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This month learn how to write the perfect pitch with Simon Whaley, improve your characters with our Ten Top Tips, get motivated by the successes of other students and find something useful in Useful Websites.



By Simon Whaley

Do you spend time researching information for your articles, then writing and submitting them, only to have them rejected? Annoying isn’t it? It’s such a waste of time. What if you could sell the idea to your target publication first, before investing all that time and effort? Well, the good news is, you can.

A pitch, or query letter, is a sales technique that many professional writers use to sell an idea to an editor first before they write up the full article. That way, if the editor says ‘No’, the writer hasn’t wasted their time writing anything more than a query letter. And remember, there are many reasons why an editor can say ‘No’, such as:

  • He’s just accepted an article on a similar topic,

  • He’s about to redesign the publication to appeal to a new market, and new readership, 

  •  He’s looking for a more unusual angle.

None of these reasons would be apparent to any prospective writer undertaking a market analysis of the publication. Also, psychologically, it isn’t quite as demoralising having an editor reject an idea, as it is the whole article. But don’t think that because you’re sending a short letter or email, that you don’t need to work hard at your pitch. You do. In fact, you need to work really hard. This pitch is your one and only opportunity to express your idea - and how you will tackle it to appeal to the editor’s readers. Sell the idea correctly and the editor should come back to you with a “yes, I’d like to see this.”

So how do you write the perfect pitch? 

  • Be professional. Use the editor’s name, just as you would for a submission letter. Show them that you’ve looked at a copy of the magazine and done a bit of research.

  • Be succinct. This is not the place to waffle on about how much you enjoy reading the magazine, how you’ve been a dedicated subscriber for umpteen years, or how you would like to have the editor’s babies! 

  • Grab the editor’s attention. Hit him with some startling facts! 

  • Be clear. Explain what your idea is and how you will tackle it. Don’t hold anything back thinking the editor will steal your idea. He won’t. It’s surprising how many writers come up with similar ideas. Believe me, you will not be the only writer to come up with an article idea about how to survive during a recession. 

  • Tell the editor why you are the best person to write this particular idea. What makes you the expert on this subject? Are you qualified in it? Have you secured an exclusive interview? Have you experienced a life-changing event and want to show others how to do the same?

Remember, editors are busy people, so treat them with respect. Be business-like and professional.

Here’s an example of a query letter I sent to Holiday Cottages magazine.

Dear David Kernek

Would you be interested in the following two feature ideas for Holiday Cottages magazine?

Much Wenlock – The Olympic Connection. Did you know, if it wasn’t for the Shropshire market town of Much Wenlock, the Beijing Olympics wouldn’t be happening? One of its 19th Century residents (Dr William Penny-Brookes) formed the Wenlock Games and then went on to campaign for the reinstatement of the ancient Greek Olympic Games movement. This 1200-word article will take readers on a tour of Much Wenlock which they can follow, highlighting the links with Wenlock’s own Games and Dr Penny-Brookes. Much Wenlock is local to me and I’ve also interviewed the secretary of the Wenlock Olympian Society.

Hay on Wye – Read All About It. This tiny village on the English / Welsh border is now the second-hand book capital of the world. As a result of resident Richard Booth (self- declared King of Hay – a 1977 April Fool stunt), there are now second-hand bookshop towns like Hay, all over the world. This 1500-word article will explore the town to show that there is a book here for everyone, making it an ideal holiday destination at any time of year – bookshops are open throughout the year, and not just during the main tourist season! There’s also plenty to do for those who aren’t interested in books - you can canoe on the River Wye or go hill walking to the summit of Hay Bluff. Come visit the town twinned with Timbuktu! As a local, I’m a regular visitor to Hay on Wye and have written about the town for other publications.

For both feature ideas I would be happy to supply my own 300dpi digital images (capable of production up to A3 size). I have written travel pieces for numerous publications including Hotel, In Britain, Heritage, FlyBe Uncovered, and The Lady.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you and enclose a SAE for your use.

Yours sincerely

Simon Whaley

This query letter worked – the editor liked both ideas and ended up buying both articles. But look at what I’ve done. Firstly, I addressed him by name. My opening sentence immediately asks, ‘would you be interested in...?’ As soon as the editor has read this, he knows why I am writing to him.

Both of my ideas hit the editor with some intriguing facts. Just like the reader, you must grab the editor’s interest. I bet you didn’t know about Much Wenlock’s Olympic connection, or that the founder of the Hay on Wye book town declared himself King of Hay in 1977. After these facts, I tell the editor how I will develop the idea further for his readers. (Readers of this publication like to get to know a new area, which is why I show them how to explore the places.)

And because I told him that I was local to these places, the editor knows I’m better placed to write about these towns than a staff writer would be.

This could work just as well as an email, but make sure you take just as much time constructing what you want to say before you hit that ‘send’ button. Remember, you only get once chance to make a good first impression, and they’re the ones that intrigue editors enough to reply with, “sounds interesting, let me see it.”

The perfect pitch is not a waste of time. It’s time well spent. It’s also time that can be rewarded with publication.

Simon Whaley is a tutor for the Writers Bureau and a freelance writer and author. He has judged competitions on behalf of literary festivals, local writers’ groups, and the National Association of Writers’ Groups. Simon’s short stories have appeared in People’s Friend, Take a Break, Ireland’s Own, Yours and also That’s Life Fast Fiction in Australia. His ninth book, the Bluffer’s Guide to Hiking, was published at the end of March 2009.