Kelly J. Baker

Editor at Women in Higher Education

How to Craft a Pitch

Full vitae quill pitch story idea

Image: Anonymous Account, Creative Commons

As editor of a monthly newsletter, Women in Higher Education, I receive a lot of pitches — not as many as editors of larger publications but enough that I see a variety of good and not-so-good tactics from many different types of writers. What has become clear is that pitching can be a hard skill to master.

Pitching a potential article to any publication involves a delicate balance. You must tell the editor what the article is about, show how the article would fit the publication, and explain why you are qualified to write said article before writing the whole darn thing. And you must accomplish all of that in a few paragraphs, which can seem daunting.

We all want our work to reach a broader audience to some degree. Pitching is the first step. Being able to craft a clear and concise pitch is a necessary skill that will help get you published. Here are six tips about how to create pitches that work.

Write more than a sentence. I can't tell you how often I get one-sentence pitches that read like this: “I want to write about [this particular thing].” One sentence is not a pitch because it doesn't show me what you plan to write, or why you are the person who should write about it. Super-short pitches are often a sign that writers aren’t yet ready to approach an editor because they haven't developed their ideas enough.

A one-sentence pitch — especially from a writer I don't know — doesn't give me confidence that you can write about the topic for the necessary 800 to 1,000 words. Additionally, short pitches are either too general or too vague, so I can't figure out what the article will actually be about. The best pitches offer a glimpse of your voice as a writer as well as the tone of 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.

Don’t write too much, either. I'm most likely to accept pitches that lay out — in two to three short paragraphs — exactly what you plan to write, and why you're the best person to write it. Please don't send an editor a pitch in which each paragraph is long (more than 250 words). Pay attention to the typical length of the publication’s articles. For examples, essays in Women in Higher Education are around 900 words — so don't make your pitch as long as the articles I publish.

Instead, give editors a glimpse without sending a full draft. Most of us want to help you shape your article to best fit our publication, and a full draft might not meet our standards for publication. Editors know our publications well. We have a good sense of what works best. Just give us enough of a 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 with links to two or three of your clips (i.e., examples of your previously published work). Academics, when I say a short bio, I'm not joking: Your bio in the pitch should be two to three sentences — maximum. Don't send your CV.

If you are pitching a particular editor for the first time, your bio is crucial because it explains who you are and why you are qualified to write the piece. Choose clips that best showcase your writing style and the topics you’ve written about before.

If you haven't been published anywhere before, that's OK. 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 (not conference papers, which tend to be too long and too specific). Editors need to see what kind of writer you are, so take the time to show us.

Explain why the article fits my publication. That might seem self-explanatory, but the fact that I receive pitches that are not about women or higher ed suggests I need to spell it out anyway. Editors don't accept pitches unrelated to their publications. So make sure to explain why your potential article is a good fit for their particular outlet.

If you're not sure the article works for the publication, then it might not. Do your homework. Before you prepare a pitch, read articles at the publication's website or browse an issue or two, cover to cover. Pay attention to the tone of the articles. Notice what kind of language is used. For example, is it jargon-heavy or jargon-free? See which topics 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 angle? If so, say so in your pitch. Show that you've read the publication or, at the very least, that you've searched its website to see what it has already published.

Always — always — read the submission guidelines. Writers: Submission guidelines (like these for The Chronicle) 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 the publication.

For instance, the submission guidelines for Women in Higher Education clearly state that it is a monthly print newsletter — not a scholarly journal. And yet, I get a lot of pitches from academics trying to publish journal articles that are often five times over our standard length for guest submissions (800 to 900 words). I can't publish an article that takes up half the issue. More important, I don't want to because that is not the type of article I publish or that my readers want to read.

Writers would know that if they read our submissions guidelines before they pitched. Please do your editor, and yourself, a favor and look at the guidelines ahead of time. You don't want your article to be rejected simply because it’s too long or has the wrong tone . Make sure your article fits the publication before you pitch — not after.

Remember: A good pitch is a solid first impression. Your goal is to capture the editor’s attention. If I read your pitch and realize that I want to read your article, I make a note that you are a writer to remember. If I can't use that particular pitch, I would encourage you to email me again with something else that fits my publication better or that we haven’t covered before.

Editors are always looking for good writers who pitch interesting, well-researched, provocative, and/or smart articles. An effective pitch shows you are a capable writer with intriguing ideas. So even if your pitch is rejected, an editor will remember you. And that will lead to you getting published.

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