I've spent the last couple weeks going through hundreds of pitches from writers (literally! HUNDREDS). And I'm noticing some common mistakes that writers are making when they pitch.
So here's a thread about pitching an editor, and some stuff you should consider! 🧵✨
Before I get into it, if you're a writer and you've done something on this list, HELLO! ME TOO! I've done everything I'm about to outline here. Except nobody told me not to. So instead of going into self-deprecation mode, allow me to say, "Welcome to the club! It's not just you!"
I'm sharing this info too bc a lot of the folks who pitch me are marginalized in some way, and they weren't given this information or access to the places this kind of info is shared. (That's why I think it's so important for editors to be active and transparent on social. 🌸)
So let's get into this. Here's a list of "hey, maybe don't do this, try this instead" uh, things, when you're pitching an editor. (I'm so eloquent! Look at meeeeee!!)
(1) "I've never really done this before oh my gosh I'm so sorry to pitch you when I'm—"
I LOVE YOU, PLEASE STOP IT. I don't care if it's your first pitch or your fiftieth pitch or five hundredth pitch! Let me explain why though, because it's important.
What you're saying when you inform me that this is your first pitch is something like, "This is the first time I've had access to an opportunity like this and/or felt safe enough to pursue it." That's not about YOU, the writer! That's about the industry.
The wrong editor (boo them!) will hold it against you, so it's a habit I very much want you to break. But also, more importantly, you don't owe this information to ANYONE. Because your ideas can hold their own. You can hold your own. Industry access is a systemic issue!
Instead of saying it's your first pitch, just Google "how to pitch an editor" & poke around online. And then? Just go for it. There are seasoned writers who send me the sloppiest pitches and newbies who absolutely kill it. Just focus on doing your best! No need to apologize.
You are allowed to be new at something! And you don't need to apologize for being new at something. Everyone starts somewhere, and most writers started by following the oft-quoted mantra "fake it 'til you make it." I did. You can. We all do! It's okay. ❤️
(2) "I've never been published before, I hope that's okay!"
Kind of the same as above re: pitching... but ALSO, that's probably a lie.
More than likely, that's a lie, because most of us have written words somewhere on the internet. (Stay with me, I'll explain.)
Have you written a Twitter thread before? Bam, there's a clip or like, ten. You can use an app like Threader and it will convert it into an article format, or you can just send the thread you wrote!
A lot of my own threads were saved like this! https://threader.app/@samdylanfinch
Facebook posts! Blog posts! Newspaper articles! Instagram captions! If you've written words and put them somewhere, you are published.
And even if you aren't? It doesn't matter. If you have a strong pitch that shows me you can write and that you've got an awesome idea? Amazing.
Share the content you DO have, and even if it's not "relevant," focus on what you're demonstrating with the clips. Example: "I'm sending along a Twitter thread I wrote — I'm including it because it offers (a glimpse into my voice/perspective/expertise/etc)."
Basically, don't insult yourself when pitching. Focus on your strengths! You don't need to dwell on what you think is "lacking." Even if you don't feel "writer enough," that's fine — you are "hidden gem" enough today, okay? Hold yourself in respect! You have value regardless. 🌸
(3) "I want to write about every single aspect of my life experience as it relates to this topic!"
You THINK you do, eager beaver. But what you actually want to do is either write a book, OR write multiple essays.
When you're crafting a pitch, think about SCOPE. Meaning, how "big" does this topic feel? If it could be a book, it's not an article pitch! If it feels like it could be multiple essays... it probably *is* multiple essays.
This is the one that I still struggle with. Our excited, writerly brains want to do it ALL. BUT! We have an audience to keep in mind! We need articles to still be digestible. We want them to have a "takeaway," some kind of message that feels succinct and satisfying for a reader.
So when you're crafting a pitch, think less about "this is what I want this article to say about ME" (which is more of a blog post, yeah?), and more about "this is what I want this article to say TO a specific audience."
And really distill down that message. It's less about "here's the story I'm telling" and more about "here's what I want a reader to learn from me." And ask yourself, "Is it reasonable to think I can teach someone that in a single piece? And if so, how do I plan on doing that?"
I know that when you are multiply-marginalized, it's very tempting to include every facet of our identities in every pitch that we write. In actuality, it can really blur the takeaway. "But Sam," you ask me. "I want to be my whole self. How?" I'll tell you! It can be done.
Which leads me to (4) "I have this, this, this, this, AND THIS experience, which will all be present in my essay, I swear."
All of those experiences matter. All of those experiences are valid.
Not all of those experiences make sense as the FOCUS of your pitch.
I'm going to use myself as an example. I am queer AND mentally ill, and those things absolutely are inseparable for me.
However, that's not how I go about writing a pitch. Because that's... a really, really big topic.
How can we get more specific than that?
Rather than saying, "Being queer impacts my experience of mental illness," I might try, "Being queer impacted my PTSD."
Still big. So let's try, "Being queer impacts how/when/why I was diagnosed with PTSD."
Think of it as taking a big idea and letting it branch off into smaller ideas, until you have something that feels truly doable. And from there... think about HOW you're going to tell that story.
