How to pitch an article or idea to a publication

You have an idea for an article. You want to pitch it to the editor of a publication. But how do you do that?

 The secret to getting a person at a publication to take note of your idea (or something you have already written) is to think like a journalist

And the first step to that is understanding that a journalist will always want to know what the “angle” is. If you can’t answer that question quickly and clearly, your story idea is dead in the water.

What is an angle in journalism?

 This definition has always worked for me:

 “The angle of a news or feature story is the story’s point or theme, most often expressed in the lede (first paragraph or “intro”) of the article. It’s the lens through which the writer filters the information he or she has gathered and focuses it to make it meaningful to viewers or readers.” (ThoughtCo.)

An example of an angle:

In this TimesLive story (‘I just want to get on with my life,’ says woman released on Ramaphosa’s special remission) about 9,000 prisoners who received special remission of sentences from President Cyril Ramaphosa on August 11, the angle is not that people’s sentences have been remitted. The writer has taken a decision to make the story human by focussing on one person’s experience, and so the intro to the story goes like this:

 Louise Ruzzier had been under correctional supervision for more than a year after a culpable homicide conviction when her parole officer called her on Monday with good news.

 Being clear on your angle means you can explain what the story is about to someone else. Not “I am writing a feature on the remitting of sentences”! Rather, “I have an interview with a woman who is being released from her sentence”.

How to find the angle

To find the angle: Ask yourself: if I phoned a friend, what is the first thing I would tell them about this, then use that as a place to start.

 Then think about the publication’s audience and what they are interested in (importantly: the angle may not be what you personally think is important). 

Writing tip: try to identify the angle before you sit down to write! Imagine you have to write the headline and start there.

 READ: It’s the reader, stupid

Then think about the person you are making your pitch to

The nature of modern journalism means that the person you are emailing or phoning is so busy that they don’t have time to go to the bathroom. And that applies across the board, whether you are contacting a magazine or an online news site or a print publication.

You can get them on your side by not wasting their time – give them everything they need to know as quickly as you can. 

Here are all the things I wish people had known when I was deputy editor of a big news website.

1. Use the angle in your pitch

  •  Make sure your projected angle is relevant to the publication you are approaching. Don’t send a health article to the motoring editor. You can usually find a list of contacts, or “heads of department” at a publication on their website.
  • Use the angle in the subject line of the email, or make it the first thing you say on the phone. Then explain how it works for that publication’s readers. Say: “I see you’ve run a series of articles on how the justice system affects women. I have an interview that helps make that human for your readers.” Don’t say: “There’s this person called XXXX and I have talked to her and she is really interesting.”

2. Other things to mention in your pitch

  • Explain what your credentials are, or who you are – a brief paragraph or sentence is all that’s needed in the initial stages.
  • Indicate that you are willing to discuss changes or edits to your work, but that you would like to be included in the process. (The publication is going to edit it anyway: be determined to learn from the process, rather than gatekeeping your precious prose).

 3. Other ways not not waste an editor or journalist’s time

 On the phone:

  • It seems impolite, but most journalists would be happy if you didn’t ask them how they are (because it means they have to take the time to ask you how you are).
  • Introduce yourself by name and organisation. Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Ask if you can have a minute of their time. Say you have a health story (for example), and check if they are the right person (if not, ask for a quick pointer to the right person).
  • Get straight to the point. “I have written (or can write) an oped about Issue X which is relevant to you because I see you cover Issue X extensively – and I have some new ideas about that.” Not: “I am a scientist and I could write about Covid for you.”
  • Get their email address, and follow-up with all the details they could ever need – see the next step.

In email

  • Don’t paste the whole article into the body of the mail. Attach it, and use the email to write three or four paragraphs giving the main angle and outlining why this works for them.
  • Work on your subject line. Give the topic clearly. “Covid-19 Vaccines and Why There are So Many of Them – oped and pic attached.” Not: “Oped about Covid”.
  • Give all your contact details in the body of the email, and repeat them in the attachment.
  • Don’t spend a lot of time on formatting your article – that will all get changed in the publication process anyway. Stick to a simple font, and a clear structure of headings (too many layers of headings and sub-headings are also not a good idea).
  • If you can, take (or supply) a picture that’s relevant to the story. Send it in its original size and in both horizontal and vertical (landscape and portrait) format. Or find a picture with a Creative Commons licence Make sure you give the details of the source of the picture in the email.

 READ: How to find a free picture

Main picture: Robert Bye, Unsplash

How to reach me

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs (writing, editing, coaching and training, social media).

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