For a young journalist trying to get a story published, pitching is at least 70 per cent of the battle. Possibly as much as 73 per cent. The editor is the gatekeeper, and unless you can impress her/him, your story is going nowhere.

Once you have an editor’s attention and the nod to start writing, you can finally get to work telling your story. At that point the only thing holding you back is your ability to follow through, so make sure you don’t oversell your story.

That’s tip one when it comes to the art of pitching. But there’s plenty more to it than that.

To pitch an editor, you need to show her a few key things:

  • You have a story – This sounds trivial, but it isn’t. Your editor wants to know that this isn’t an “I’d like to look into bats” kind of pitch. Come with a concrete lead on something that will interest the readers of that publication.
  • Your story works for that publication – Don’t pitch FFWD a story about the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, unless the Royal Winnipeg Ballet happens to be performing in Calgary, or with a new director who just left Calgary for the job, or preferably both of those things. It’s not just geography, either. Your pitches should be tailored to the tone, themes, and style of the publication, too, so do your homework. Editors don’t want to feel like they’re getting a pitch you sent to 10 publications at the same time.
  • You are the person to tell the story – Why you? Are you well acquainted with the Canadian ballet scene? Where else have you published stories on ballet? Why is this one different?
  • You can handle the piece – This is not a matter of telling the editor that you have “strong writing skills.” Please don’t tell an editor you have strong writing skills. Show her. Write the pitch well, and write it in the tone that you are promising to write the story in.

I’ve included a sample so you can see what a pitch might look like. This was a pitch I wrote to the Globe and Mail for a travel story. They picked it up. In the end it was a different story than the one I had pitched (not to mention the terrible headline), but it made it nonetheless.

Keep in mind that this is a sample. Every pitch is different; they’ll be different lengths depending on how long the story is going to be, how much research you’ve done, what the publication is, and how well you know the editor. They’ll have different tones. But this one hits most of the above elements: it’s a story, it works for the Globe Travel section, I clearly had access to the story, and I showed that I can handle the story.

Arctic Pitch

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Here’s another post on how to pitch from an editor at the Walrus, Drew Nelles. ♦

Image: “Marketing Like A Newsroom” via John Miller/Scribewise