A to Z of Pitching Outlets - Lola Akinmade


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While many of us travel writers run our own blogs and generate revenue through advertising and sponsorships, a good number of bloggers are also freelance writers and photographers who regularly write for or want to write for various publications.

While these publications may have their own guidelines with regards to pitching ideas and stories to them, this presentation will cover important aspects of selling your services to an editor.

These keywords will include familiar terms and hopefully new ideas that can help you craft better pitches and subsequently publish more work.

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  • While many of us run our own blogs and generate revenue through advertising and sponsorships, a good number of bloggers are also freelance writers and photographers who regularly write for or want to write for various publications.

    While these publications may have their own guidelines with regards to pitching ideas and stories to them, this presentation will cover important aspects of selling your services to an editor.

    These keywords will include familiar terms and hopefully new ideas that can help you craft better pitches and subsequently publish more work.
  • This is the meat of your pitch.

    What makes your story of Paris or Rome unique?

    Why should an editor care about your story when they publish articles about Paris and Rome practically every month?

    Your best bet would be to focus on events, current news, or ongoing efforts of some sort and weave your stories around that.

    Your angle should also be clear and have a point. I once pitched an editor who responded quite promptly with “I didn't understand what you pitched”. That’s never a good sign.
  • How are you sniffing out ideas to pitch? Do you currently have a backlog of potential stories to pitch?

    What if an editor liked your idea but didn’t like the angle? Do you have another approach ready to present as an alternative?

    For example, I pitched Stockholm’s ethnic cuisine as an angle to an editor. The editor didn’t like the angle but liked Stockholm because they hadn’t covered it in a while. So I re-pitched with a different angle focusing on Stockholm’s green side and its 2010 European Green Capital award, again hooking it into current news or an event.

    If you write a lot of non-narrative evergreen pieces, a good exercise would be to sit down once a week and jot down 10 story ideas and spend the following week sending them out to various editors.
  • Clips refer to samples of your previously published work and many editors like to see these to get an idea of what you’ve written and who you’ve written for.

    But what if you’re just starting out? Then the concept of clips becomes the ultimate Catch-22 because you need at least one editor to publish your work before you can actually have a clip.

    For new writers, the best thing to do is:

    Create blog posts and organize them by relevant themes or categories
    Put up photo galleries so you can quickly send links to editors

  • Most publications, including online have departments or sections that are geared towards specific topics like Food & Drink, Adventure, and more.

    For new writers, it’s always easier to break into smaller departments (or front-of-book sections in magazines) than to write 2000-3000 word features.

    Find the right editor for your preferred department and address the pitch to them directly.

    It’s advisable to put the department name directly in the subject line of your email too.
  • Editorial calendars are how a publication lays out what it will publish every month and which regions it will cover.

    Most publications have editorial calendars. Not many of them publish it online for many reasons, mostly because of their competition.

    You can use editorial calendars to get a jumpstart. If you know a publication will be publishing South American stories in November, start pitching as early as 4-8 months in advance.

    Tip - A good place to also find editorial calendars is within media kit PDF files publications create for advertisers. They lay out a general calendar so advertisers can pitch appropriately. Take advantage of this!
  • You need to follow up on your pitch.

    If you don’t even care enough to check up on your story, why should an editor care?

    In general, I usually follow up 2-3 weeks after I’ve sent a story, but more importantly, follow editorial guidelines when it comes to checking in on a story you sent.

  • The biggest one really is about getting the editor’s name right.

    Jennica isn’t Jennifer, Steven with a V isn’t Stephen with a PH.

    Also, watch those cut-n-pastes especially forgetting the publication name. “I think this article would be perfect for Travel & Leisure while you address the editor at Conde Nast”

    Cliches – Gem, whitewashed, nestled, you know. Avoid them. You need to set yourself apart from the other whitewashed gem of a writer so an editor actually considers your work.

    Clarity – Again, simplicity is still in. No need to get carried away with the big words. If an editor has to pull out a dictionary, you’re in trouble.
  • Most publications suggest reading 3-4 previous issues before pitching. In reality, most people don’t because you’re spending money you don’t have buying copies of a magazine with the hopes that the publication may someday accept your pitch.

