You wouldn’t show up at a job interview dressed in torn sweatpants and an unwashed, ratty old T-shirt, clutching a half-eaten meatball sub in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other, would you?
Of course not.
As far as editors are concerned, though, if you send a story pitch that’s packed with misspellings, goes on and on about your life since age three, and fails to adequately capture your story’s focus and suitability for the publication, you might as well also include a picture of yourself in those sweatpants—because their reaction will be pretty much the same.
A story pitch—also known as a query—is usually the first time an editor meets you (and we all know we get only one chance to make a good first impression). It’s also your first and best opportunity to help the editor get a feel for your writing skills, to offer a glimpse into the exciting destinations that you plan to visit or already have visited, and to establish your ability to convey those experiences to a reader in an authoritative and credible way.
Is there anything that you can do to elevate your pitch above the pack and get an editor’s attention? Absolutely, yes. Here are four ways to ensure that an editor will sit up and take notice when your email hits their inbox:
1. Start with a strong subject line
The subject line is the first thing an editor sees, and so it can be helpful to think about the way we all evaluate whether we’ll open our emails: by the subject line. I don’t know about you, but I open emails from beloved friends and family and those that are going to lead me to paid work first, and I immediately delete the ones that promise a get-rich-quick scheme or are trying to sell me things.
How do I know which is which? Yep, you guessed it. That’s why it’s crucial that your subject line lets the editor know that your email contains a story query, along with where the story is set and its focus. This can be as simple as Freelance pitch: Tango lessons in Buenos Aires, or Query: 10 top family-friendly U.S. ski areas. In fact, the simpler, the better, as long as you include the destination and the primary point of the story.
2. Keep it short and sweet
Most editors I know are stretched pretty thin, so if you send a lengthy email, you increase the chances that the editor will take one look and either hit delete immediately, or relegate it to the bottom of the pile to be reviewed when they have more time (in other words, sometime never).
I’m a big proponent of the three-paragraph pitch, because it’s long enough to allow you to give a good synopsis of the story, as well as indicate whether you can offer things like photos or previously published stories.
3. Tailor the pitch to the publication
Before you pitch an editor, you should peruse the publication’s archives to get a sense of the types of stories it publishes, as well as the destinations most frequently covered, and the demographics targeted (i.e., multi-generational travelers, retirees, students taking a gap year, solo travelers, etc.).
That way, when you come up with your story focus, you can include things that will appeal directly to the readers of a given publication, who usually have come to expect a certain kind of story to appear in its pages. For example: Let’s say you’re writing a story about taking kids to an all-inclusive beach resort, and you want to pitch it to a magazine like Parenting. In your pitch, you definitely want to mention that your story is particularly ideal for Parenting because it focuses on helping parents enjoy a vacation while still getting quality time for the kids.
4. Write your pitch as if it were for publication
What I mean by this is that many writers tend to get sloppy with the pitch, which is a mistake.
Editors are looking to see that you follow sound sentence structure; that you checked for spelling and grammatical errors, and that you have a good grasp of paragraph transitions and flow. If you skimp on these things, it will be a sign to the editor that your story likely will have the same issues.
In other words, the pitch is everything. So toss those sweatpants and dress it in its very best if you dream of freelance travel-writing success.