Shop Talk: Queries – From Pitched To Published

Querying publications with feature pitches is still among the best ways for freelance writers to break into new outlets, but there’s more to a killer pitch than simply coming up with a good idea. I’ve been getting quite a few inquiries lately asking about the best way to craft features pitches. I plan to cover that topic more in-depth at some point in the near future, but in the meantime I thought it might be fun to give a concrete example of a successful pitch that made it to publication…using myself as the guinea pig. Now I remember why I never delete old crap from my inbox.

Lets put a few quarters in the way back machine. *Kaching* I used to do a lot of writing for The Escapist — an excellent gaming site that has always been very feature-driven and freelancer friendly. I’ve pitched them a lot over the years, and while plenty of my queries never made the cut, quite a few did. Here’s a feature pitch I sent them back in 2008 that was accepted. The article ran later that year.

While it’s perhaps not my best pitching job ever, I think it’s a pretty strong example of a pitch that works, and I’m presenting it exactly as I sent it (don’t laugh). You’ll find some of my self-critiquing comments on it after the pitch, and so you can see how the finished piece turned out, I’ve included a link to that at the end. Enjoy!

The Pitch

January 12, 2008
Attn: Russ Pitts – Associate Editor, The Escapist

Hello Russ,

Thank you for the early peek at The Escapist’s editorial calendar and also for publishing my 8-bit Empire feature in November 2007. I have a handful of article ideas I’d like to pitch to you for Q2 2008 starting with the following:

No longer content with mere rumble packs, some gamers are turning to more extreme methods of increasing the interactivity and realism of their favorite video games. First-person shooters are perhaps the best example of a genre which embraces an increasingly hyper-realistic form of gameplay. We can see the carnage unfold on the screen in a spray of bullets and massive explosions. We can hear the sounds of war as they erupt around us. Our health meters decrease when we’re wounded. It raises the question: what’s next? Ever wonder what it might feel like to be punched, stabbed, blown apart, or shot while playing video games? TN Games’ 3rdSpace Gaming Vest offers an opportunity to find out – only without the unfortunate fatal side-effects associated with the real deal.

A motto like “get pounded on your own terms,” is hard to ignore. Released at the start of the 2007 holiday season, the 3rdSpace Gaming Vest elevates the first-person shooter experience to a whole new level of intensity. The device looks quite similar to a stylish bullet-proof vest with a USB cable hanging out of it to hook into your PC and a hose which attaches to an air compressor unit. The vest contains eight pneumatic cells located in different areas which react to the action unfolding on-screen. Aside from looking pretty, this bad boy gives you a jolt of compressed air to the gut or other corresponding organ to emulate the sensation of being hit by gunfire, stabbed with a bayonet, or worse. The unit was originally designed for use in the medical field, but it was eventually re-tooled for the gaming community. At present, the 3rdSpace Gaming Vest is compatible with Incursion, the company’s own bundled title, as well as a number of popular FPS PC games including Crysis, Half-Life 2, Medal of Honor: Airborne, F.E.A.R., Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Quake 4, and Doom 3. Support for other titles is planned. TN Games is also currently developing a similar G-Force/Racing Vest and a helmet to complement the original gaming vest.

I would like to submit for your consideration a 1,000 to 1,500 word feature spotlight on TN Games’ unique product which also explores how the company came to develop the device as well as what this new extreme form of gameplay means to a generation of gamers who thirst for increasingly realistic and violent FPS experiences. In my story I also hope to explore what implications this technology may have on the future of gaming. Looking at the editorial calendar, I feel this article would be a good addition to the next Editor’s Choice issue. I plan to contact TN Games for interviews for this story and will also inquire about the possibility of obtaining the 3rdSpace Gaming Vest to personally test out in order to add some additional perspective to the story.

Once again, I thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response to my query. In the near future I plan to pitch several other feature ideas tailored to specific upcoming issues on the Q2 2008 editorial calendar.

Sincerely,
Nathan Meunier – Freelance Writer / Game Journalist

 

The Self-critique and What Worked

I picked this pitch to share in-part because I like both the pitch and the finished article, but it’s certainly not perfect. Normally, I’d advocate starting the pitch like the lede of the feature you’re trying to pitch. That’s essentially what I do here with the second graph, but because I had corresponded with another editor at The Escapist previously, I added that personal note in the first graph to Russ (now of VoxGames, for folks who are paying attention) to show that 1) I had been published at the site before – never hurts to throw that in there when working with a new editor — and 2) that I was responding to the early call for pitches he had sent out. Anything to improve your chances, right? If you have prior contact with an editor or an inside “in,” definitely play to that when you can. Editors are more likely to bite if they know who you are and are already familiar with your work — assuming it’s of good quality and that your pitch isn’t total rubbish. I know I’ve sent a few stinkers in the past. It happens.

