One of the rather scary aspects of teaching a course called The Journalist’s Toolkit is feeling that I should be ‘pitch perfect’. Let me explain.
Part of the course is a discussion on what to put in query letters to editors — and what not to write. The fact of the matter is that not all of my own pitches hit the mark. There could be any number of reasons for this:
I may not write a very good pitch. This happens from time to time, although without knowing the editor in question it’s a little hit and miss knowing what would be a good pitch. You can see from the variety of query letters in Query letters that worked! that there is by no means a one-size-fits-all.
There was the time I wrote an absolutely brilliant query letter. So brilliant, in fact, that I copied and pasted it and emailed it to a different editor — forgetting to change the name of the magazine in question. I did remember to change the editor’s name, but that wasn’t enough to unblot my copy book.
Quite often, though, things are simply beyond one’s control:
A change in editor, with a consequent change in editorial policy. Sometimes, new editors bring their favourite writers with them.
A change in publisher, again with different priorities.
They are not interested in the kind of articles you have suggested, perhaps because they published something similar (or what they think was similar) a few months ago.
The editor has too much work on to give your proposal any quality time.
The editor prefers a phone query rather than emailed queries, or vice versa.
The magazine doesn’t cover the kind of topic you’ve pitched. I once received a pretty nasty email from an editor telling me to do my research before querying. I had done, in a writing gigs listing. The magazine entry stated that they were looking for the kind of article I had suggested. Apparently, whoever wrote the job specification for the listing forgot to tell the editor!
So, you would have to be very fortunate indeed to have a 100% success rate when pitching ideas to editors you haven’t worked with before. Nevertheless, I was concerned that, if I’m teaching a course that covers querying, isn’t there an expectation that I would be successful every time?
I was very much reassured by two events over the weekend though. Firstly, I read in a book or a blog post about querying that the writer had built a successful writing career despite having received 500 rejections over the years. Secondly, one of the most successful writers and editors I know absolutely hates pitching, partly because she is never sure how to go about it.
My feeling is that sharing my failures as well as my successes on the course will, I hope, give newer writers more confidence in trying to get writing work in the first place.
Also, one of the aims of this part of the course is not just about how to maximise your chances of success in sending article ideas to an editor, but also to minimise the chances of your ideas being rejected. These are not the same thing. One of the resources I’ll be sharing with attendees is a selection of query letters, some of which are so bad they have to be seen to be believed. And just so you know this isn’t about shaming anyone, I’m also including my own howler, the one naming the wrong magazine, in the examples!
For a full description of the course contents, please visit: