You've no doubt heard of the expression "You don't get a second chance to make a first imnpression". So it's quite astonishing that some people don't do their 'due diligence' when they make a pitch to an editor they don't know, and who doesn't know them.
Common errors include:
- Suggesting a topic that is completely irrelevant to the publication or publisher in question.
- Suggesting an approach that is not at all in keeping with the style of the publication or publisher.
- Demonstrating a cavalier approach to spelling.
- Being over-familiar.
- Being over-confident.
- Being under-confident, to the extent that you sound like you're apologising for breathing.
I was at the receiving end of a really bad pitch myself once. Someone emailed me to ask if I would like an article on the same subject as one they'd successfully pitched a commercial magazine for. I said that I'd be interested in taking a look.
He sent me an article which had the sub-title "Submitted to [commercial magazine]". I emailed to ask him if that was the same article he'd sent to the magazine. He said it wasn't, but he'd forgotten to remove that sentence. He then went on to say that he hadn't proofread the article because he didn't have time, so thought he would leave it to me. The phrase "Don't call us, we'll call you" sprang to mind.
I think it's worthwhile bearing in mind a few things when you pitch an editor. The first is that althouhgh they are always looking for content, they are usually by no means desperate. Secondly, you could be the greatest writer since D.H.Lawrence, but if your pitch is no good then you won't even make it to the starting line. Thirdly, it doesn't take an awful lot of time to do the necessary research.
For examples of bad pitches, see the book reviews in this Bad Writing series. Also consider subscribing to Writers' Weekly. This is a free weekly newsletter that not only includes really useful how-to articles. news of scams and details of paying markets, but also a monthly round-up of awful pitches received by Angela Hoy, the editor and owner. For example, see the March 2018 edition of the World's Worst Query Letters.