10 Tips for Successfully Pitching Stories & Yourself to Top Magazines and Other Media

By Leigh Anne TiffanyCMM correspondent

During a session at the 2014 ACP/CMA National College Media Convention, journalist, j-prof and reality TV blogger extraordinaire Andy Dehnart shared a slew of timely and time-tested tips on pitching and publishing stories in major magazines and other media outlets.

As his session description asked, “How do you find places to publish your writing? How do you craft effective pitches that will get an editor’s attention? How do you find success as a freelancer? A journalist, TV critic and writer who’s written for Buzzfeed, Playboy, NPR, The New York Times and The Daily Beast, among other publications, will give you secrets to making your way as a writer.
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Andy Dehnart, a visiting journalism professor at Stetson University, founded and maintains reality blurred, a pioneering blog which according to The New York Times “revels in the post-ironic pleasures of reality television.”

Below is a brief sampling of the advice and perspectives he shared.

Write What You Know. To stand out from the carnival barkers, spammers, pretend journalists and your professional peers, Dehnart suggests narrowing your main reporting focus to one area which you can master and eventually claim some authority over. In his words, “As a journalist, I think the number-one piece of advice I can give you is to get some kind of niche and learn that, be an expert in that and become somebody who other people need for really specific things.” Dehnart’s area of reporting expertise, by the way, is reality TV. Check out his 2013 TEDx talk below.

1Cultivate Relationships. The journalists you meet in your own newsroom, during college conventions and throughout your post-grad life are all potential connections you can call upon when pitching. Dehnart said that making what he calls a warm pitch — pitching to someone with whom you have a prior connection — is much easier than a cold pitch. Why? Because the respondents know you and your capabilities and will often accept simpler pitch write-ups. Yet, he stressed that you need to remain adaptable and to avoid becoming too attached to one individual — especially in the current journalism climate people may shift positions rapidly and without warning.

A Collection of Tips. Check out the “How to Pitch” section of the journalism news and resource site Mediabistro. According to Dehnart, it offers a collection of tips on how to pitch pieces to specific publications, along with editor contact information and a breakdown of how many pitches various outlets typically accept. The access cost is $55 for one year or $89 for two years. Depending on the level of your freelance interest, Dehnart said it is definitely worth the price.

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What? How? Why You? Dehnart said there are three key parts to a good pitch. 1) Describe what you are going to write about. 2) Detail how you are going to report and write about it. 3) Sell why you are the best person to write the article.

The Word ‘Pitch.’ A small but essential word of wisdom: Always put the word ‘pitch’ in the subject line of your story pitch emails. As Dehnart confirmed, that word will probably be the only thing that catches a busy editor’s eye as they scroll through messages and may ultimately prevent your pitch from being lost forever in a crammed email inbox. In a similar sense, be succinct in the body of your message. Remember, editors are multi-tasking and on deadline. Getting to the point, while not leaving out the necessary details, is key.

“By the Way, My Mom Hoards Cats.” As a fun example, Dehnart said that statement is something you would include in an opening email only if you were pitching a hoarding article. Bottom line, stick to providing relevant details which will reinforce why you are the best person to report on a particular piece. Do not share extraneous or unnecessary information. As Dehnart explained, “Your ability to pitch well is what’s going to get you read. If your first paragraph doesn’t give them enough information to keep reading, or is full of typos, or if it doesn’t represent that you are a good writer or reader, that’s a problem.”

1Speaking of Cats… To beat back writer’s block — on a pitch or while working on a full story draft — Dehnart recommended Written? Kitten!. The motivational website allows you to set word count goals while you write. When you reach those goals, a new kitten, puppy or bunny pops up on the screen.

Know Your Audience. There are two distinct audiences to keep in mind when you pitch a story. 1) The editors to whom you are pitching your initial idea. 2) The readers who will check out your final published piece. To tailor a better pitch to both those audiences, Dehnart suggests regularly reading the publications you are pitching — helping you better understand the reader experience and cluing you into more subtle and dramatic editorial changes over time.

Polite Persistence. After your submit a pitch, the waiting game begins. Dehnart said you need to be patient, but if you haven’t received a personal response or even an automated reply after roughly one week for a news piece or two weeks for a feature story then it is OK to politely send a follow-up inquiry email. If you still hear nothing after a few more weeks, move on and send your pitch to another outlet.

Embrace Failure. Dehnart stressed the hard truth that most of your pitches are not going to be accepted. Bottom line, in the freelancing game, when it comes to story pitching, you will fail a lot. He said that while it can be hard not to take the rejections personally, it’s much more constructive to think of them as test runs to learn from and to help you perfect your next pitch.

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