potential article for a publication, it is a delicate balance of telling the editor what the article is about, why it matters for this particular publication, and why the writer is the most qualified to write said article before writing the whole darn article. A good pitch is able to do all of these things in a few paragraphs, which can seem pretty daunting. Pitching is still a craft that I’m learning. My pitches for potential articles still fall flat sometimes, and even some of my best pitches get rejected because they don’t quite fit what an editor is looking for at that exact moment for their publication. That’s how pitching works for all of us, even the most seasoned writers. Being able to craft a clear and concise pitch helps you get ahead by showing an editor that you are serious about the article you want to write.
So, here’s my advice on what kinds of pitches work, and don’t work, for me as an editor. I do offer these tips with the caveat that what might work for me might not work for other editors, but hopefully, this advice gives you an idea of what the process requires.
Your pitch for a potential article should be more than one sentence. I can’t tell you how often I get one line pitches, which are usually some variety of “I want to write about this particular thing.” One sentence doesn’t demonstrate anything about what you plan to write or why you are the particular writer that should be assigned this article. When I receive a pitch that’s only a line or two, I can’t tell what your article will read like because you haven’t shown me what you can do as a writer. These super short pitches more often show me that a writer is not ready to pitch this particular article yet because they need to think about it more and develop it further. A pitch that’s only a sentence (especially from a writer I don’t know) doesn’t give me confidence that you can write about the topic for the necessary 800-1000 words that comprise an article for WiHE. Super short pitches are either too general or too vague, which makes it hard for me to figure out what you bring to a particular article topic.
The best pitches give an editor a glimpse of your voice as a writer as well as the tone for the article, so the editor can decide how you fit (or don’t) with the publication’s style, tone, and approach. Show an editor what you can do.
Write a pitch that is a couple of paragraphs. I’m most likely to accept pitches that are able to lay out exactly what you plan to write and why you’re the best person to write it in two to three short paragraphs. Please don’t send an editor a pitch, in which each paragraph is long (over 250 words). Especially don’t send me a pitch that is overly long because WiHE articles are usually about 900 words. Don’t make your pitch as long as the articles I publish! Instead, give me some glimpses about what the article is going to be about without sending me a draft. Most editors want to help you shape your article to be best fit their publication, and a full draft might not meet their standards for publication. Editors know our publications well, so we have a good sense of what works best, so please give us enough of pitch that we can craft an article together.
Tell me who you are and what you’ve written before. Make sure to include a short bio (two to three sentences) with links to two or three of your clips. This is very important if you haven’t pitched me before. I need your bio to tell me who you are and why you are qualified to write the article, and I also want you to show me what you’ve written before. Choose your clips that best showcase your writing and the topics that you tend to write about. If you haven’t been published before, that’s okay. All writers have to start somewhere. Our portfolios didn’t magically appear as soon as we decided to be writers. If you don’t have a link to a clip at another publication, send me a link to a particularly good blog post or a polished draft of something else you’ve written. I need to see what kind of writer you are, so take the time to show me.
Explain why the article fits for my publication. This might seem self-explanatory. But, I receive enough pitches that are not about women or higher ed, which suggests to me that I should say this anyway. I’m not going to accept a pitch that’s vague, general, or entirely unrelated to women in higher education. So, make sure to tell me why this article is a good fit for WiHE. If you’re not sure the article works for WiHE, then it might not be. You can go read some of the free articles available on the website to get a sense of what kinds of articles WiHE publishes.
Go a step further and read an issue or two, cover to cover, before you prepare a pitch. Pay attention to the tone of the articles. Notice what kind of language is used (non-academic, jargon-free, etc.). See what beats are covered by regular writers. Search the site to see if an article like yours has already been written. If it has, do you have a new approach to the topic? If so, say so in your pitch. Show that you’ve read my publication or, at the very least, you’ve searched the website to see what articles I’ve already accepted and published. And look at the submission guidelines, which detail the types of articles I tend to run. This leads directly to my next point.
Always, ALWAYS, read the submission guidelines for the publication. Writers, the submission guidelines exist to tell you what the editor’s expectations are for the publication. The submission guidelines are there to help you prepare a pitch that both explains what you want to write and how your article fits within the parameters of publication. For instance, the submission guidelines for WiHE clearly state that WiHE is a monthly print newsletter, not an academic journal. And yet, I get a lot of pitches from academics trying to publish journal articles that are often five times over the standard word count for guest submissions (around 800-900 words). I can’t publish one article that is over half my targeted word count for an issue, but more importantly, I don’t want to because this is not the type of article my readers want to read.
If these writers looked at my submissions guidelines before they pitched, they would know that I don’t publish articles over 1400 words (a 6000-word article is a hard pass) and be able to craft a pitch for an article that actually could work for WiHE. Please do your editor, and yourself, a favor and look at the guidelines before you pitch. This is legwork that writers have to do for each publication they pitch. You don’t want your article to be rejected simply because it isn’t the type of article that the publication publishes. Make sure your article fits with a publication before you pitch not after.
Rejecting articles is no fun. I’m serious about this; I don’t enjoy rejecting pitches. I really don’t. I know what rejection feels like, and I don’t want to reject writer’s pitches. Unfortunately, this is part of the editor’s job. There’s only so much room in my newsletter each month, which means that I can’t accept every pitch I receive. The pitches I reject are often too short, too general, or too vague. I reject pitches on topics too similiar to that other writers in WiHE already covered or that aren’t about women and higher ed at all. I reject pitches that offer advice when it’s not geared to women in higher education. I reject personal essays that aren’t specifically about higher education. I reject pitches if I can’t tell what the article will be or if it is hard to tell if it fits with WiHE’s mission.
Believe it or not, I also reject some of my own ideas for articles because they just don’t work out. That’s the burden of being an editor who also writes a lot of WiHE’s content. Not all of my article ideas are good ideas. (It’s not always fun to be your own boss.) Sometimes, I even reject well-crafted pitches because for one reason or another, they don’t fit well with what I want WiHE to cover or with the newsletter’s intersectional approach to feminism.
Remember a good pitch is a solid first impression. A well-crafted pitch always captures my attention. When I read your pitch and I realize that I want to read you article, I make a note that you are a writer to remember. If I can’t use that writer’s pitch, I encourage them to pitch me again. Additionally, I like working with writers to re-envision and craft their pitches particularly for WiHE. That’s a fun part of my job. Writing a good pitch, then, is a way to make a strong first impression on an editor.
Even if the pitch isn’t accepted, you are now on that editor’s radar, which is a pretty good place to be. Editors are always looking for good writers who pitch interesting, well-researched, provocative, and/or smart articles. A well-crafted pitch shows that you are a capable writer with intriguing ideas. So, even if your pitch is rejected, an editor will remember you. Good pitches can help build your network, which is a nice outcome of well-crafted pitches.
What other questions do you have about pitching? What else might you want to know?