I recently got to see “Author Anonymous,” a very funny mockumentary movie about a bunch of writers and how their group dynamics change when one of them (played by Kaley Cuoco of Big Bang fame) experiences success. It reminded me about how badly many fellow members of my fellow writing fraternity are when it comes to pitching potential stories to prospective editors. Here are my top ten mistakes you can make.
- Make incomplete pitches.
Make it hard for the editor to understand what you are trying to do, why your pitch is important, what is your angle or expertise, or whatever. Put as much information as possible into your pitch
- Don’t waste an editor’s time with inane queries.
Editors are busy people, make each email count. Try to figure out stuff on your own. Silence is golden.
- Do follow your editor’s instructions.
Some of my editors have very specific instructions on how to assemble a draft for them. How hotlinks should be represented, or whether they like or hate in-line images, or whether they want subheads or suggested Tweet language or whatnot. Try to obey these instructions and keep them straight so you won’t waste their time in this fashion.
- Don’t look at the website and understand their target audience.
This one is easy to fix: read and review the site and understand who they expect their readers to be.
- Don’t know what articles have already been published.
Make sure what you are pitching already hasn’t been covered on the site.
- Don’t pitch something that you have already written for some other pub.
This is a big no-no. Editors want unique content, unless they tell you otherwise.
- Don’t have any clue on when you can actually finish a draft or hit a self-imposed deadline.
When you are pitching a story, make sure you have the bandwidth to actually write it and finish it, because usually the next question is going to be when can the editor have it in hand?
- Do understand the meaning of deadlines in general.
And respect that deadline too. This isn’t some approximate timeframe. Don’t hold up the rest of the production process because you are late delivering your copy.
- Don’t submit a story without any accompanying art, suggested Tweets, or other information that the editor requested.
It isn’t just your text that is important, but the other information that supports your story is critical too.
- Don’t whine about how much time revisions will take you.
I know some editors are a major pain with serial revisions. Just don’t work for them again if they offend you or tie you up in knots with all sorts of back-and-forth emails. But your goal should be to finish the assignment at least to your standards. Now, I have worked for editors that like to subtract value, or think of themselves as writers, but that will be for another post.
Sounds like many of the same rules we taught our account teams for working with journalists.
Well done David and agreed ShellyJ! Its almost a sad comedy of errors how many PR people and their clients or corporate executives/founders do not understand that we’re often pitching a writer that’s pitching an editor that might be pitching an Editor-in-Chief whose ultimately satisfying advertisers to keep the lights and 401K on. #RIP #GigaOM