Want to sell your story? Practice the art of the pitch
You might think content is the most important factor when you're trying to sell a story, but it's the pitch that closes the deal. Freelance journalist Katie Ingram gets advice from three seasoned professionals on pitching for publication.
When it comes to a freelance story pitch, you may wonder where to start. Knowing your publication inside and out is key, even for a seasoned journalist.
Hilary Beaumont has been freelancing for three years. She believes that before you pitch, you have to understand whom you’re pitching to. “You have to know what the publication stands for, their regular coverage [and] know the editor’s style intimately,” says Beaumont.
Beaumont often writes for The Coast, a weekly newspaper in Halifax. There are certain things she keeps in mind when pitching to the paper’s editor.
She makes sure it’s a story that wouldn’t be covered by other media within a two week time period. Also, she keeps in mind that the story will have to be short as the paper is ad driven. Lastly, she knows the story will have to contain an element of social justice, since that’s the sort of article The Coast focuses on.
Not all editors can be convinced an idea is worthwhile. Beaumont has written for OpenFile and This Magazine and says freelancers need to learn from rejection.
Beaumont wrote a story about the Canadian Blood Services and its ban on gay men giving blood, even if they are in monogamous relationships. She included an interview with a married, gay couple in a monogamous relationship for almost two decades. She pitched the story to both local and national publications including The Walrus and Rabble.
Beaumont thought the story would make a good feature and was surprised by the rejection. Looking back, she says the pitch might have been accepted if she’d changed it a bit.
“I think what I should have done was to find sources who would have been more relevant to it [the blood donation ban],” she says. “I probably should have worked hard to find those sources while I was waiting to hear back.”
Even journalists who are well known have to sell their ideas.
Chris Benjamin is a published author and has written for The Globe and Mail and Progress Magazine. “The main mistake I used to make is to just email the idea and assume my experience would speak for itself,” he says. “The pitch has to convince an editor that your story is a perfect fit. “
However, Benjamin says rejection or changing an idea shouldn’t deter a journalist from re-pitching.
He recently wrote a story for Community Action on Homelessness on supported housing projects. After finding a person who was building condos as part of an affordable housing project in Halifax’s north end, the story ended up being cut from the organization’s publication.
“There wasn’t enough space for it, so I decided it was too good a story not to use, so I took it to the Globe [and Mail] and rewrote in their style.”
Lezlie Lowe has been a full time freelancer for 12 years and is a columnist for The Chronicle Herald.
“Often journalists’ think of good ideas and then think where to pitch it,” says Lowe. “When starting out...take a look at that paper or magazine and see what it’s looking for.”
She recalls a particular pitch for Halifax Magazine. At the bottom of the pitch, she wrote a postscript about another idea on knife skills, such as how to sharpen knives. It turns out, the postscript was what the publisher was interested in. The editor ended up referring her to a sister publication, East Coast Living.
Even though Lowe didn’t initially pitch to East Coast Living magazine, she did keep in mind its content and style when the referral was made.
“What made it a successful pitch is I said who I was going to talk to, I wrote in the style I was saying I was going to write the piece in,” says Lowe. “I knew that the publication hadn’t done anything on it...I went and got East Coast Living magazines out to make sure I knew it.”
Lowe says a good resource for her in this situation was the library, since they often have back issues of magazines.
Once your pitch has been accepted, the job isn’t over—you have to meet your deadlines. Lowe often creates her own timeline. Referring to the knife story, she says the piece was approved in December and had a January deadline. Due to the holiday season, Lowe made sure one of the main interviews was scheduled almost immediately.
“I told myself I have to have my interview with Grohmann Knives by the end of this week, the week it was assigned, and if I don’t I have to move on to another knife maker.”
Beaumont says deadlines are something she struggles with. Recently, she pitched 12 stories to OpenFile Halifax and had a problem getting them all done on time. Even though the editor understood, some stories were a week late.
Freelancing can be hard, but Beaumont says that there’s one thing all freelancers can be successful at: the idea stage.
“Sometimes you get too caught up in the information you need in a pitch,” she says. “When you get an idea write it down.”
Originally from Liverpool, Nova Scotia Katie Ingram is a journalist based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Dalhousie University and a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of King's College. Her work has been featured in a variety of publications including The Queens County Advance, The Chronicle Herald, OpenFile Halifax, and on CBC Radio.