VIDA Continua: Step-By-Step Guide On How To Pitch

How do you pitch the publications listed in the VIDA count, or any publication for that matter?

I live in Cleveland–far from any literati metropole. I started freelancing when I was an academic, and nobody I knew within academia knew how this world works. I am not well-connected with friends who work at big pubs, nor do my parents know x or y editor. In other words, just about all of my publications have come from cold pitching unknown-to-me editors.

It took me awhile to figure it all out. (You can read a bit about how I did it here). Here are some steps anyone can take to get their ideas to editors. Will it work? Who knows. But hopefully this information will clarify what can be an overly opaque process:

1.) Go to the website of the publication you want to pitch. Look for “about us” or “contact us” or “writers’ guidelines” or submission requirements” or some such. Sometimes that information is useful. Sometimes it is more of a screen to cut down on hundreds of unwanted emails (understandably). I’ve never pitched the Boston Review, though I’d like to, because the tone, response time and information on this page dissuades me.

2.) Ask and look around for more information. Here’s another example. I have never written for The New York Review of Books, thought I would love to, because I have no idea how to approach them (and they even reviewed my book!). I haven’t found  any networks, friends, connections, market guides, etc. to help me. So if I wanted to pitch them I’d look at their masthead. Then I’d choose a senior editor, maybe an assistant editor. I’d put their name into the google box, see if I can find an email address. I just did this with one of the senior editors. I didn’t find an email but I did find a twitter address. So I’d follow this person, and if she followed me back I’d DM her asking how to pitch. Would it work? Who knows. I would not take it personally if no one answered a pitch I sent via this sort of blind googling. (And if anyone wants to give me more information about writing for NYRB, or any of the pubs I list below as ones I’d like to write for, I’m all ears. )

3.) Pay the fee to access media bistro’s “How To Pitch” feature or or check out the *free* database at the (science oriented) Open Notebook.  If you are a book reviewer, join the NBCC: they provide members with a guide to pitching book reviews, editor info, pay, etc.  that has been invaluable to me. Even if the information is not accurate or up to date, the discussions of how the publications work on these sites are invaluable. In fact, you could teach yourself most of what you need to know about  freelancing works just by reading these websites, their archives, etc. Not all publications are listed, though. NONE of the publications  included in VIDA have “how to pitch” information at media bistro, for instance.

4.) Go to conferences, workshops, or other places where editors show up and explain their processes. (for me, this is usually too expensive or prohibitive due to other commitments. ROI seems low…)

5.) Figure out the email formula for the editor you want to pitch (after reading the masthead, or the bios on the website).  This is not too hard: just sometimes takes lots of googling. All publication will have a consistent email formula, like “ If you can find out the formula (google all the name on the masthead or look around the website: you just need to find one person). Then  plug the name of the editor you want to pitch into the formula. I have sometimes used this method to great success (though sometimes with “Undeliverable” failure emails before I got the formula right).

5.) Beyond that, it comes down to networking, asking, magic, luck.
6.) Never take rejection or, more commonly, silence (no response at all) personally.
VIDA pubs
Here’s what I know about the publications in VIDA. I’ve left out a few: trust I know nothing about those.

The Nation: I’d love to write for them. I’ve never seen any writers guidelines other than what is on the website, and I don’t have any contacts. I’d love to learn more.

The Paris Review: I’ve never looked into this, but I’ve also never seen anything about it.

The Atlantic. I did publish a piece in the March 2012 issue. I had been pitching for a few years, to different editors. I got the name of the first editor I pitched from a friend. Then I kept pitching, and was referred to other editors by people there. I haven’t seen any market guides for them. The masthead and email formula aren’t hard to find, though.

Boston Review: see above.

TLS: As with NYRB, Boston Review and The Nation: I’d like to pitch them. Without any public or inside scoops, I have not yet–though I could take my own advice above and do some sleuthing.

Granta: I’ve pitched, and have not received any response. My sense–could be wrong– is that they cultivate writers–they seek out writers rather than respond to pitches.

Harpers: Nothing I’ve seen publicly, but I have found editor emails, pitched, and received responses back. So far, just rejections, but thoughtful and helpful ones. Cross your fingers for me the next one is a yes!

The New Republic: In the TLS, NYRB, Boston Review and The Nation column. I did once DM an assistant editor there, asking how to pitch. She didn’t respond. I should work more on this, as I think their book pages are fantastic and I’d love to write for them.

NYRB: see above

New Yorker: I have found editor emails and sent pitches. Some pitches have gone unresponsed to, some have gained me pleasantly worded rejections.

New York Times Book Review. I’ve received assignments from them via cold pitches to editors.

That’s as far as I can go without giving out information that might upset some of these publications. But if you email me I’ll respond privately and give you more information if I have it.

(p.s. I’m available for individual mentoring/coaching. I’d be happy to run an online course version of this as well, if there’s interest.)


3 thoughts on “VIDA Continua: Step-By-Step Guide On How To Pitch

  1. I’d appreciate tips on pitching a memoir (of someone not famous) in a proposal that the author’s agent will send to a variety of editors at different publishing houses.

  2. Anne Trubek says:

    Hawley: From what I understand, most agents prefer a complete memoir rather than a proposal.

  3. Pingback: Anne Trubek

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