As someone who both works for others and has others working for her, I'm in this weird position. I've spent a long time wondering about how to pitch my ideas to intimidating businesses or publications. Why do you get rejected so often? Now that I've been sorting through others' submissions for the past three years, the reasons are painfully obvious.
Now I'm sure all editors are a little different, but over the years, these are huge things that I've learned and applied in my own life to make myself more marketable to those who curate content.
By optimizing your pitch, you save yourself (and the editor) time and headaches. There's also a much better chance that your pitch will be accepted, which is great for everyone. Beyond the basics (no spelling errors, send something unique & interesting, respond promptly, etc.) here are my tips for reaching out to others with your ideas.
MAKE YOUR PORTFOLIO SHINE
Always include a link. You would be amazed at how many artists and photographers send me queries but don't include a link to their portfolio. Even something as simple as your Instagram or Flickr is totally fine. But if you don't send it at all, how am I supposed to know what you do?
Keep it simple. Meaning: no Flash, no fancy coding. It makes the page take forever to load, and if I have a lot of people to go through, you go to the bottom of the list.
Make it easily viewable. My favorite way to see someone's work is in a grid. I can see everything at once and screenshot it to reference later. Then if I want to see something in detail, I can click the image to enlarge it. It makes it easier for me to remember your work when I need it.
Include an about page and your location. I want to know more about you! Location is very important if you're a photographer. If I need something shot in Portland, it's nice to know I can call you to do it.
Demonstrate your ability. This can be anything! Links to past writing, a blog, a portfolio with images, just something to show you kind of know what you're doing. Those that don't include these make me feel like I just have to trust them, which is hard when they're a stranger and I have a deadline.
Make it obvious what you do. Make your specialty well known. Explain what you can do in your field, for example food photography - I can do stock photography, styling, I have a quick turn around, I have a portfolio with images you can choose from and use right away, I can do on-location shooting, etc.
MEET THEM HALFWAY
Research the publication, are they the right fit? We're a whole foods magazine, yet I still get recipes with commercial fake meats or cake box mixes - it doesn't fit. Figure out their ethos and take a frank look at whether your proposal would be the right fit.
Tailor your pitch to the person you're sending to. Don't just make one pitch and send a copy to every magazine out there. Do a little editing for each pitch.
Be willing to be flexible on direction - your pitch might not be a 100% fit, but with some tweaking from both you and themit might work. Be open to changes.
Take a look at what they've recently published. This is big! If I just did a big coffee feature, I'm not going to do another one next season. Some people will even write "you last did something like this two years ago" which is so helpful and shows that you're serious about what you're writing.
Don't just include a link to your website and hope for the best. This is the worst. Even if your work is good, this kind of thing just keeps me guessing. I personally don't have the time to go through all of your blog and come up with a feature for you. I would rather see your original ideas, or else I would just do the feature myself.
Give an overview, a few specifics, and a conclusion/resolution. (And potential graphics ideas if applicable.) This is the ideal proposal format, and only rarely do I see one. It doesn't have to be long, just descriptive and focused. Even one paragraph can accomplish this and gives the editor a much more clear image as to what you want to do.
Spell. It. Out. Make it as obvious as possible what you're trying to say. More specific is better than vague. Vague pitches just make me think the writer has no strong point of view, which makes me think they're a weak writer, even if they're really not.
Take the time to get to know the publication, note their voice, their point of view, and gauge whether your pitch is right for them. Just dig a little, read one issue, read a few blog posts, just get something that gives you an idea of them. If I get another "Dear Editor, here's my product, please consider it for your magazine" I'm going to rip my hair out.
Follow them on social media and interact. I'm much happier to see someone's work in my editorial inbox that I already like on Instagram or Twitter. Meeting people in person (at shows or at events) also makes me remember them and want to develop our working relationship.
Find an in. An example: one of our regular writers noticed that we hadn't been putting a lot of resources into our book reviews. The book reviews had always been a huge interest of mine, but we didn't have the time to write them. So she came to me and offered to write them as well as reach out the the author of one book per season for a lengthy interview. This saved us work and greatly improved a regular feature. Find that weak link and go for it.
Checking in isn't as bad as you think. I always thought I'd be annoying the editor when I sent a follow-up email, but I don't feel very annoyed by most of the ones I get. When following up, don't be pushy (!) and include possible variations on your story in case they didn't like the specific viewpoint you initially sent in. Indignant follow-ups sent a day after the initial pitch is an instant way to get your email sent to the trash.
DON'T TAKE REJECTION PERSONALLY
This is a huge one for me. As an artist I am terrified of rejection, but as an editor I have to reject about 1/3-1/2 of all the submissions I get. Rejection is just inevitable, and it definitely does not mean your work is bad, or that you are bad.
There are so many reasons for rejection. The biggest reason I delete submissions is because there's no actual idea or story - it's just a link to their blog with a "I'd love to do work for you." (That works for illustrators, not so much for writers and especially not recipe developers.) Sometimes someone else already pitched the idea first and is already on the assignment. Sometimes we have too many recipes or too many personal stories in one issue and can't take any more. (Right now we have over 20 city guide pitches!) Sometimes we just did a cocktail feature so we won't do another one for a year or so. Sometimes the pitch isn't as developed as someone else's or the author doesn't have enough expertise on a tough subject.
There are a million ways to get rejected, but if you try out the tips listed above, you may find yourself in a better position. I know after reflecting on these, I could apply my own judgements to my work, making it stronger and more easily shared.
What other tips am I missing here? Do you have any experience with sending in successful pitches? Let all of us know in the comments!