Last fall, author and journalist John Moir redeemed part of his grand prize from WD’s 78th Annual Writing Competition when he traveled to New York City, where his escort from the WD editorial team had arranged for Moir to meet with his wish list of editors from The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Audubon and The New York Times (where Moir scored himself an assignment on the spot).
But you don’t need to win a competition to rope the kind of one-on-one meeting that can bolster your writing career—periodical and book editors are available at conferences and other events, and sometimes all it takes to set something up is an e-mail. So we asked Moir to share what he learned about getting the most out of meetings with editors.
- Do your homework. Before your meeting, see what you can find on the Internet about the editor’s background, interests and the type of stories she typically handles. Many editors are also writers, and their articles can offer a window into their passions. When I met with a New York Times editor, he’d had an article in that day’s edition about the science of spicy foods. Because I’d read the piece that morning, it provided me with a natural icebreaker and paved the way for a discussion about what types of ideas he was looking for. In addition, always read recent issues (or familiarize yourself with a publisher’s list) to see where your work might best fit, and research the submission guidelines in resources such as Writer’s Market or on the Web.
- Prepare your pitch. You don’t have to pitch in person at the meeting—you might just use it as a general opportunity to learn about how you can break in—but if you do, organize your ideas like a traditional news story, with the most important information in the lede. A good pitch is short and pithy. Aim for under a minute; 30 seconds is even better. Write it out, memorize it, and when the time comes, deliver it s-l-o-w-l-y to allow the editor time to absorb the idea. Pause. Give the editor a chance to respond. Be prepared to expand on your idea.
- Think like an editor. Before the meeting, take a moment to imagine that you’re the editor listening to your pitch, and try to anticipate his questions. Why are you the best person to write this? How will you get the information you need? What type of reader will enjoy your piece? If there are any obvious stumbling blocks to completing the work (e.g., obtaining a key interview), head off the editor’s questions by addressing those issues upfront.
- Listen. While preparation is the foundation for a successful meeting, don’t get locked into a monologue. You’re not just here to talk; you’re here to learn. Interact in the moment. Use your preparation for support, but not as a fixed script. Listen closely to what the editor tells you and respond in kind.
- Make a connection. Beyond merely pitching an idea, aim to begin building a working relationship with the editor. Find out what suggestions she has for future opportunities or pitches. At the same time, weave into the conversation your own experience and writing interests.
When the meeting is over, present the editor with your business card. Even better, leave a folder containing a short bio and a sample of your work. In return, be sure to ask for the editor’s business card or contact information. When you get home—even if you didn’t close a deal—send the editor an e-mail letting him know how much you appreciated his time.
This article was written by John Moir.
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