Breaking into a new magazine or online publication as a freelancer can be a herculean pain. It takes convincing an editor who is (most likely) unfamiliar with you and your work that you can be trusted with an assignment, appropriately understand the tone of the publication, and have the writing and reporting chops to follow through.
This post is part of a series of freelance writing-related posts from Writer’s Digest Managing Editor Tyler Moss. In addition to working with new submissions and a regular stable of freelance contributors to WD, his own freelance credits include Conde Nast Traveler, The Atlantic, Outside and New York magazines.
Follow Tyler on Twitter @tjmoss11.
Which is why the quality of your query is so critical. An article pitch should capture the key points of your story, including what makes it so compelling and why thisparticular publication is the ideal venue, as well as your credentials as a writer—all in a succinct email. While there's no exact formula for success, there is a general template through which you can showcase yourself as a paragon of professionalism, the outline of which looks something like this:
- Greeting — Which specific editor are you targeting?
- Hook — What surprising angle will attract this editor's attention?
- Body — What additional facts should the editor know about how your story will play out?
- Fit — Why is your story right for this publication?
- Credentials — Why are you the right writer for this piece?
The sample below is from a story I pitched to Outside magazine in November 2013, which was accepted and later ran in the April 2014 issue under the headline "The Foraged Beer Trend." Click on the hyperlinked footnotes following each paragraph to view my metacommentary on the different section.
At Scratch Brewing Company, located just five miles from Shawnee National Forest in Ava, Ill., the brewery's flagship beer is listed in the taproom as simply "Forest Ale." Unlike most beers from more large-scale breweries, it matters little to the brewers at Scratch whether Forest Ale tastes remotely the same from one batch to the next.2
That's because the driving idea behind this beer is more form than flavor: Forest Ale is brewed from foraged plants the brewers find outdoors in nearby nature. This can include chanterelle mushrooms straight from the forest floor, which add an apricot aroma and earthy taste, to rose root, which adds color and tannins. Additional foraged ingredients range from nettle, elderberry and ginger to dandelion, maple sap and a variety of wood additions. The result: an essential beer "terroir" that ultimately represents the region.3
But Scratch isn't the only brewery to pursue this innovative foraging trend: Crooked Stave in Denver brews beers with ingredients sourced from hikes in the Rocky Mountains, and Fullsteam Brewery in North Carolina bottles beer with adjuncts like wild fig and persimmon. I think foraged beer would make a terrific trend piece for Outside's FOB section, Dispatches, at 450 words.4
Thanks so much for your consideration.
1. Here I've addressed the editor by name. I found this information by browsing the magazine masthead and verifying on Twitter that this was the appropriate editor for Outside's front-of-book section. Addressing an editor by name adds a nice level of personalization.
2. For the hook, I've illustrated what made Scratch Brewing unique—their flagship beer intentionally tasted different from batch to batch. Not only was this a peculiar fact, it compelled the editor to read on to learn why this was the case.
3. In this body graf, I demonstrate the brewery's unique approach to foraged beers, along with some more interesting details about the strange range of ingredients used, and present an overarching idea—that the flavor of a beer and the ingredients it was brewed with can represent a locality, just as has come to be the case with wine.
4. In this paragraph I show that I'm familiar with Outside by calling their opening department by name, and by showing an awareness of the fact that Outside likes to run stories about unusual or surprising trends (as well as a clear idea of how long the piece would be).
5. Finally, I conclude by making a short case proving why I'm capable of putting together this article, and include links to a few published writing examples. No need to overwhelm the editor with all of your credits here. Just choose a few somewhat relevant pieces to give them a clear idea of your work.
Of course, once you have a relationship and have developed a rapport with an editor, you can be more casual with your pitches, pitch multiple story ideas at once, and experiment more along those lines. But when straight up cold-pitching a publication, the template delineated above is a solid place to start.