In the early days of my travel-writing career, I worked as a magazine editor. My duties encompassed everything from writing, commissioning, and editing stories to making sure our page proofs got to the printers on time. In addition, a big part of my day-to-day involved reading query letters and submissions from freelance writers, many of whom I’d never met or even heard of. While I got plenty of fantastic pitches, the lion’s share of emails I received made me wonder if the writers had read our magazine at all.
The big takeaway? If you want to get an editor to pay attention to your travel article pitch, make sure you have paid attention to their publication.
Here are a few ways how.
Read, read, read
Before you pitch, make sure to read plenty of stories in your target publication. While you’ll want to be sure that the destination or subject matter you’re pitching hasn’t already been covered (or at least not recently), you’ll also want to get a good feel for the publication in question.
Understand the importance of voice
While we often talk about writers’ unique “voices,” most publications also have predominant tones and styles that are consistent across sections. It’s absolutely crucial to understand a publication’s voice before you pitch; for example, you’d probably come across as stodgy if you sent an overly formal pitch to a lifestyle publication with a casual, hip tone. On the same token, a casually worded pitch to a major news or financial website could easily appear unprofessional. And while you’re at it, make sure you don’t send out blanket generic pitches. While it’s tempting to play numbers games by sending out the same pitch to dozens of publications, any editor who’s been in the game for more than a week will see right through this.
Know your sections
Most websites, magazines, and newspapers are divided into sections. With papers and websites, these are often arranged by theme (e.g., news, health, sports). With magazines, you’re likely to find front-of-the-book sections (FOBs), often dominated by small, easily digestible nuggets and flash news items, main features in the middle of the magazine, and—in some cases—a back-of-the-book section with some sort of closing note or story. When crafting your pitch, make sure to mention which section you’re pitching. For example, if a magazine has a regularly recurring FOB sub-section about family travel, mention that you think this would be a good home for your story.
Follow the guidelines
Last but certainly not least, make sure you know a publication’s guidelines before you pitch or submit a story. Some magazines only take completed stories, at least from writers they haven’t worked with in the past, while others only want pitches. Some publications have very specific rules about the length and information they want in pitches—you wouldn’t want to send a three-paragraph story idea to a publication that specifically asks for four sentences and a headline.
Most importantly, remember that editors are very busy people. Following these tips will not only show your editors that you’ve done your research, but also that you’re professional and on top of things enough to be easy to work with.