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How to Pitch a Column: Selling your Passion

So you have a column, or at least an idea. Now you have to convince someone to publish it. I covered an overview of the key components of the pitch letter in The Process: How to Write for Publication. This post answers some fundamental questions to help you approach this intimidating task.

What is a pitch letter? The pitch letter is a brief sales pitch, usually an email, to the editor of your targeted publication. If you are including a completed column, it’s best practice to attach the document and copy the text into the body of the email. The editor may not open all the attachments they receive, or they may be reading your pitch on a cell phone.

Why send a pitch letter? Won’t my column speak for itself? No… well yes, but so does everyone else’s. The pitch letter is your opportunity to make a connection with the editor and sell yourself, not just your idea. The editor is making a commitment to work with you as a partner in the rest of the process. A good editor will see your potential through your pitch letter even if your column needs work. It sets you apart from the rest and convinces the editor to work with you.

Where do I send the pitch letter? Search the publication or its webpage for submission guidelines. They will usually include an email address with the instructions. Whenever possible, send the pitch to the editor directly and cc the generic submission address. It increases your likelihood of response and shows that you have done your homework on the publication.

How do I find out who the editor is? Do some research on the publication. You can often find the names and emails of the editing team online. You might also have some luck through Google or LinkedIn.

How long should the pitch letter be? This is up for debate, but no longer than a page. I personally believe a brief letter, forcefully expressing key information is preferable. Editors are busy and compelling voice is more important than detail.

How hard should I sell myself? Won’t I look arrogant? This shouldn’t be a major concern. You are not telling the editor that you’re an amazing writer, you’ll show it through your writing. What you must do, however, is explain why you are the perfect person to write this story. What about your perspective or experience makes you a compelling voice on this topic? If you feel a little uncomfortable, you are probably in safe territory.

What if the publication wasn’t my first choice? Don’t get hung up on this. You don’t need to lie and say they were your first choice. You are explaining why your piece is perfect for their publication. If you were rejected from your first choice, you should research the new publication and edit your column to fit the new audience or their submission guidelines. If you’ve done that well, guess what, your column is perfect for their publication!

How long should I wait before a follow up? It depends on the publication and your topic. If your topic is timely, you may only give them 24 hours. If the content is less timely, or if the publication is monthly or quarterly, you may give them several weeks. I typically give around one week. With some adjustment to make sure I follow up on a weekday, or if I think that my work is highly desirable. If the publication runs daily and you have a timely column, three days is a good rule of thumb.

When do I know to move on? Set timelines for yourself beforehand and stick to them. If you said you’d follow up in a week, follow up and give another date at which point you’ll move on. It’s a good idea to send a final email when you decide to move on. Not everyone does it, but it avoids potential issues later and is a professional courtesy.

What if they want to make changes to my column? Editors typically edit submissions for style, correctness or length. Most will not publish without clearing edits with you, but there is no guarantee. If they send edits to you, review them quickly and respond. If you disagree with a change, bring it up and explain why. If you can’t come to an agreement, you can still walk away. That being said, editors know what works best for their publication. You must be willing to work together, and a positive, working relationship opens the door to future publication. Just make sure you are staying true to yourself. Don’t take it personally, but don’t let them change your point into something you didn't intend.

Can I pitch one column to multiple publications simultaneously? This is frowned upon. Most publications expect exclusive publishing rights. You may burn bridges if you offer the column to multiple publications simultaneously. Columns are pitched in serial. Start with one publication, if it gets rejected, move onto the next. Look at this as an opportunity to build a habit. While pitching one column, you should already be working on the next.

Can I pitch multiple columns or ideas to the same editor? Generally, you want to pitch one idea at a time, especially if you are just starting to work with the editor. Pitching too many ideas can be overwhelming and cause the editor to move on.

Name recognition: Is it harder to get published if I’m not famous? Not necessarily, while well-known writers may get published more easily, most publications seek out new voices to engage with their audience and prevent themselves from becoming stale. If you are compelling, it doesn’t matter if this is your first column. To quote my old writing professor: “few publications are clamoring for more of the same.”

Finally, don’t breeze through the pitch! Make sure the writing in your pitch letter is at least as strong as the writing in your column. The pitch is your “job interview,” you need to make the best first impression you can.

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