Shop Talk: Pitching Dos and Don’ts

I’m going to avoid any baseball analogies and skip right to the nerdy stuff: pitching editors is a lot like scoring a headshot while you’re being peppered with semi-automatic gunfire and missile explosions. If you want the kill (uh, I mean, gig), you have to get your pitch just right and target it to the soft squishy meat exposed through the tiny crack in their editorial wall of armor. If you’re a little off to either side, you’ll miss the shot and get smoked by the competition. Cold-pitching new editors isn’t easy, but here are some general Dos and Don’ts to follow.

 1) DON’T – Send general introductory e-mails asking for work.

“Dear Editor, You don’t know me at all, but gee whiz I’d sure love some steady work because I’m a good writer and all that.” Yeah, no. E-mails like that tend to get deleted or ignored. Everybody under the sun, stars, and moon wants to get paid to write for Awesome Outlet X. Asking for vague work handouts is about as effective as pissing into a tornado. Chances are the editor you’re bugging already has a healthy pool of freelancers at their disposal who are more than capable of picking up any loose slack in the review and preview grind department, and they have the added benefit of having already passed the vetting process. Save it until you’ve already gotten your foot in the door and established a decent rapport with your editor – they’ll be much more likely to kick you some other work once they know you can deliver the goods.

DO – Hit your target editor with a snappy pitch.

The best way to get and hold an editor’s attention is to deliver a concise, well written pitch for a specific feature, column, or some other specialized coverage that matches the tone and focus of the publication you’re pitching too. This means taking the time to READ the magazine or website you’re trying to break into, becoming familiar with the types of articles it runs, and matching your pitch to the outlet’s editorial tone. Keep it short and sweet, and leave the editor wanting another taste of your steaming word pie.

2) DON’T – Pitch articles around the usual overplayed clichés.

Uninspired, lazy pitches aren’t going to wow the editor you’re courting. They’ve been at it long enough to have seen and heard just about every cockamamie story idea imaginable. Articles hinging on ideas like “Girls Play Video Games Too,” “Casual vs. Hardcore,” and anything about the “Console Wars” have already been done to death and then some. Think your idea is original? Think again. Someone else has probably beaten you to the punch a dozen times. Go back to the drawing board, come up with something new, and be creative.

DO – Find new ways to freshen up old ideas.

Certain timeless article concepts can always be dragged out, dusted off, and applied with a fresh coat of paint to make them interesting and relevant again. The same goes for rehashing topics you’ve already written about or other folks’ articles you’ve read. As long as you’re not resorting to plagiarism or ripping someone off directly, there’s nothing wrong with find a new angle to explore on a story or article idea that’s been well-reported before. Important dates in gaming history and pieces that explore popular franchises in different ways are two examples of topics that can be recycled and refreshed. It’s also a good idea to pitch articles that tie into a recent news event, capitalize on some growing trend in the industry, or hinge on hot games or hardware in development.

3) DON’T – Spam your prospective editor with e-mails.

Editors are busy people. They have lots to deal with on any given day, and getting through with an inbox filled with hundreds of messages from PR, pitches from prospective writers, and important communiqués with steady writers can be exhausting business. Don’t make their job more painful. Not getting a response right away isn’t always a bad thing. Some editors are prompt with communication, while others can take days or weeks to get back to you. Accept and respect that fact, even when it makes you want to light things on fire.

DO – Send a brief follow-up if it’s been awhile.

Did I mention editors are busy people? Let me reiterate that point. They can sometimes get so bogged down that they forget to respond to you. Other times e-mails slip through the cracks or get lost in the nebulous void of cyberspace. If you haven’t received a response on your pitch or inquiry after a week or two, it’s fine to follow-up to see if they received your message and had a chance to review it. Keep it calm, cool, and professional.

4) DON’T – EVER send attachments unless you’re asked to.

Attaching anything to your first-time e-mail pitches to new editors is a sure-fire way to have them trashed or eaten by hungry spam filters. Even worse than having your pitch e-mail deleted outright without being read, they might be inclined to send a drove of squishy-hating robots to your doorstep. Robots with pincer claws and dark intentions. This is best avoided at all costs.

DO – Include links to clips or your online resume when pitching.

Once you get an editor’s attention, one of the first things they’ll want to know is whether or not you can write. If you have a professional looking website, LinkedIn profile, or other online resume to link to, be sure to include that somewhere in your e-mail. It’s also wise to include links to a few of your best clips. Sometimes that can make all the difference between landing an assignment and landing on your face empty-handed.

5) DON’T – Be cocky, cutesy, or obnoxious.

Kicking down an editor’s (theoretical) door with your chest puffed up and guns blazing is more likely to irritate them than endear them to champion your work. Be confident and cool, but avoid gimmickry, braggadocio, or outright buffoonery in your pitch e-mails.

DO – Be polite and professional.

Many editors in this industry communicate in a relaxed, personal manner once you get to work with them a bit. It’s not as stuffy as other writing fields. That said, you want to keep your initial interactions with editors upbeat, professional, and courteous. Wait until you’ve developed a positive working relationship with them before ditching the formalities. After that, pitching often becomes a much easier, more streamlined process.

Want to read more Shop Talk? Why not scope out the archive for past installments!

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2 thoughts on “Shop Talk: Pitching Dos and Don’ts

  1. Thanks for the advice. I don’t write about gaming, but I do write a wide variety of article types. The problem is I only pick up work from one aggregated content studio right now…a pretty poor living. I haven’t really pitched any article ideas to magazines, newspapers or other media, but I am definitely going to give it a good shot.

  2. It never hurts to try to break into new outlets. It can be daunting for sure, particularly if you don’t make it the first few attempts. But persistence and great ideas eventually pay off!

    Most of this pitching advice can be used for non-gaming freelancing too.

    Good luck and thanks for commenting!

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