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How to Write a Magazine Pitch

Posted on Fri, Oct 25 2013 9:00 am by Greg Breining


How does a new writer break in with a magazine? 

Some writers write the piece first and submit it to the editor. That works best for humor and personal essays—genres that are difficult to sell in advance because so much depends on execution. 

Some writers are so well known—as writers, celebrities, or experts—they can simply pick up the phone or send an email and expect to talk to an attentive editor. 

But most writers under most circumstances rely on the age-old device of the pitch letter. It’s the best calling card most of us have to wrangle an assignment from an editor who knows us barely or not at all. 

How to write one? Here’s a template I use (with acknowledgements to writing guru Kelly James-Enger, whose ideas I’ve gratefully borrowed). I call it the Five-Paragraph Pitch. Don’t worry about writing exactly five paragraphs, but make sure all five points are covered.

But first, think of a pithy title and write it in the message field of the email to the editor, something like this—

“Pitch: 5-Paragraph Query Boosts Chances of Freelance Success”

OK, now the five paragraphs:

1. The hook. In making your pitch, lead with the information that will attract the editor’s attention. That may be an arresting anecdote. It may be a summary of the most salient and interesting theme of the article you want to write. Or it may be a reminder that you briefly met the editor at a conference a week ago and he suggested you send him story ideas. 

2. Development. Provide details to make clear what the story is and why it is interesting. In other words, you must sell the story. What kind of story is this—travel, profile, trend, news feature? Provide context. Why will readers of this particular magazine find it interesting? You don’t necessarily have to spell this out explicitly, but the appeal of the story should be clear. 

3. Nuts and Bolts: How many words? Do you need to travel or spend a lot of money? (Conversely, have you already done the expensive stuff — that’s a plus.) Who will you need to interview? Will you provide photos (provided it’s the kind of publication that’s concerned about such things)? Do you have an idea for a sidebar? 

4. Sell you. Why are you a good bet for this story? Mention any special knowledge, personal experience, personal connection to the topic, or special access to the subject of a profile. Include relevant clips as links or attachments. Link to your website, if you have one. 

5. Affirmative call to action or assertive close. Give the impression you expect an answer! “I think it would be a great fit for your magazine. I look forward to talking to you about it.”

Obviously, there are a lot of ways to sell an idea. And some magazines and situations will require far more research and a longer pitch than others. But this five-paragraph template will help you make a good impression when you make a pitch to an editor.

Greg Breining
is teaching "Writing and Selling the Magazine Feature" this December at the Loft. He writes about travel, science, and nature for Audubon, Minnesota Monthly, the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, Islands, and many other publications. His books include the travel memoir Wild Shore: Exploring Lake Superior by Kayak, and Paddle North: Canoeing the Boundary Waters–Quetico.