When I was working on this pitch, I was really fixated on the weirdness of putting on a gaming vest and having your innards mangled, jiggled, pneumatically abused, and whatnot, but the underlying tech and the story behind how it came about was where the real meat of the story was at. I merely used the “get your guts mangled to the extreme” as the hook to hang the story on. My hope was that it was just weird enough to attract readers’ short attention spans and intriguing enough to editors to merit a commission. In this case, it worked. Hell, that’s what got my attention in the first place.

I think I perhaps got a little nerdy on the nitty-gritty, but I did a lot of up-front research on the vest and it shows in the pitch. Providing concrete details that demonstrates you’ve done your homework on the subject is a great way to strengthen your pitch, and having these snippets to help describe your subject usually improves the writing too. Considering this was a bit of a complicated piece of tech to describe, I think the extra info was merited. However, this feels a bit lengthy for a pitch. I know The Escapist runs a lot of long-form pieces, so providing enough detail to show I could flesh the story out was important, but I prefer to get to the point quicker and keep things shorter when pitching other outlets. Keep your graphs short and punchy, and strike a balance between getting the important details in there and getting to the point before your editor starts dozing off.

Towards the tail end of the pitch, I show familiarity with the site’s editorial process and lay down my battleplan for interviews and going hands-on with the gear. Making it clear you read the publication you’re pitching and that you’re familiar with the tone, style, and approach of the articles it publishes is crucial. It’s better to show it through your pitch rather than coming out and saying it. And if you plan on conducting interviews or getting your hands on materials or hardware needed for a piece, don’t promise the moon if you don’t have a rocket to get there. I did my research ahead of time to make sure I had a means of contacting TN Games and a way to setup an interview with the vest’s creator – a key component to the feature. Once I got the green light for the piece, I immediately setup an interview and arrange an opportunity to test the vest out in-person.

The Finished Article

For anyone that’s still reading, here’s the finished article as it ran at The Escapist.

Thanks for reading!

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

—-

Dig this article? Why not BUY THE BOOK!

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16 thoughts on “Shop Talk: Queries – From Pitched To Published

  1. This is a great article, thanks for sharing it! I am only starting out with my blog and writing game review, but I’m looking at continuing this hobby as a profession, and your insights might be what I need to get a good start. Thanks!

  2. As somebody who’s trying to break my way into this industry, this site is a great resource! (I was directed here by Russ Pitts himself via Twitter, by the way!). There isn’t much out there in terms of a guidebook or tutorial to becoming a published games writer, so it’s nice to see so much helpful information.

    I made my first pitch to The Escapist about a month ago and got shot down. I was prepared for rejection, but I wasn’t really sure of how to improve my pitches for the future. The least I can take out of this article is that I could have benefitted from better pre-planning and research.

  3. Thanks for the comments! The Escapist is a rad site. They’re very open to freelance pitches, but they do get inundated with stuff, so you really have to make your pitches shine to make it to the front of the pack.

    While I am working on my own book that’s focused on freelancing in the gaming industry that I hope to have ready to go later this year, I’d recommend you scope out Dan Amrich’s excellent “Critical Path: How To Review Video Games for a Living.” It’s got a lot of great insider info and is an entertaining read. http://www.amazon.com/Critical-Path-Review-Videogames-Living/dp/098514372X/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1

    • Thanks for another awesome resource! (I guess there IS a guidebook to becoming a games writer, it’s just pretty darn new!) At just half a month old it’s bound to be extremely relevant, too. Grabbed the digital version and can’t wait to read it.

      Best of luck with your book this year! I’ll be sure to check it out when it publishes.

  4. Thanks for sharing, Nathan. I’m struck by how in-depth this pitch gets. Most of mine have been much briefer, as I’ve been concerned that editors might be too busy to bother with anything wordier than a couple paragraphs in the initial query. Would you say most of your pitches are about this detailed?

    • Hey Jason, yeah this one is a bit long. Most of my pitches are shorter and perhaps a little less detailed. Extra detail is always good if you can weave it into the pitch in a way that doesn’t become excessive, but it’s also easy to overdo it.

      I’d say stick to short and sweet when pitching most gaming outlets. Just enough to hook an editor’s attention and provide enough detail to show you can deliver a great piece.

  5. Pingback: Shop Talk: Queries – From Pitched To Published | Anthony Shelton

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