Journalism Advice

How to Pitch for the Holidays

It’s Christmas in July for freelance writers angling to write end-of-the-year pieces

A well-timed holiday pitch can represent a major opportunity for you a freelance writer. Editors, both print and online, are often on the hunt for holiday story ideas that haven’t been done a million times before. A creative pitch could help you get your foot in the door at your dream publication.

If you’re thinking of pitching a holiday piece, there are few things you have to do. We conferred with three editors to get their take on how writers can land holiday pitches.

Know the Editorial Calendar

Consult a publication’s editorial calendar to learn its lead time. Lindsay Lambert Day, a freelance travel writer and editor, recommends looking online for a media kit. “Most magazines or websites will have a link somewhere to an electronic media kit. Some will break down the editorial calendar section by section, others will just do one for the whole issue.” Sometimes, what you’re looking for will be labeled as a press kit or PR kit.

There are often specific deadlines for submissions for each issue. For instance, Christmas articles slated to run in December may have a submission deadline in the summer prior to that holiday season. For online publications, the lead time is much shorter.

Amanda Cargill, food content director at The Latin Kitchen, says that pitching online only requires about six weeks’ lead time. “Four could work, but the writer has to be able to write it in that time, and promote it.”

The more time you give an editor, the better. Lambert Day recalls a time she thought of a great holiday pitch at the beginning of December. “I knew in the back of my mind it was probably too late, but I sent it [anyway]. I got answers back that it was a great idea, but they either had a staff editor or someone else working on it. It was nice to get validation that it was a good idea, but I had a ‘shame on me’ moment—I should have pitched that two months ago.”

Hannah Agran, senior food editor of Midwest Living, warns against relying too heavily on editorial calendars for pitching. She explains that within the Midwest Living editorial calendar, “the stories on it have already been thoroughly conceived, and we’ll likely already have writers in mind for them.” Still, it never hurts to use the calendar as a general reference for how far out a magazine might publish stories for a particular holiday. It can even serve as inspiration to help you generate story ideas.

Use Your Expertise

It’s tempting to gravitate toward pitching general ideas. However, these are almost always covered by staff or someone from that magazine’s existing stable of freelance writers.

You’ll have better luck pitching a holiday story infused with your expertise. What can you offer that no other writer can offer? It may be your insider perspective to a particular travel destination, or your close friendship with a famous chef. Maybe you’re an expert craftsperson or artisan.

Whatever your expertise, think of how you could translate it into something interesting and useful for readers. “I think it’s best when you can look at something that’s unusual but not so esoteric or strange that it’s going to miss the mark,” says Lambert Day.

Balance Tradition With Innovation

One of the biggest challenges with holiday stories for many magazines is generating ideas that adhere to a holiday’s traditions, but also that haven’t been done to death.

“Readers want tradition,” Agran says. “They want cookies, and pretty snowy scenery. So our challenge is to hit those key visual and topical notes without repeating the same stories we did two years ago.”

As a freelancer, it’s your job to fill this void without losing sight of the brand’s traditions. Nailing down what that publication is all about by researching holiday stories from the last two years. Consult the stories on their website, and make sure you’re filling a gap.

“Don’t be afraid to be very specific,” says Cargill. “There are so many stories on the Web, readers have never-ending options. Think like a reader and imagine what would catch your eye.”

Lambert Day shares an example of a successful holiday pitch she received from a writer, in her work as editor of Northshore Magazine: “The piece was about what chef Frank McClelland makes and serves to his own family for Christmas brunch on their farm. Lots of readers like that behind-the-scenes kind of storytelling. The story was successful because it gave readers that insider’s perspective, but it also provided recipes that they could use themselves.”

Hone Your Pitching Skills

Pitching best practices never take a holiday: Keep it succinct, pique the reader’s interest through word economy, direct your pitch to the right editor and brush up on what that magazine is looking for.

And never forget the value of a strong headline: “It’s the difference between ‘5 Christmas desserts’ and ‘5 Christmas desserts you can make without an oven.’ The second is catchy, optimized for SEO, and arrives at an actual function,” says Cargill.

As with all good stories, a holiday pitch shouldn’t just cover a topic; it should have a crux. “If you can really encapsulate what the story’s about inside of the title and have it be fun and playful, it’s tremendously helpful,” says Cargill. “Our editors are creative people, but show me exactly what you’re going to do.”

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