How To Pitch To Online Magazines
Guest post by writer and book-and-magazine-editor Juilee Raje.
You wouldn’t want to get up in the middle of the night to pee, only to accidentally throw yourself down the stairs, would you?
But being blinded by the dark can do that to you.
The same goes for writing for magazines.
A light guiding you on your path makes all the difference—especially when it comes to pitching to the publications of your dreams.
There is nothing more demotivating than pouring your soul into writing an article, and crafting the perfect email, only to be hit with radio silence from the other end.
We all want our work to be treated like a baby bird. But, more often than not, pitches wind up in editors' inboxes much like those clothes strewn across the chair in your bedroom corner.
I’ve been on both sides of the table. I’ve been both the writer and the editorial assistant managing the submissions inbox. Sending rejection emails is never easy, especially when you were rooting for the writer and just want to yell, “You were so close!”
Sometimes it’s a question of fit, and, other times, the reasons are less defined.
The writer-editor relationship is full of opportunities: bouncing off new ideas, receiving valuable feedback, seeing your name in print, and forming genuine connections.
But it can also quickly become a battle of the egos.
"Unless you’re an established writer (and even then), excellent writing means nothing if your communication style makes your editor frown and cross their arms."
So how can you gain more confidence to pitch to an online magazine for the first time and increase your chances of hearing back? How can you stand out?
If you’re a writer and you want to learn the do’s and don’ts of cold-pitching, read on.
Talk TO Your Editor, Not AT Them
If you’re beginning your email with, “Dear editor,” I want you to start hitting the backspace key right now.
Once you’ve picked the online magazine you want to write for, your first task should be searching for the perfect staff member to send your pitch to—and learning their name.
"It makes an enormous difference for an editor to see an email with their name at the top. It’s weirdly intimate in just the right way, and it always makes us sit up straighter."
Most publications have an “About” page, and some have a “Masthead.” While these references are great for getting a sense of the different departments and size of the publication, your best bet for finding that golden name would be under the “Contact” page.
Here, you will see something along the lines of “Send all submissions to ____” along with contact information. Depending on the size and structure of the magazine, this person might be the managing editor or even just an intern. Either way, they’re your first point of contact and the one you have to woo.
Every writer thinks their work is of utmost importance and urgency.
"If you have an urge to send your work to the Head Editor, Publisher, or Founder, while CC’ing anyone else you might’ve missed, resist it."
Unless the publication has specified that you should send your submission to multiple people, you should only be sending it to one. It will go through the appropriate channels in time.
Meet Your New BFFs: Clarity and Brevity
If you send a wall of text to your editor, they’ll get up and go grab some lunch. Seriously. If you want to stir their appetite for your pitch and not a protein bowl, keep it short. Keep a sense of mystery alive!
"If you are pitching an idea for a feature article or blog post, your pitch should be between 200-300 words."
Of course, this varies between publications depending on their individual styles and needs, but generally a pitch is like a movie trailer—revealing the juicy plotline without giving away the whole movie.
Remember that while it is important to provide the context for your ideas, the idea is what’s important. The idea should be fresh, original, easy to follow, and, most of all, relevant.
Use appropriate hyperlinks for institutions, press releases, or news events relevant to your pitch. This tip can help you deliver additional information and keep the spotlight on you as a writer, while keeping your pitch concise and to-the-point.
In short, don’t be a Lengthy Laura, be a Hyperlink Hassan. Within reason, of course. Don’t drown your poor editor in a sea of blue.
"If the guidelines specify that you need to send a fully-baked submission or draft to the editor, make sure that you’re attaching your work in the proper format."
Always double-check that you’ve turned on the proper viewing settings in your Google Document link, or that your Word Document is the last draft you revised, and doesn’t have your morning affirmations at the bottom.
Some paranoia is good.
Fit is Everything
Fit compatibility can refer to your mode of expression, the overall vibe, or the audience you’re writing for. Publishers create publications with very clear mandates, and their mission statement often reflects two or three things that they’re uncompromising on.
The mandate adds consistency to each issue, and allows each member on the editorial team to come to a consensus quicker.
The format of publishing is more flexible and can change over time, but these changes are often announced and deliberate.
For instance, a music magazine can choose to only publish reviews and interviews for decades, and then introduce a podcast.
Or, a women’s magazine can publish thought-pieces and wellness tips for years, and then introduce poetry.
There are many reasons why editors might introduce a new form of writing, but none of them are because they were so blown away by Yuan’s poetry that they called a meeting.
