**Full disclosure: This is NOT me in front of my computer receiving unsolicited pitches. I wouldn't be smiling like that.
In my former life, I was the editorial director for a major women's website. We produced around 50+ unique pieces of content each day covering everything from celebrity gossip to recipes to parenting advice to pet names inspired by Game of Thrones...yeah, seriously. As an editor for over a decade, I've received thousands of pitches requesting my attention to someone's latest product, service, book or blog post. And in said decade, I've summarily deleted about 80% of those pitches. Here's why.
As a writer, you're likely looking for outlets for your work, whether it's a print magazine, an online publication, a journal or your local paper. And barring a personal connection or an extravagant marketing budget that allows you to lavish a gift upon the editorial recipient (yes, we can be bought), an out-of-the-blue email is typically the only way to go. If you have a content piece you're shopping around, here are a few tips to help you increase your chances of getting at least a response and hopefully a favorable one.
1. Tailor your content (and your pitch). It makes sense to try to get the most bang for your writing buck by writing a single piece of content and shopping it around. However, editors can identify very quickly when a writer is doing just that. Some of the dead giveaways include:
Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, adjust your content piece for each publication. Do your research: find the right contact, take a look at the format (length, voice, perspective) of similar pieces so you pitch something that fits the current style, and tailor your pitch email to speak directly to that editor. Tell me WHY I even care to keep reading your pitch, let alone your piece of content.
Be aware that many sites don't run personal narrative pieces so you may have to find an interesting way to make your subject matter fit the audience. Take She Writes Press author Hollye Dexter. Her memoir Fire Season is about the personal tragedy and triumph she suffered when losing everything to a house fire and then rebuilding her life. If she's pitching Good Housekeeping, an essay or excerpt from the book probably won't be the right fit (even for magazines and sites that do run editorially curated essays, the submission field is extremely competitive and it may be easier to get your foot in the door creatively!). Instead, she could pen a piece about surprising ways to fireproof your home. By including a mention of her book in her bio or byline, she has effectively established herself as a subject matter expert.
2. Butter us up, genuinely. Editors are overwhelmed with emails every day. As the director, I received 200+ emails each day. My staff editors received nearly as many emails, as well. In short, we're all email fatigued so writers and publicists have to try really hard to breakthrough the chatter. A compelling subject line that's clever really helps, and once you have my attention, tell my WHY you're even talking to me. Tell me you loved a recent piece we ran about XYZ, or tell me that our human interest stories always leave you wanting more. Anything to let me know that you've done more than simply google "editor at Vogue.com" and pulled my name into an email.
3. Do the work for me. Have I mentioned how busy us editors are? We barely have time to grab a bite to eat or run to the restroom, let alone read through a novel of an unsolicited pitch from an unknown contact. Lay out for me in the first paragraph of your email what you're offering, who you are, and what you want -- to write a guest post for a specific section of the site, to provide a book giveaway to our readers, to be interviewed by an editor. Feel free to add more details below and fill in the blanks, but give me the gist of your pitch right away because you probably only have about 4.7 seconds of my attention.
4. Be persistent. If you send me the same pitch three or four times, the worst that can happen is I'll delete your email, again. I don't have time to blacklist you or spam you. I'm just going to delete you. And when you email me again about your next project, I probably won't even remember our rocky past of email stalking and persistent deleting. On the other hand, I might just see your email for the "first" time and respond!
5. Time your send. A lot of email research tells you to send things at the beginning of the day, when editors are more receptive to information and not overwhelmed in the midst of their day. I beg to differ. Smartphones have made it such at the we're all checking our emails early to get a jump on the day. So rather than sending at 6 am and ending up in the trash folder with all the other pitches I quickly swiped away to clear out my emails before hitting the office, try me around 9 or 10 am when my day is still taking off but I'm more in work mode.
6. Do the work. Unless you're a well-known, bestselling author -- like MAJOR, say Stephenie Meyer or Judy Blume -- I don't know who you are, so offering me a Q&A about your most recent project probably won't pique my interest. But, seeing that you've followed tip #1 above and really thought about what you're offering me will make me a lot more receptive to your pitch. I'll give it a second thought, or at least the first thought that most pitches don't get. If you're offering me a piece of content, include it (but offer to make any changes I think will help it appeal to my readers) or include a good excerpt from it so I know what I'm getting into. I don't have time to email you back, ask for more info and wait for your piece to come in. By the time I receive it, my to-do list has grown and you'll be near the bottom.
7. Money talks. Honestly, most sites and magazines aren't looking to add more paid contributors to their rosters. Again, you have to really make it first before you'll be able to land these gigs. But that being said, writing for free doesn't mean you're getting nothing in return! If you have a social platform, ask if they'll promote the piece and tag you. This is a great way to gain some new followers. Even if they won't, post about the published piece on your own networks and tag the publication to reach their audience. Add the piece to your press page. Every little bit helps and builds your personal brand.
8. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes, you just don't have the connections you need to make an in-road with a publication or site. Ask your author friends for introductions to relevant outlets, or retain a publicist to help you make these connections. Many She Writes Press authors work with BookSparks for PR. Beyond looking for traditional media placements on recommended reads and new release lists, BookSparks is great about looking for creative content partnerships, offering author-created content to outlets as a way to provide the publication with value (free content) and the author-client with value (awareness).
When I reviewed pitches, I often ran through the same questions in my mind. Here's what an editor may be thinking, so you know how to position yourself and your offer!
Be prepared to face rejection, often in the way of the crushing, deafening silence of unrequited emails. But be persistent, think outside the box, and triple-check your pitch and your piece.
Have you had success landing your own coverage and placements? What advice do you have for fellow She Writers?
Kristin Bustamante is the Chief Content Officer for SparkPoint Studio and the content manager for SheWrites.com.