I am a music editor. [holds for applause] And as a music editor, a large part of my job entails working with freelance writers. I get to publish people’s written words about music and pay them to do it. With no disrespect to cancer research scientists or pornstars, that is the coolest fucking responsibility in the world.
But it’s hard to find good writers. Once every month or so, I send a tweet out into the world, reminding writers of my email address and that I am open to pitches. I’ll usually get a couple dozen responses. Of those, maybe one is pursuable. The rest vary from lukewarm garbage to steaming hot garbage. That’s not a knock at the skill of those writers. I have no idea how good their writing is, and I’ll never know, for this reason: Their pitch was so shitty. Pitching is as essential to being a writer as the actual writing itself. You’ve got to know how to pitch just as well as you like, know how to make all them good words and stuff.
I want to accept more pitches and publish more stories, though. I want to publish so much good music writing that we are bathing in a digital ocean of perfect word choices and beautifully crafted metaphors about songs. So in my small effort to combat this bad pitching epidemic, here are a few tips that might help you not blow it with editors.
Make Sure You Have a Fully Formed Idea and Aren’t Just Talking Out of Your Ass
You don’t need to have your whole article written, but you should have a clear idea of what the topic is and what points you will cover. I get a lot of pitches along the lines of: “How about a piece about how Michael Jackson was like, the original Drake or something?” These emails tend to come in after midnight and smell like Adult Swim commercials and Doritos if you know what I’m saying. Then I will send a response saying, “Cool, can you further explain WTF you’re talking about plz?” And surprise, surprise, the explanation is usually: “Like… Because they both wore red jackets and stuff. I don’t know, it might be stupid.” Cool, I’m glad we bonded over the shared experience of wasting our time together. Never forget.
Condense Your Piece Down to One Sentence
Instead of writing out five long-winded paragraphs explaining what you want to write about, give me a summary in one sentence. Or even a proposed headline. Have you ever heard of an elevator pitch? Sure you have. It’s how you would describe a larger project to a person if you had only a brief elevator ride with them. So imagine this: You are in an elevator with me. I am quietly sobbing because I suffer from severe vertigo and crippling phobia of smelling farts in enclosed spaces. How do you make me interested? Go! Sell me this pen!
Know the Outlet You’re Pitching
If you are pitching a site that is both #cool and #hip and sometimes even #edgy, you should craft your pitch to reflect that. Know their voice and also their audience. Do they mostly cater to people under 25? Do their readers use phrases like “on fleek” and “trill?” Is their audience primarily interested in cool vape tricks on Vine? Know all of this stuff and when pitching, don’t come across like you’re trying to write for some academia blog. Conversely, if you are pitching an academia blog, you probably don’t want to use phrases like “on fleek” and “trill.”
Know the Editor You’re Pitching
If you’re introducing yourself to an editor, start with a quick, personal opening line like, “Hey Dan, I really liked your last thinkpiece about how stingrays are the most punk fish in the aquatic kingdom. Good stuff.” This does two things: One, it lets me know that you are a real person who is catering to me, a fellow real person, and that you are familiar with what genres/beats I cover. And two, it kisses my ass just a tiny bit which I need because I am a music writer and require constant stroking of my ego in order to survive.
“Pitch” Is Not a Good Subject Line
That’s it, really. You won’t even get your email opened, let alone answered, if the subject is “pitch.” Put the basic idea of the article in the subject.
Here’s a good subject line: “This Venezuelan Hardcore Band Holds the World Record for Most Consecutive Hours Spent Masturbating”
Here’s a bad subject line: “pitch for you”
Check to See if It’s Already Been Done
Here’s a good use of two seconds that will save everyone involved a bunch of time: Before you pitch an idea, go to the site you’re pitching, enter the topic in the little search box, and hit “enter.” If this topic—or a similar topic—has already been covered, take your business elsewhere.
Different pitches have different lifespans. A long, well-researched investigative piece has the potential to live on forever and ever in the ethers of the interwebs. But something quick and dumb about the Left Shark or escaped llamas has a shelf-life of a day, if that. Send a pitch about a day-old meme and prepare to have your email printed out and passed around the Secret Society of Editors to be mocked while you are forever branded as that freelancer who wanted to write something about the IKEA monkey.
Pitch Ideas, Not Bands
This is probably the single most important piece of advice and I guess I should have put it at the top but am too lazy to change it now. As a music editor, roughly 8,000% of the pitches I get are just interviews with bands the writer likes. “Hey Dan, I want to interview this band The Shitty Pitches. They rule.” Well for starters, tell me something interesting about The Shitty Pitches or what you plan to interview them about. Is there something special about them? Did they grow up on a remote island and not hear music until they were in their thirties? Do they play on instruments they hand-made from their parents’ checks to their liberal arts colleges? TELL ME. Otherwise I’ll just assume it’d be a generic interview that asks my least favorite questions and will pass.
Do Not Pitch to Ask if You Can Pitch
I get this one a lot and it never stops confusing me. Someone will email me and all it will say is “Hey Dan, I wanted to send you a pitch about a band. Would that be cool?” No one has time to lure a timid writer squirrel out of its hole. Pitch or get off the pot.
Do Not Send Generic Garbage Pitches for Garbage People
This is another one that seems like common sense yet happens all the time. Someone will send me something like “I want to write about the current state of punk.” This is kind of like pitching a Hollywood producer a movie about love. Narrow it down.
Do Not Rattle Off Any Old Whatever the Fuck from Your Phone
When you send me a one-line email with “sent from my iPhone” at the bottom, what that basically tells me is that a thought ran across your brain and instead of thinking it out, you just fired it off to me while waiting on line at Cinnabon.
Don’t Pitch Out of Your League
If you pitch an editor with “I want to interview Kanye West,” you damn sure better know Ye personally and had him sign a blood oath saying he’d be down for an interview. There is nothing more obnoxious than someone requesting to interview a celebrity and then asking the editor to put them in touch with that celebrity. We don’t have giant rolodexes of famous people here. (Just kidding, we totally do. But don’t assume that.)
And Lastly, Here’s a Good Sample Pitch Email
Subject: Bands and their grandmas
Hi Dan, [Hey, you used my name! Now I know you are a real person and not a Pitch-Bot 5000. Cool.]
Nice piece last week on how peanut butter is the punkest food. Thought it was pretty… nutty. Was that terrible? [Woah, you have a sense of humor and are maybe a person I could stand working with on a regular basis? Sweet.]
My name is John Q. Writer and I am a freelance writer who has written for CoolBlog dot com and OtherCoolBlog dot com. [Include a link here to your online resume or blog or something where I can get a feel for your style. DO NOT go into your life story—where you went to college, what you studied, the first time you did hand stuff under the bleachers. I do not care.]
As you probably know [assuming that I am on the pulse of culture, nice nice…], a lot of bands are taking their grandmas on tour these days [maybe include a link to something on this on the very, very small off-shot that I, a person “in the know,” am not glued into this particular important cultural trend]. I wanted to write a piece called “Get in the Van, Nanna” exploring this idea. Why do bands do this? What benefits are there to touring with your grandma? I want to talk to Band Number One, Band Number Two, and Band Number Three who have all done this and also speak with their grandmas. [Woah, all of this info is helpful and interesting and I could totally see my readers digging this and sharing it on TweetBook.]
Let me know if you’re interested. [I am.]
[This is the blank space where you’ll notice it does not say “sent from my iPhone.”]
Sound good? Cool.