    At the very least, read 1-2 issues and the current issue is a must. I crafted the perfect pitch for a food magazine with links to high quality photographs tailored for the article. I thought I had a 90% chance.

    The editor responded right away with only a single line. “We just covered this in our current issue”… Not good!

    Always research the style and tone of the publication. Also check to see if they are even accepting freelance queries so you don’t waste your time.
  • Sometimes you don’t even need a pitch. If there’s a certain publication or website you’d like to regularly contribute to, send an introductory email. Let the editor know who you are and what you can offer.

    This is usually best for establishing local expertise or gaining clients in another country.

    For example, I moved to Stockholm last year but most of my clients are still in the US/UK and I was interested in contributing to more domestic outlets, so I started sending introductory emails around and it has opened a handful of doors.
  • A junket is a fancy name of “press trip” or “fam trip”. It just means you’re traveling on someone else’s dime, usually tourism boards, airlines, sponsors, and other such entities.

    While many publications still reject articles based from press trips, many accept them.

    If you’re unsure, always disclose that a trip was funded by a press junket. Honesty always trumps embarrassment and publications have no allegiance to you and will quickly use you as a scapegoat to save their reputations.
  • As one of my favorite editors David Miller always says…”Come Correct”. In every sense of the word.

    Come with what you know or at least with what you have an interest in.

    I can barely tread water talk less of heaving myself onto a surfing board to ride some waves, so I would never approach a surfing publication even if I learnt all the buzzwords.

    You might be able to get away with this when writing Top 10 lists or researched evergreen pieces, but in general, this is a no-no.
  • Many outlets work several weeks or months in advance. This is called “Lead Time”. A magazine may already be working on its Nov/Dec issue in August so keep this in mind when pitching specific seasonal stories.

    Most web publications work a lot shorter in terms of lead time but nevertheless, don’t depend on just a handful of pitches. Always keep a backlog running of ideas and queries out there especially if writing is the sole bulk of your income.
  • Media Bistro is a fantastic resource for writers for the following four main reasons:

    How to Pitch (HTP) – They give you detailed instructions on how to pitch a particular publication including which sections to avoid pitching to

    Mastheads – While some of these are outdated, they give you a list of editors that work at a particular publication

    Queries That Worked – They give you sample queries by other writers that actually caught an editor’s eye

    Editorial Calendar – They also publish editorial calendars of various major publications as well as deadlines to submit pitches

    Media Bistro costs about $59 per year.
  • Leverage social media to connect with the publications you like. Use Twitter to ask questions and get additional information from them.

    Nurture relationships as well. It’s usually best to have a few genuine relationships than thousands of superficial ones unless of course you generate income through other revenues like SEO, page views, and others.

    People generally know when they’re being used or manipulated even if they don’t voice it so don’t be a networking rat who just moves on to bigger better things disregarding the people behind the avatars.
  • Do you know how to spot opportunities or openings?

    Do you know how to engage an editor once you’ve got their attention?

    Here’s an example:

    Act 1

    You: Here’s my pitch on Sweden
    Editor: Sorry, we’re not covering Sweden at the moment
    You: Thanks for letting me know. If I may ask which regions are you covering at the moment?
    Editor: Asia
    You: Okay, thank you.

    Act 2

    You: Hi, here’s my pitch on Vietnam

    Also, you need to work existing relationships. Ask editors who you have a good relationship with if there are any last minute pieces that need to be written but weren’t assigned. Prove to them that you can do it in 2 days (within reason of course) and do it. I’ve had a complete pieces commissioned this way.
  • If you’ve been writing for a while and have collected samples of work and published articles, make sure you have an online portfolio you can quickly point editors to.

    Instead of attaching samples, I include links in case my attachments were caught by a virus scanning software.

