From left: InStyle deputy editor Donna Bulseco, Seventeen senior editor Jessica Blatt-Press, Real Simple deputy editor Rachel Hardage, About.com health editor Kristin Kane, and More contributing fashion features editor Susan Swimmer discuss their ideal freelance pitches at last night’s ASME Next panel.
At last night’s ASME Next “Slam-Pitch Workshop,” magazine industry pros shared their pitching preferences and peeves with an audience of junior-level editors. Real Simple assistant editor Kristin Appenbrink moderated the panel, which included InStyle deputy editor Donna Bulseco, Seventeen senior editor Jessica Blatt-Press, Real Simple deputy editor Rachel Hardage, About.com health editor Kristin Kane, and More contributing fashion features editor Susan Swimmer. With decades of combined experience fielding (and submitting their own) freelance queries, the panelists had plenty to say about the do’s — and don’ts — of pitching.
For a pitch to succeed, Bulseco said its sender needs to have “thought through what you’ll need to think through,” as an editor. “You need to arm your editor with exactly what she needs to be your advocate,” she advised. Someone who just left Page Six Magazine recently pitched Bulseco with an item on Mad Men star January Jones, and included a news peg related to the show: “[The freelancer] understood the things cycling through my mind,” Bulseco said. “Either it hits me and it’s appropriate, or else I don’t really have the time.”
The consensus: pitching via email is a must, with a subject line that explicitly states your pitch is intended for a specific section. “Know the slugs in a magazine,” said Blatt-Press. “Everyone speaks the same magazine-speak, with slight variations.”
“You’ve got about five to 10 seconds to make us keep reading,” explained Kane. Bulseco agreed that pitches “should be fun to read. We’re all readers — we’re all jaded readers,” she said of her magazine editor peers, asserting that queries “can be a little conversational — but informed.”
But what bullets should be dodged when sending freelance pitches?
Beware the sourceless story idea: Blatt-Press wants to know which experts you’d go out to for comment in your sotry. “It’s frustrating when we get a pitch that’s just a link to a news article we’ve all already read,” said Blatt-Press. “Mention related coverage and how [the story you’re pitching is] different.” Hardage cited a recent example where someone pitched a story on modern etiquette and outlined the questions she’d ask — such as what should one do with an umbrella when getting on a bus — then explained how she’d get comment from bus drivers and residents of the country’s rainiest city to round out the piece.
Do editors want to see clips when you pitch? “Absolutely,” said Swimmer. Relevance is key, and new writers needn’t fret if they don’t have samples from prestigious national outlets: “They can be your college paper,” said Swimmer.
The bottom line: A good idea is a good idea, but presenting it the right way is the key to landing an assignment. “Pitch an idea two, three ways,” suggested Swimmer, adding that freelancers should envision the piece on the page, with sidebars, quizzes or boxes containing other related content. “Bring a first-person element” to an otherwise staid service piece, Hardage suggested. Burseco sees “a lot of predictable stories,” but said what makes the difference is “the way you interpret the reporting.”
For more freelance pitching guidance, check out our How to Pitch series, which offers recipes for pitching success for more than 260 magazines and Web sites.