Pitching yourself is hard. Really hard.
Pitching yourself is the epitome of putting yourself out there -- there's no safety net, no woulda-shoulda-coulda... only the cold, hard truth. Is your work good enough?
The thing that can be hard to swallow about creative work is that, too often, the work doesn't stand by itself. As a writer or artist, it's your job to sell yourself to employers or consumers of your content.
So as hard as the pitch is, it's crucial you figure out how to do it well.
I am not an expert in pitching by any means. But I have pitched articles, screenplays, books, and other pieces of writing with varying levels of success.
Below is everything I've learned along the way.
Know Who You're Pitching
There's something very hollow and unsatisfying about sending an email to a "submissions@" email address, which is usually what's listed on a publication's website. I look at submissions@ as sort of the first line of defense for editors trying to protect the size of their slush pile.
If you really want to be heard, find a human being to send your pitch to. That could be the Editor in Chief, Deputy Editor, Editor, Assistant Editor, or even Intern. Some outlets will give you contact information for these people on their Staff page, but you can also find email addresses through Twitter or some clever Googling.
To find a staff member's email address, try Googling "@[publication].com" in quotes. You may not find the exact person you're looking for, but there's a good chance you'll figure out the "email structure" -- FirstInitialLastName@publication.com, FirstNameLastInitial@publication.com, etc.
From there, it's an easy guess.
Know the Outlet
Common pitching advice says you need to read a "target" outlet for several months, interact with content, share articles, comment, and send emails to writers and editors along the way... and then, and ONLY THEN, can you pitch an article.
I think this is well-intentioned but insanely naive.
You should read an outlet enough to know what type of stuff they run. And you should definitely never pitch anything similar to a piece they've run recently. But other than that, let's not pretend that only fans and contributors can have a seat at the table.
If you're offering great content, make no apologies for it.
Cut the Bullshit
Maybe you are a big fan of this publication. Maybe you've been reading it for years and have decided this is your chance to finally get a byline.
That's great. Now shut up abuout it.
Digital publishing is a business. They need content, you have content. You don't need to wax poetic about how much you love their site and how you've been a fan for a long time (especially if it's not really true).
Opening with a quick complimentary line is good, but keep it short.
Ultimately, you want your success to hinge on the strength of your pitch. Building relationships and benfitting from them is great, but if your pitches aren't good on their own, you're going to find yourself spending a lot of time networking and very little time publishing.
I know what it's like to be a young writer desperate for some attention or a placement. I know what it's like to be terrified of irking someone or rubbing them the wrong way.
You have to let that go. You have to follow up with people.
Don't wait forever. If you haven't heard back on your pitch in a few days, send a polite note and ask if they had a chance to review your pitch or if they could give you some insight into why they passed over it.
The most common response when I have prodded people?
"Thanks for following up."
Keep it Short
Publishers and editors are busy. Just like you. They don't have time for 1500 word emails.
Editors are basically looking for two things in your pitch:
Is the idea good? Can you execute it?
Don't waste time on anything that doesn't work to prove those points.
Know the Format
A basic pitch should look like this:
Here's where you put a brief RUNDOWN OF YOUR IDEA, in its simplest form, making it as enticing as possible while using the least amout of space.
Here is where you put your CREDENTIALS. Where have you been published? Why should they believe your submission will actually be good?
Here's where you SIGN OFF, offering your appreciation for their time and next steps for contacting you.
Also, try to find out if the publication in question has a preferred format. Some places will give you very detailed instructions on how to pitch them. Follow them precisely.
Don't be afraid of simultaneous submissions.
A lot of writers (myself included) want to know: should I submit to multiple publications at once?
Look, I am pro-writer, so my opinion here is probably skewed, but here it is:
Some outlets will give you a reasonable window to hear back on their submissions page (two weeks, for example). In those cases, just wait. But if they won't give you a timeframe, I'd wait a few days, follow up, and pitch to someone else. Or if the timeframe is ridiculous (some literary journals won't respond for six months to a year!) just go ahead and submit to someone else.
Having two outlets want the same article is a good problem to have.
Say everything goes well and you earn yourself a placement in a respectable publication.
Now make sure you don't screw it up.
Make sure you understand... who owns the content? Can you repost it on your blog? Are you going to be listed as the author? Will you get a link back to your site or blog? Will you get a bio? Are you getting paid? Is there a "kill fee" (meaning, do you get paid if the pub decides NOT to run your piece)?
You don't have to just go with the flow. Get the answers to these things. That's how pros do it.
What are your favorite pitching tips? What did you learn the last time you were accepted or rejected? What do you wish you knew a long time ago?