    Also, you can customize portfolios for editors. For example, if I’m pitching an article on a particular Irish restaurant, I send a customized link with a gallery to a couple photographs from the restaurant itself, separating those photos from a general “Ireland” photo gallery.
  • Which brings us to the query itself.

    It needs to be short, ideally no more than 3 paragraphs.

    It needs to be tight and concise – What you’re writing about, Why it is applicable to the magazine, and Why you’re the best fit.

    Remember, editors get hundreds of emails. Yours needs to stand out.
  • Haaaa. Rejections… I consider them blessings in disguise for the following three reasons:

    You know your email didn’t go to spam

    You know the editor still works there. Nowadays, publications switch editors almost every 6 months it seems

    You’ve finally got their attention for a few minutes. Sniff out opportunities from their rejection email to regroup yourself
  • Give editors space. They need the flexibility to be able to edit your work without you being sensitive about it.

    If you don’t like the editing work, it’s ultimately your name at the end of the article and you can request it be withdrawn. I’ve done this once before.

    Give editors space in terms of following up on queries. Stop following up every week.

    Also they need breathing room when hearing ideas from you. Don’t send a new idea every time they say no.

    Remember, impatience always backfires
  • How are you currently keeping track of queries?

    I and a few other writers I know use some sort of submission log or tracking spreadsheet to track queries, responses, rejections, assignments and such.

    Here’s a sample snapshot of what I use. I include the editor’s name and email, publication, query title, pitch date, an auto-calculated follow up date, my actual follow up date, status, and notes.

    I also use three colors – green for commissions, reds for rejections or no words, and blue for other reasons or interest.

    May seem quite anal but it works for me.
  • There are other outlets beyond National Geographic Traveler, AFAR, Conde Nast, or Travel + Leisure you can pitch to.

    Reach for unconventional outlets like architecture and design publications, food outlets, and other lifestyle resources.

    You have a better chance of pitching a travel-related story to Readersdigest.com than to National Geographic Traveler, and Reader’s Digest pays more per word.
  • While it is important to study the style and tone of a publication, it is also important to come with your own voice.

    Editors are always looking for fresh new voices and writing.

    How are you different from other writers if you keep using the same cliches?

    Try to develop your own voice by avoiding easy adjectives.

    If you’re unsure of your own style, consider signing up for Matador’s Travel Writing course which teaches you how to recognize and hone your own voice instead of mimicking others
  • This is as important as finding your own work. Watch out for others and send leads their way.

    For example, when I come across anything related to Mexico, Cuba, or Puerto Rico, I send over to Julie and when she runs across Scandinavia leads, she sends my way regardless of whether we’ve traveled around both regions.

    Yes, we’re all world travelers and can write about any destination we want to but sometimes, it makes more sense to share a lead with another writer who’s better connected in a specific environment.

    By knowing other writer’s beats and locations, I can forward leads to them or recommend them to my editors which I do often.

    Call it karma. Call it what you will. I call it sharing and supporting each other.
  • Well, since I couldn’t relate Xylophone to pitching editors, Xtras would have to do.

    And this means any supporting material you have that can make your article or pitch more appealing to an editor.

    If you’ve got photos, include a link to an online gallery.

    Got videos? Send them the Youtube or Vimeo link.

    Editors always need help with related material
  • It is important to say no sometimes, but always think Yes! First.

    If an editor approaches you with a last minute assignment that needs to be completed with 2 days, say Yes!

    Show them that you can work on extremely tight deadlines. If you can’t do it, share it with another writer who can bang it out quickly instead of selfishly saying no! I did this with United Airlines where I recommended another writer for a piece because I was out of the country and couldn’t cover a dispatch locally.

    There’s always someone out there that will say Yes!

    Of course, your life and family priorities come first so say yes! Within reason.
  • And finally, this brings us to passion…Zeal

    Yes, rejection after rejection can break down your spirit but if you truly believe in your work and your talent, you will try to see the positive side in most rejections, learn from them, continually improve yourself, and get things done.

    Work doesn’t just roll in, no matter how popular or well liked you are. You have to be proactive and actively seek ways in which your work and your voice will be heard through writing and publication. Especially if writing is your passion.

