This time last week, I was fording my inbox, which was awash with messages from more than 200 writers who were responding to a call for pitches I had posted in two Facebook groups and on my own wall. A couple dozen more messages waited in Facebook Messenger.
Truth be told, I’m still wading through them, since I pledged to respond to everyone who expressed interest in the gig because I consider doing so a professional courtesy.
It had been quite some time since I’d posted a public call for pitches, enough time to have really forgotten how very many off-the-mark pitches an editor receives when they post a call.
Having been reminded, I thought I’d offer five suggestions for standing out in the crowd and improving your chance of getting the gig when an editor puts out a call.
1. Make your response relevant.
When an editor issues a call for pitches, they’re generally fairly specific about what they want to see. Some are extremely detailed; others are a bit more open-ended, like those posted by Pacific Standard’s Ted Scheinman on twitter. But the bottom line is this: If the editor is requesting pitches about penguins in Patagonia, don’t email them to say, “Well, you know, I can’t write about penguins in Patagonia, but I have this GREAT story about flamingos in Florida!” — at least not yet. (More about that in #5, below.)
And if I say I’m looking for a writer in Asheville, please don’t message me to say “Well, I’m in Austin!”. And definitely don’t bait me in an online setting with a phrase like, “Where’s Anaheim?!” If I have work for Austinites or Anaheimians, I will let you know.
2. Give what the editor asks for.
If I say I need clips, I need clips.
I work with, mentor, and hire many new writers, but there are certain assignments for which I must have clips, and if I say that, then I mean it, especially if I don’t know you or your work. Avoid using a call for pitches to try to convince me that I don’t need what I’ve asked for.
3. Keep it short…
I can usually tell from the first sentence whether someone is going to be a good fit for a project, and so can most editors. Don’t send your life story or all your bona fides; if we need more, we’ll ask for it. Until then, see #2 again.
4. … but also: Give me something to work with.
If I’ve indicated I want to hear from a writer who can cover Minneapolis, I don’t just want to hear that you live in Minneapolis or that you traveled there five years ago. Tell me how you know it and what you love about it.
5. If you’re just dying to pitch something the editor isn’t asking for, save it for later.
You do NOT want to be that person in the editor’s inbox who is totally off the mark and slowing things down — not at the moment that a call for specific pitches has been issued. Save our names and emails and pitch us later — a week or two afterward is good. We’ll be recovered from the inbox onslaught and will probably be happy to hear from you then… even about those flamingos in Florida.