Because a lot of pitches introduce a topic, but they don't really unpack HOW the writer intends to invite readers in.
Which leads me to (5) "I'm going to write about this specific topic... somehow."
Can we paint a picture for a minute, to help our dear editor envision it?
Going back to our previous example, let's say I'm going to write about how being queer delayed WHEN I was diagnosed with PTSD (because queerness is sometimes considered synonymous with trauma/expected, yeah?).
That's the topic. But there's a lot of ways I could write it.
It could be a listicle, "X Ways That Being Queer Can Delay a PTSD Diagnosis." It could be a personal essay, where I share the story of being diagnosed, and how being queer led me to invalidate the legitimacy of my own diagnosis.
It could be a reported feature, where I went and interviewed lots of queer people with PTSD, and clinicians who are experts in working with that population, all about the phenomenon of delayed PTSD diagnosing in LGBTQ+ populations!
When you pitch, try to help your editor VISUALIZE what your piece is going to look like. And go to the publication itself to see some of the formats they've published in before, or peruse your editor's Twitter account and see what sorts of stuff they've recently worked on!
And here's the key... you want to keep all of this concise.
So (6) "-insert 6000 word pitch that could've been an essay all by itself-"
You want to keep it snappy! It doesn't have to be a long pitch. You just have to be a little clever about how it's all pulled together.
So with my previous example, let's say I'm going with the personal essay format.
I quickly wrote a sample pitch for this, just to give you a sense of what that pitch might look like, all condensed and stuff!
(I'll break it down, transcribed, in my next tweets!)
For starters, I opened up by identifying how I found that particular editor. I don't sir/ma'am/Mr/Ms or use any gender identifiers. I keep it neutral:
"Hi EDITOR’S NAME,
I saw your call for pitches and wanted to reach out, as I think I have a piece you might be interested in!"
"I’d like to write a personal essay on how, as a queer person, I struggled to accept that I could have PTSD."
Snappy. This tells me format (personal essay), the POV I'm coming from (lived experience), and the theme that pulls it all together (struggling w/ acceptance).
"So many of us just assume that trauma is expected, which leads us to invalidate and normalize our own experiences of it."
This is where I give it a little more nuance. What is the unique perspective I'm bringing to the table? What is the reader takeaway? Why does this matter?
"I want to use my personal story as an entry point into a larger conversation about how queerness complicates our experiences of PTSD."
BOOM. There's the "how." Yes, I'm telling my own story, but here's WHY I'm telling it. This is why it matters and how readers will benefit.
"I think this would be a great fit for (PLATFORM)’s readership. You’ve really been opening up some important conversations around trauma, and I’d love to add a little nuance to it!"
This is where I acknowledge that I'm familiar with the publication, and why it's a good fit!
"Let me know if you’d be interested in this! I have some clips you can check out, here, here, and here [each here is hyperlinked]."
Link out to other content! And if needed, explain why, if the content isn't an article (like I mentioned above with the Twitter threads).
Now this is just a made-up example, and your pitch might look a little different depending on the topic, your experience, and the platform you're pitching to. But this should give you a sense of how to pull this stuff together, especially if you're pitching for the first time!
In a nutshell: Your pitch should exist to help the editor understand what you'll be writing, how you'll do it, who you're speaking to, and why it's a good fit for that particular platform.
It says, "This is what I have to offer and how I'll pull it off."
There are exceptions to every rule, but often times in publishing, you need to have a solid grasp of The Rules before you start breaking them. So the general stuff I've outlined here will hopefully give you that grasp, so then you can carve out your own approach. ❤️
Which leads me to (7) "You don't know anything about baseball but I'm going to use a bunch of insider terminology!"
Make sure you don't assume that your editor shares the level of expertise that you have!
That's my final bit of advice, really. It's okay to showcase the fact that you know stuff, but there's a fine line between "I know a lot about this topic" and "my pitch will only make sense to someone who knows a lot about this topic."
It's hard to refine that balance! So unless I have an established relationship with an editor or I'm 100% sure of their background, I tend to hold back a little with "insider language." If my teenaged cousin wouldn't totally get what I'm saying, I likely need to simplify.
At the risk of turning this Twitter thread into an overwhelming mess, just remember this acronym. PAUSE before you pitch.
P - Purpose. What's the point of your piece?
A - Audience. Who are you talking to?
U - Unique. What's new about your take?
S - Scope. Is it "too big" or just right?
E - Editor. Did you spell their name correctly and review their guidelines/pub? Does your pitch reflect that?
Phew. Okay. That's all folks! There are also lots of other resources that are just a Google search away if you're looking for more opinions on how this is done. But I wanted to share this while it was on my mind, with the hopes that it'll be helpful for some of you. ❤️
There are so many barriers for marginalized folks in publishing... I don't want pitching to be one of them! (Ideally I don't want any barriers, but this is one I could do something about today, haha.)
You've got this! Keep trying. You've got a story worth telling, I PROMISE. ✨
(Also, if you've sent me a pitch and I haven't replied to you, I totally will, I PROMISE. 😭 Just... like I said... hundreds. And it's after five so... tomorrow!)
You can follow @samdylanfinch.