[words by Narina Exelby / photograph © Sanjay Arora]
Last week a friend had a six-page feature published in a magazine. It was a big moment for her, getting the mag back from the printers and seeing her name, for the very first time, in ink.
Witnessing her anticipation and excitement at being published reminded me how hard it can be to get a foot in the door to magazine land. The first step is getting your pitch right – and no matter how great your idea is, getting an editor to even read through to the end of your email can be a struggle if your approach is wrong.
Every week I receive emails from people who want to write for our magazine; many of them seem to be just starting out on their careers. It might come down to their lack of experience, but so often I’m surprised by how badly constructed or inappropriate their pitches are. These tips might sound obvious, but you’ve got to start somewhere. So let’s start at the beginning:
1/ Send your pitch to the correct person. A simple phone call or email to the magazine’s enquiry line should clear this up.
2/ Make sure you’re emailing the correct person at the correct magazine. So often I receive emails from people who’ve cut and pasted the story idea they sent to a competing title, and forgotten to change the ed or the magazine’s name. Not a good first impression – at all.
3/ Keep your texting language and emoticons for your friends. And spell-check your email.
4/ Be familiar with the title you’re pitching to. Know what type of stories they run, what destinations they cover, what structure their stories tend to follow, who their audience is and know the tone of the magazine. This is very important – it shows you understand the mag and will be able to deliver a piece that’s on-brand.
5/ Do some research. It’s unlikely the editor will accept a story if they’ve just run a similar feature on the same destination.
6/ Work hard to find an angle that is interesting, relevant to the magazine, that’s unlikely to have been covered before and an angle that is unlikely to be covered by competing titles.
7/ Be up front about your sponsors. Be open about who’s covering the costs of your trip. If it’s sponsored by a company, they’ll want exposure in your story – and the magazine’s policy might be to not include this.
8/ Be specific. Tell the editor what they can expect from you and what your strengths and interests are. “I’m a certified diver and a qualified marine biologist, so I’ll be able to write with authority about the Great Barrier Reef.” “My Arabic is fairly good and I plan on talking to many locals in the food markets of Marrakech, finding out first-hand the secret to cooking the perfect tagine.” “I’m exceptionally reliable and will be travelling with my laptop, so I will be able to send you copy from the road.”
9/ Attach one or two examples of your work. If the ed can see you know how to write, but your pitch doesn’t fit the magazine, they’ll be more likely to work with you to find an angle that suits their brand.
10/ Follow up. Don’t bombard the editor with phone calls and emails, but if you’ve not head from them after a week, drop them a polite reminder – chances are deadline’s taken over and your email’s gotten lost in the mayhem of their inbox. It happens. Honest.