    If you’re not passionate about what you do, you really won’t last. Simple as that.
  • *Think ahead. Go ahead and take a look at 2011. What are the big events for the year (evergreen or otherwise) that magazines will want to cover? Do you have an in or an angle on any of them?
    *Expand your skill set. More and more editors are looking for writers who also have high resolution, high quality photographs. Make their work easier by delivering an entire package. 
    *Work old contacts. Haven't been in touch with an editor you've worked with previously in a year or more? Reach out to say hi and propose a new story idea.
    *Build your brand. Look at yourself across all your public platforms (FB, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, your blog, etc.) What does your work say about you in one quick glance? 
    *Seek support. According to Julie Schwietert, “Pitching's like exercise- better with friends. :)”
  • A to Z of Pitching Outlets - Lola Akinmade

    1. 1. LolaAkinmade
    2. 2.  What makes your story unique?  Focus on:  Events  News  Ongoing efforts
    3. 3.  Jotting down multiple ideas  Brainstorming two (2) potential angles per pitch  Maintaining a backlog of ideas
    4. 4.  Samples of your published work  Ultimate Catch-22  Use:  Blog posts  Sample photos
    5. 5.  Easier to break into smaller departments  Target your pitches  Find the right editor  Include name in subject line
    6. 6.  Getting a jumpstart on your competition  Some publish online, most don’t  Hint – Look within media kit for advertisers
    7. 7.  General rule - 2 weeks  Follow editorial guidelines  Be proactive if you care about your story
    8. 8.  Spell editor’s name correctly  Cut-n-paste Mistakes  Clichés  Clarity
    9. 9.  Read latest issue at the very least  Research style & tone  Are they even accepting freelance queries?
    10. 10.  Breaking into other markets  Gaining clients abroad  Establishing local expertise
    11. 11.  Fancy name for “press or fam trips”  Trips funded by tourism boards and other such entities  Disclose junkets  Honesty trumps embarrassment
    12. 12.  “Come Correct”…David Miller, Matador  Write what you know  Might get away with evergreen pieces
    13. 13.  Many outlets (including web) work several weeks or months in advance.  Don’t depend on handful of pitches  Keep a running backlog
    14. 14.  How to Pitch (HTP)  Mastheads  QueriesThatWorked  Editorial Calendar
    15. 15.  Leverage social media to connect and promote your work  Nurture relationships  Don’t be a networking rat
    16. 16.  Work existing relationships  Keep dialogue going by finding openings  Ask if editor needs last minute help
    17. 17.  Online presence is crucial  Quick access links to:  Writing  Photography  Sometimes, customize for editors
    18. 18.  Short  Concise  No more than 3 paragraphs  Attention grabbing subject line
    19. 19.  Blessings in disguise  #1 -> Email didn't go to spam  #2 -> Editor still works there  #3 -You've got their attention if only for a few negative minutes.
    20. 20.  Give editors space with regards to:  Editing your work  Follow-up  Pitching new ideas  Impatience almost always backfires
    21. 21.  Approach with a travel slant:  Architecture/Design Magazines  Food Magazines  Other Lifestyle Magazines
    22. 22.  What makes you different?  Develop your own voice by avoiding easy adjectives and clichés  Consider award-winning MatadorU www.matadoru.com
    23. 23.  Travmedia/Travelwriters.com  Work leads for others  Examples:  Knowing other writers’ beats  Recommending them to editors
    24. 24.  If you have photos, mention it  Same for video or audio clips  Editors want help with related material
    25. 25.  Squeeze in last minute assignments from outlets you like working for.  Share the work if you can’t do it  Family priorities trump editors so sayYes! within reason
    26. 26.  Be proactive  Do you believe in your work?  How passionate are you?
    27. 27.  Think Ahead  ExpandYour Skill Set  Work Old Contacts  BuildYour Brand  Seek Support
    28. 28. Lola Akinmade Writer/Photographer www.lolaakinmade.com Editor, Matador Network www.matadornetwork.com @LolaAkinmade