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Pitches That Worked: Parents

We break down why a query landed its writer a Parents assignment

By Rebecca L. Fox - September 11, 2006

Welcome to Pitches That Worked, a new feature for AG members that takes an actual query letter that landed its writer an assignment, and breaks down just what made it successful. Consider it your guide to the nuts and bolts of assignment-worthy pitches, complete with comments from the author of the pitch and the editor who fielded it about what made it work.

In this first installment, we illustrate (with numbered, hyperlinked comments) how freelancer Betsy Noxon's pitch to Parents magazine has the ingredients essential to a convincing query. Plus, she and Parents' articles editor, Mary Hickey, describe in their own words how Noxon's pitch led to a published piece.

What the Writer Did

Betsy Noxon: "The idea for this pitch first generated with thoughts on pre-teens and envy. My nephew commented that some of his friends had all the cool electronics and games. This got me thinking about all the pressure kids feel about having material things so they can fit in at school. I spoke to some friends whose kids are this age, too, and recalled my experiences as a 9-12 year old.

"I called upon an expert in the area to verify that indeed, kids coping with being a part of the in crowd is a natural part of a child's development.

"My original pitch focused on envy, but when Mary called to discuss, she felt my pitch was more about fitting in. Around this time, I was taking mediabistro's online 'Master The Pitch Letter' class with James Sturz. I reworked the pitch, submitted it to my class for review, then revised and emailed it to Mary. I heard back from her later that day, [saying] she wanted to go ahead with the piece."

The Pitch

March 17, 2005

Mary C. Hickey (1)
Articles Editor
375 Lexington Ave.
New York, NY 10017

Dear Mary: (2)

From the latest PlayStation game to the hottest jeans to the right haircut kids gotta have it to fit in. If not, their worlds fall apart. (3)

For your "As They Grow" department for the 9-12 age group (4) I propose a 1,000- word piece (5) on why kids need to fit in with their friends and how parents can handle this need. (6) I'll examine what parents can do to nurture individuality, while caring for their child's self-esteem.

The article will give an example (7) of a family that deals with the issues their child faces when trying to fit in and show how they are successfully working through it. The piece will give parents tips on how to handle their kids' need to fit in and what to do when their child isn't part of the "in" group. (8) I will also address how parents can negotiate with their kids on the things they want. Ben Shain, MD, PD, head of the Child and Adolescent Developmental Psychiatry department at Highland Park Hospital in Highland Park, Illinois notes (9), "During these years parents shouldn't dismiss their child's need to fit in, but empathize with their child." A sidebar (10) will give a bulleted list on how kids can handle teasing and cliques, as suggested by child development experts.

I am a parent of two young sons and have a niece and nephew, both age nine, who are dealing with these issues now. (11) We met at the Writers & Editors Conference in Chicago last summer. (12) Since then, I've mailed some of my clips to you for your file. I've published parenting and health stories in North Shore magazine, Chicago Parent magazine and The Chicago Tribune, and have a piece on scholarships to be published in AARP The Magazine's May/June issue. (13)

I look forward to hearing from you soon about my proposal.

Betsy Noxon

Why the Editor Bit

Mary Hickey: "The pitch was very clearly focused and showed that [Noxon] was completely familiar with the section of the magazine she was pitching this for. She knew the format of the column -- i.e., that it always includes a sidebar. And, she also did a little research and talked to an expert to establish that this is, in fact, an issue that parents of kids in this age group are dealing with.

"So many pitches I get are for stories that we've done within the past year. I think a lot of writers make the mistake of not looking at back issues to make sure their idea isn't something we've done fairly recently. I don't expect them to go back over years of issues, but they certainly should look at the last ten or so issues."

Key Components of the Pitch

(1) Correct address information for the outlet's assigning editor, formatted properly for a business letter, is essential -- including the properly spelled name and title of the person to whom the pitch is addressed. Back to pitch

(2) Noxon addresses her pitch directly to Hickey, avoiding the impersonal "To whom it may concern." Back to pitch

(3) Noxon jumps right in without any distracting preamble. Her tone is clear and authoritative from the start, implying that she knows their subject. Back to pitch

(4) Noxon targets a particular section of the magazine, showing that she's familiar with Parents. Back to pitch

(5) Stipulating a word count shows that Noxon has thought about how long her story should be to adequately cover her topic. Word count is consistent with the length of pieces that typically run in the section she's writer is targeting; again, demonstrating her knowledge of Parents. Back to pitch

(6) Heightening its potential appeal to Hickey, Noxon proposes a story with a dual purpose: explaining children's need to fit in, and arming parents with ways to deal with it. The idea has a service element to in line with Parents content's goal of helping parents guide their children by providing useful insights. Back to pitch

(7) Now that she's clearly laid out her story idea, Noxon shows how she'll flesh it out, concisely describing an example she can provide, thus showing Hickey that she's already done research to back up her story and can provide evidence to prove her piece's thesis. Back to pitch

(8) By mentioning her intended article's "tips" component in her pitch, Noxon again plays up the service aspect. Back to pitch

(9) Citing an expert source with a direct quote lends depth to Noxon's pitch and proves that with her story idea, she's onto a larger phenomenon. Back to pitch

(10) Suggesting a related sidebar is consistent with the format of the Parents section Noxon's targeting, again lending depth to her proposal and proving she knows the magazine's format. Back to pitch

(11) Referencing the children in her own life helps Noxon illustrate the issues within her proposed story on a personal level, lending yet another dimension to her pitch and further proving to Noxon the need for this proposed story. By explaining that her niece and nephew are "dealing with these issues now," Noxon telegraphs an actual need for her piece without veering into melodrama. Back to pitch

(12) Referring to how she met Hickey, Noxon describes where and when it occurred -- a sound strategy, since Hickey may not recall their encounter. Back to pitch

(13) Concluding with examples of where the she's been published and which topics she's covered always works, but it's especially helpful when, as in Noxon's case here, those topics correspond with the story being proposed. Noxon wraps up with concrete evidence (i.e. previously published pieces) that she can deliver. Back to pitch

[Rebecca L. Fox is's features editor. If you've got a pitch you'd like to see featured here, email Rebecca AT mediabistro DOT com]

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