Reader Q&A: To pitch now or to pitch later, that is the question

Reader_QandAWhat is the best way to pitch a story to a potential publisher? What if you have access to a great interview candidate (say, a prominent local artist) – should you go ahead with the interview, write the piece, and submit it to a magazine; or should you first find a publisher who would like the piece, and then schedule the interview?

Sounds like a chicken and egg conversation, doesn’t it?

Well, we thought it was an excellent question when Brit DeLong (a graduate student who contributes a health column to the DC Examiner and writes her own blog – Busy Girl Health – while studying publishing at The George Washington University) brought it to our attention. Here’s what some of our Live to Write – Write to Live experts had to say on the subject:

Susan NyeFrom Susan Nye:

Dear Brit,
Query first; interview and write the article after you get the go from an editor/publisher. As you will need to interview the subject of your article, you will be taking some of his/her time as well as setting expectations that an article will appear sometime in the future. The artist gives you time – you give him/her some publicity. You don’t want to take the artist away from his/her art unless you can deliver.
I suggest you query potential editors to find out if they are interested in the topic. Unfortunately many articles have trouble finding homes because the editor(s) of your target magazine(s) does not see a good fit for your topic – especially if your subject is local or regional and the number of potential publications is limited. Just because an idea is brilliant doesn’t mean a particular magazine will leap to buy it. In addition, many small magazines have their editorial calendars filled for months to come. If nothing else, the artist will know in advance that the article isn’t coming out until July 2014.
People like choices. I suggest that you put together three great ideas, you already have your first, and query editors with all three. Include examples of your work with your query. Published clips are preferable but unpublished articles can do in a pinch. More than one student has secured an assignment with an article from a journalism or creative writing class. I got my first gigs with a newsletter I wrote for friends and family. The examples should demonstrate that you are up for the tasks you propose – an in-depth interview of an artist and your other two ideas. In addition, try not to go too far afield on your proposed topics. Most editors will believe you are credible on a limited set of subjects. It can be hard to convince a stranger that you are capable of a story about an artist one day and venture capital fund management the next.
Good luck – Susan


wendy-shotFrom Wendy Thomas:
I would add:

Include photos, let the magazine know that you have photos ready to go along with the article (some mags take their own photos, others like to have them supplied.)

Also, it’s important to list all of the people and references you will use for your article. That’s a point that adds credibility to your pitch.

I’ve done articles both ways. Querying or pitching first is preferable. My most memorable article first, pitch second was when I interviewed Michelle Obama. The campaign headquarters chose me to interview her but as a freelancer I hadn’t yet placed the article. I spent the night before the interview calling up editors to see if one would take the article. Eventually one did accept it, but not before I grew myself a baby ulcer.

Trust me, it’s a lot easier to pitch before you promise a published final product.

headshot_jw_thumbnail… and a little PS from me:
I don’t have much to add since the feature/column work I’ve done has all been procured through my network and word-of-mouth referrals, so I haven’t been in a position of having to pitch a story. I trust that my colleagues know their stuff, though.
The only other, smallish piece of advice I’d offer is to make sure you follow best practices for your pitch and the etiquette of reaching out to an editor. As a blogger who is often approached by people who would like to guest post or otherwise appear on one of the blogs I either write or edit, I can attest to the sad majority of folks who haven’t got good sense about how to respectfully reach out to someone.
A few random thoughts:
  • Know about the publication you’re approaching – read a few of their other pieces (if not full issues, or a bunch of archived materials if the target pub is a blog).
  • If you can, reference a piece or two in your cover note – just briefly, but to make the point that you know what they are all about.
  • Proactive tip: If you have a few pubs you would really like to write for, get involved with their online community spaces (Facebook, Twitter, blog comments, Google+, etc.). This will make it a LOT easier for you to approach someone when the time comes.
  • There are dozens of great resources out there re: how to write a solid pitch, but a few things that always bear repeating:
    • Address it to a real person, vs. “Editor.”
    • Keep it brief and to the point.
    • Focus on how your piece will benefit the pub’s audience. Remember – this isn’t about you. It’s about the pub and their audience.


We were delighted to be able to share some of our insight and perspective with Brit. We wish her the best of luck with this project (and all future writing endeavors).
If you have questions for the writing team at Live to Write – Write to Live, please feel free to reach out to any one of us via our individual blogs or Twitter. We’d be happy to help out if we can. It’s all about sharing what we’ve learned.
Thanks for being here and being part of the conversation!


Image Credit: base image by Rubin Alexander

5 thoughts on “Reader Q&A: To pitch now or to pitch later, that is the question

  1. I haven’t published a ton, but I find it good to have at least some sort of quotes to go along with the story. Obviously, this works great when you’re working in one field. For example, today I interviewed someone on cybercrime for one article, but at the end of the interview I “piggybacked” and asked a few questions about some other articles I had in mind. I told him I’d get back in touch if those panned out and I needed more info.

    Now when I pitch the editor the ideas for my next couple of stories I can include. “This expert said this. This professor believes that,” and that gives a better understanding of what the future article will be.

    Even if I don’t write those articles for a year, I have quotes and ideas saved from old interviews I can use to at least help push me over the top and show that I do have contacts and that I do have a story.

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