5 Email pitching tips
You have an exciting story idea. You can’t wait to place this story with an editor. You spend all this time researching, drafting and tweaking your pitch. And after a checking your grammar and spelling twice and enduring pangs of anxiety, you finally hit send.
...And then you wait
...Maybe a few days have past. Should I follow up?
...A week goes by and you’re convinced your story idea is bad. Should you send it to another editor?
This scenario has happened to me more times than I can count. But I know not to take it personally, because I (briefly) was an editor once. While working at a small-staffed weekly newspaper in Chicago early in my career, I got into the office fairly early, around 8-ish a.m., before everyone else. I’d set aside around 30 minutes or so per day to sort through emails. I created a folders for various newspaper sections, and sorted pitches accordingly. Though we had a small but mighty staff, I’d say I received between 50 and 75 emails per day, some spam, mostly poorly written PR pitches.
That experience lets me know that editors at bigger publications likely have an unfathomable amount of email in their inboxes everyday. So, how do writers stand out in the flood of voices clamoring for a byline? Here’s what I’ve learned while nabbing bylines at publications like The New York Times, The Guardian, Vogue.com and multiple other national and Chicago-based publications:
Find the right editor… and a backup editor
While I’m out and about at stores like CVS, Barnes & Noble or Walgreens?, I like to take photos of the masthead. Why? Because they now include editor names and titles for the print publications and I don’t want to spend a ton of time looking up editors. Magazine masthead will have the current (as of press time) editor names, titles and even social media handles. Cross check the masthead with social media handles, because magazine editors move around a lot and you want to make sure that you’re sending your pitch email to the right editor.
Sometimes it’s not quite clear which section would be the best fit. When I pitched to Vogue.com, I originally sent my idea to the culture editor, who kindly said it would be a better fit for the living section, which is where the piece ran.
Spend some time looking at their section.
Before emailing your pitch to your, send a few minutes skimming their section and see if they’ve recently run anything similar to your pitch. If you find stories that are related to what your pitch but not exactly like yours. You may be on the right track. If it’s too similar, take the pitch elsewhere. Sending in a pitch that’s just like something else already on the site will ensure your pitch will be quickly discarded.
Consider email tracking software
This is controversial, but hear me out. I use MailTrack to track when recipients read my email. You can also use other software like Bananatag and Boomerang. Some editors find it invasive. But for me, it’s the ultimate way to find out when and how often my pitches are landing. If an editor opens my email a few times in a row, for example, I know the editor is at least evaluating my pitch. If they don’t open it within a couple days, I know it’s time to follow up or move on, depending on the timeliness of the pitch. Unlike say, email marketers who track customers activity to see whether they’ll buy a product, I’m not monitoring an editor’s every move. I just want to know if they got my note. If they don’t have time to respond to me, I can move on right away rather than awkwardly following up every two weeks.
Use captivating subject lines
Some writers say just having “Pitch” in the subject line is fine. In fact, some editors say which what subject line to use when they request pitches. Unless an editor explicitly requests a subject line or you already have an established relationship with the editor, treat your subject lines like cool headlines. To this day, I remember my copy editing teacher telling us that a headline should tell the story and sell the story. Honestly, I suck at the selling part, but I try to make my email subject lines sexier. Consider including celebrity names, notable hashtags or trending topics and any other enticing tidbits from the story you’re pitching. I aim to keep the subject line to five to six words, especially given that these emails may pop up on mobile first.
Mondays, Fridays, and weekends are not the best times to pitch, according to Agility PR. Beware of holidays, too. And speaking of subject lines, it’s important to denote timing in the subject line, too. If it’s timely, I write “TIMELY PITCH:...” in the subject line. If it’s meant for a specific print issue, I’ll write “OCT. 2018 PITCH:...” Print magazines typically pay $2 per word or more for stories. To make sure that your idea will fit into the print magazine’s editorial plans, check their editorial calendar, a document meant for advertisers which outlines the focus on the editorial content for each month. Usually, if editors are looking for stories to fill their sections, it’s helpful for them to know when your pitch will fit best, thus making you a life-saver in their eyes.
If you’ve implemented all these tips and still get nowhere, don’t get discouraged! Have a list of follow-up publications who might be interested in the idea. And if no one takes it, put it to the side for a while.
How do you optimize your email pitches? Tell me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org