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Pitching

Pitches That Worked: Time Out New York

TONYPTW.jpgSt. John Frizell’s success story:

I was in James Sturz’s “Intro to Travel Writing” class at the time, and this pitch was a class assignment: Pitch a travel-style article to a local magazine or newspaper. For some time, I had been doing my own research on New York’s German restaurants, and I had just discovered Zum Schneider and Hallo Berlin. October was six weeks away, and an Oktoberfest roundup seemed like a no-brainer. Jean Tang, a fellow student, liked the pitch and told me I should send it to her friend Maile Carpenter, then food editor at Time Out New York. It seemed like a perfect fit for Time Out, where easily digestible food/entertainment roundups are king.
I made sure to include Jean’s name in the letter, and I wrote it as much in “Time Out-style” as possible. It was sent via email, but I don’t remember the subject line. I also said that I was a Bon Appetit staffer, which was true — though I was a copywriter at the time, not an editor. I was never asked to clarify.
The editor bit on the pitch right away, because it was perfectly pegged — I sent the pitch in mid-August, just when they were finalizing their content for late September and early October.

More on what he did right–and the pitch itself–here.

Can You “Make” An Article Timely?

clocks.jpegWhen it comes to pitching articles, I have a chicken-and-egg question. What comes first, an idea you love with a timely element, or something timely that you try to make unique? Whichever method works better, I wanted to know how writers can make their pitches as timely–and unique as possible. I posed the question on Ask Metafilter. Here’s some of the input:

Constructing a new and pointed idea around things just unfolding isn’t quite as simple as padding whatever you have lying around with x major headline. Padding previous works with little bits of news reeks of “creative packaging” and it’s usually so obvious! Occasionally there are times when a news story pops up and you make a connection, it’s another step removed in proving your thesis or whatever, and in that case a rewrite isn’t so corny.
A quick-and-dirty hypothetical: Let’s say you’ve been working on a piece on MP3 players for several months, doing lots of deep research, trying to get someone to pick it up. If you were pitching it last week, you might make the announcement of the Zune’s sharing feature your primary focus. If you were pitching the story back in March, your primary focus might have been volume levels and the potential for hearing damage. Or something like that. In either case, you’ll need to expand the article (with new interviews and facts) to include the timely element.
Predict the future. Then start working. By the time you’re almost done, it’ll be perfectly timely. I’m only being partially sarcastic. Being up on issues in a particular area *does* give you an idea of what’s coming ’round the bend. Play into a bit of confirmation bias and voila!

Do you have tips and tricks for finding the most current angle–or even a future angle–on a story idea which would make it irresistable to an editor? Please share and email it to claire AT mediabistro.com

Pitches That Worked: Newsday

a8463.jpgWelcome 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. If you’ve got a pitch you’d like to see featured here, email Rebecca AT mediabistro DOT com.
In our second installment, we illustrate (with numbered, hyperlinked comments) how freelancer Alan Krawitz’s laser-sharp pitch led to a string of 70+ Newsday assignments over five years, even though the story he proposed in the original query shown here had already been assigned!

Top five key components of the pitch:

(1) Right off the bat, the pitch’s writer makes clear that what he’s addressing is an ongoing issue, creating a need for his story.
(2) Naming the multiple locations where graffiti shows up in Queens shows the problem is widespread, also helping to establish the need for his story.
(3) Writer brings his idea into the present, describing newly introduced and cutting-edge efforts to thwart the problem he’s identified.
(4) Citing a specific example by name puts a face on the story for an editor, also showing the writer’s done some research to back his idea.
(5) Emphasizing the story’s local provenance, as well as the crime aspect, is a hook sure to resonate with a city-centric paper like Newsday.

Read more (and the pitch itself) here.

Transcript: Pitching to TV & Cable Networks

tvs.jpg

This is an excerpted transcript of mediabistro.com’s “How to Pitch to TV and Cable Networks” workshop held June 6, 2006 in New York, conducted by former programming executive Laurie Scheer. Sign up now for an eClass with Laurie: Pitch That TV Show or 12-Week TV Writer. Register for Laurie’s upcoming classes in New York: Intro to Writing for Women’s TV and Cable Shows and Writing and Producing a TV Pilot.

You’ve got to put your pitch into one good, solid line, that they’ve got it. And you see it right here. “An NYU student becomes a nanny for a family living on the Upper East Side, but they turn out to be the family from hell.” Family from hell. And it tells me everything. You don’t have to go through the picnic, the vacation. You know, everything went wrong. One quick, wonderful one-sentence. Wherever you go, you’re going to tell people your idea this way. You don’t give it away. You tell me enough of it, but you’re not going to give it away. This is a way to protect what you’re writing. You want to protect your ideas as much as possible. You don’t know who to trust. That’s the first level of protection. They’re going to steal it. Some of them steal it from you more than someone at a production company, although that can happen also. So, this is a way to protect it. Make sure that it’s right, everybody gets it. You go from there. So, you need a log line.
The next thing is a synopsis. And there are two versions of this. This is a synopsis, not a treatment. A synopsis is generally one page. It is a fiction, prose version of your scripted show. A treatment is usually something that’s ten to 125-plus pages. It’s a very long, written-out version of what your series is going to be. To add to this, some production companies, some producers, say that a treatment is a one-page thing. And others say a synopsis is something that’s more lengthy. I can’t tell you which production company’s going to say what. All I can tell you is, “Ask.” When they say, “Can we see a synopsis,” say, “Do you mean a one-page summary, or a larger document?” And they will tell you what they mean by “synopsis.”

