The Perfect Pitch

Pitching is an essential skill for all writers. If you want to get assignments and or have someone publish your book, you need to make a pitch. David Remnick of The New Yorker will not magically find the brilliant manuscript hidden in the bottom of your desk; you have to send it to him along with a pitch letter describing why he should publish it. Ditto with your novel or memoir or nonfiction book. You need to write a short, succinct, winning pitch to get an agent or editor for it.

I’ve been doing this for years; it’s all part of writing for newspapers and magazines and publishing books. Pitching is not a skill much discussed in MFA programs, but it’s one I always explain in my Seattle writing classes and my Travel, Food and Wine writing classes in Europe. And I ask expert editors to speak about what they like to see in a pitch.

Recently, I asked Kristen Russell, the Managing editor of Seattle magazine, about what she likes to see and not see in a pitch. She came up with a very useful list of mistakes to avoid when pitching magazine editors, which I’ll include below.

  1. The vague pitch: “I would like to write something about the locovore food movement.”
  2. The resume builder: “I am passionate about this topic and would love to see it published in Seattle magazine.”
  3. The not-really-Seattle trend pitch: “More and more people are skipping their vacations because of the economy.”
  4. The why-now? pitch: “For three years, this program has been putting bikes into the hands of at-risk kids.”
  5. The off-tone pitch: Match your pitch to the “voice” of the publication. Do not be overly formal or overly slangy, unless that’s the style of the magazine.
  6. The “it’s your problem” pitch: Don’t throw an idea out there without suggesting a possible use for it. The best pitches make it easy for the editor to see where the story fits into the publication.
  7. The irrelevant-to-the-magazine pitch: “I propose an article on my son’s first day of kindergarten” only works for magazines with a focus on parenting or education.
  8. The mistake-ridden, typo-covered pitch: Don’t do it. Editors will notice.
  9. The redundant pitch: Search the magazine’s website to make sure it hasn’t just run a similar article.
  10. The so-last-year pitch: “How about a story about Seattle’s food trucks?”

For more about pitching newspapers, magazines and book publishers, please consider enrolling in my fall class, Revising Your Life.

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