A bad fit can be obvious with some things, but with others it’s tricky even for the publisher. Reading the publication to get a sense of the style and exercising your innovation within reason is really all you can do on your end.
"Above all, stay true to yourself. If a publication’s mandate or style isn’t compatible with your vision for the piece, don’t bend yourself backwards trying to get your work published."
There are many magazines out there, and your time is valuable!
Let Your Voice Shine
A phrase I learned from a mentor in the early days of my career was, “Show, don’t tell.”
Great writers have the confidence to let their work speak for itself.
As a cold-pitch can be an editor’s first impression of you, it’s best to write every word in your own voice.
Once you have the important details in place (greetings, attached files, credentials, etc.) there’s no rule that says you can’t have fun with it!
Similar to fit, strength of voice is the very first thing that an editor weighs to determine whether to slash the piece, or to pass it on to the higher-ups.
No need to take up space trying to convince the editor that you’re a rising star, or revealing personal details about your life in the very first interaction to win a sympathy vote.
The piece of paper you want from your editor is a crisp white contract, not a tissue.
"Dive into your pitch without overthinking it."
Think of concerts, where musicians step on the stage, introduce themselves, and start singing. Just like that, nothing is stopping you from shining and winning the reader’s heart with your passionate words and creative vision.
If you can manage to write your pitch in a style that is similar to your submission, so that it reads like an excerpt of your writing, the editor will know exactly what they’re working with.
Always Follow Up
Always, always, always. Things slip through the cracks all the time, especially when the publication is run by a small team.
Articles that editors are seriously considering publishing often go through many revisions.
We need to weigh if the style is suitable for the magazine, if the piece is time sensitive and we need to reorganize our publishing schedule, a quick background check on the writer, who’s going to be editing it, budget issues—the list goes on.
"Please, be courteous when you do follow-up."
We’ve all heard how writers are sensitive, how they have an ego, and so on. We all know the stereotypes. Just like writers, the people holding the red pen are sensitive too.
When I started out as a bright-eyed editorial intern, I used to chew over my words so much that it took me 5 hours to craft an email response to a writer!
Using an impatient, demanding tone with your editor will rarely ever go your way no matter how wonderful your writing is. It will simply strain your relationship.
As a writer, I’m totally familiar with the frustration of delayed responses from publications. Especially when you want to make some money with your writing, publishers taking too long to make a decision on a time-sensitive pitch can mean perfectly good fruits of your labour will have gone bad before you’ve had a chance to sell them.
When you’re pitching the same idea to multiple publications, it can be stressful when a lead gets dropped last minute, causing you to miss out on another.
So, if the publication doesn’t set ground rules or deadlines, take it into your own hands.
While it’s not a great idea to furiously tap your toes at your editor saying, “Hey, I’ve submitted this piece to The New Yorker too. So, let me know by the end of the week because they’re my first choice!” you should specify that your pitch is time-sensitive.
Want to learn how to write for magazines? Check out our [How To Write for Magazines] online workshop.
If they’ve indicated interest in your pitch, ask when you can expect a decision. Something along the lines of this is perfect:
“I’m glad you are interested in my work! Due to the time-sensitive nature of the topic, please let me know when I can expect a decision to move forward.”
Your editor will appreciate your initiative and the reminder. It is a two-way relationship after all.
Keep Trying, We’re Rooting for You!
If you’ve followed all of these steps and you’re still out of luck, it’s not time to give up just yet!
I still remember the first rejection email I sent vividly. It was while I was working for an arts criticism publication. Let’s call the writer Susan.
Susan did everything right, and put lots of care in answering any questions I had about her pitch. The incompatibility came down to a matter of fit.
She was very good at connecting many dots, but the editors felt that she was hesitant with sharing her own opinions on the topic. So close!
Susan took the rejection with grace and I let out the breath I was holding. I told her to try again, and shared all the notes I had on what our editors had to say about her pitch during our meeting.
When she pitched a second time a few weeks later, I was delighted! We ended up publishing one of her pieces eventually.
If you receive feedback from an editor with your rejection, it’s a good sign! They’re basically putting the bat in your hands so that you can knock your next pitch out of the park.
You won’t always be so lucky. Some online publications with small teams don’t always have the resources to respond to every pitch with care and feedback, and you simply won’t hear from them.
Don’t get discouraged! Switch up your approach, believe in your work, keep reading the magazine to get a sense of their style, and try again.
We’re rooting for you.