More here, AG members.

Pitches That Worked: Parents

PTW_Parents_cover.jpgToday mb rolls out 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.

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.
(2) Noxon addresses her pitch directly to Hickey, avoiding the impersonal “To whom it may concern.”
(3) Noxon jumps right in without any distracting preamble. Her tone is clear and authoritative from the start, implying that she knows their subject.

Read all of it, including the pitch itself, here.

Vote on your favorite “query letter I’d love to send”

zvoteordie.jpgAt the Renegade Writers Blog:

We asked you to send in a “query letter you’d love to send – but never would.” As promised, here are our top picks. Now it’s up to you: please vote on your favorite by commenting here or e-mailing Linda at linda-eric@lserv.com. The winner will receive a signed copy of The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock when it’s released in November. Deadline for voting is August 25, 2006.
We also have a winner in the “rejection letter I’d love to send” contest – party because the letter is hilarious, and partly because it’s the only one we received! Guess we’re not on the must-read list for editors (yet). The winning entry is at the end of this post.

More here.

How to Pitch Your Book at a Writing Conference

You’ve spent a pretty penny to get to a (reputable) writers conference. You’re excited to meet other authors and chat with editors–until you fall on your face because you overlooked one thing–how you were going to pitch your book. Cynthia P. Gallagher at Writing-World has advice on how to prepare for the big pitch.

When is it Theft?

hamburglerrrr.jpgA few weeks ago I posted the question on the boards: when has a writer’s story idea been stolen by an editor, and when has it just been an unfortunate coincidence that the story she pitched ended up in the publication? Interesting topic, as some thing that nothing can be done about it when it happens, and others are convinced that stories get pinched all the time. Here were some of the highlights of the advice:

An editor’s two cents: When writers pitch me ideas we already have on the books or another writer has pitched, I make sure I tell them just so they don’t think I stole their idea. I would not be upset if a writer “confronted me” on this, as long as they did it in a professional way. I prefer the chance to clear up a misunderstanding to simply severing a good working relationship.

When I pitched an idea, I’d give just enough detail to show the editor I have the concept well-formulated in my brain and have access to useful data or sources to make the article happen– in other words, tease them that ‘here’s this great idea, and I’ve already got the guts of it ready to go.’ If they wrote back and expressed interest, I’d quickly move the conversation to payment, deadline, etc., to establish the premise that this would be an assignment, not a conversation to show them my cards. Once an assignment was in hand, I’d happily tell them all about the details. No editor ever really pushed me on this, and as an editor now I’d have no problem with a writer doing the same to me.

Best route to personal satisfaction, revenge or what have you: Tweak your idea and sell it elsewhere. It leaves all bridges intact, avoids the “whiner” label, avoids the “naive” label, avoids the “paranoid” label, etc.

Read the whole discussion here.

Writing for Women’s Mags and the Follow-Through

75616492_374a9b9681_m.jpgmb instructor Daina Hulet will be teaching some upcoming courses on writing for women’s magazines, so I asked her to shed some light on what she’ll be sharing with students that will lead them to publishing in the lady periodicals. Daina has over twenty years of experience as a staff editor and writer focusing on the areas of women’s fashion, beauty, health, fitness and lifestyle for various magazines, newspapers and websites. She spent 10 years on the staff of Glamour magazine as the west coast editor, has worked as special publications editor for Teen.
One of the things I urge my students to do immediately after they’ve come up with a good story idea, is to do the research. Often beginning writers will come up with strong FOB or short service piece ideas based on personal experiences or a point of view. That’s a good start, but unless you are an expert in your field, pitches need to be well researched, a include facts and even offer statistics for even the shortest 150-300 word pieces. To make sure that a pitch is saleable it should pass what I consider to be the ultimate acid test, “Why would the reader of the specific publication you’re pitching want to spend her time (and money) to read your piece?”
In order to answer that question, you’ve got to build a story first. Find out what’s new, newsworthy, or trendy, on the subject as it relates to the woman who reads the magazine as well as the specific section of the publication you’re planning to pitch. The more you know about the subject, the easier it is to write the pitch-actually they almost write themselves. I even suggest doing some pre-interviews with an expert or two, to get even greater insight into your topic.
Even if it seems that you’re collecting more material than you’ll ever need as you do the initial background work for your pitch, another benefit is being able to give an editor more options on how you can approach the story, should she like the subject, but not your take on it. I’ve salvaged many a piece suggesting alternate spins while discussing story ideas with editors. And, should you get a flat rejection, your research may have sparked ideas for you to use to query other publications.
Want to learn more? Sign up for one of Daina’s classes!

How To Write Query Letters: A Conversation

Jason Boog from a few weeks ago posted a semi-comprehensive post on how to pitch and how to improve those pitches. Read on at The Publishing Spot.

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