As a freelance journalist, I’m always emailing editors. These emails are essentially my sales pitch—they outline the story I hope to write and why I’m best qualified to write it. While I now have a stable of editors I regularly work with, earlier in my career, I was constantly reaching out to new editors—the rough equivalent of cold-calling in sales.
Pitching to the right person often makes a difference
One critical lesson I learned through trial and lots of error is the importance of pitching to the right person. Often, the difference between a pitch being accepted or rejected (or not read at all) comes down to identifying the best person to send it to.
For starters, many newspapers and magazines encourage writers to submit ideas to a general inbox, often labeled submissions. At Travel + Leisure, for example, guidelines note that submissions should be sent to email@example.com. In my experience, however, these general submissions inboxes are where pitches go to die. I’ve rarely had any luck getting a response when I submit to accounts like these.
Research which editor might be interested in your pitch
Instead, I’ll take the time to research which editor at a publication might be interested in my pitch and submit the idea directly to his or her individual email account. The first step here is generally to find a copy of the newspaper or magazine’s masthead. The masthead lists the names of the editorial staff and their positions. It’s almost always available, if not online then in a print edition of the publication.
From the masthead, I’ll pick the one editor who would be best suited to receive my pitch. (It’s considered very bad form to pitch to multiple editors at the same publication.) Some mastheads—like this one for Vancouver Magazine—are short, and there may be only a handful of editors to choose from. Other mastheads at major magazines or newspapers may include dozens of names. Editors, senior editors, associate editors and story editors are all good people to pitch. Avoid sending pitches to contributing writers (who don’t generally determine which stories will run) or publishers (who handle the business side of the outlet).
Hunt down the appropriate editor's email address
This is only half the challenge, however: Now you have to hunt down the appropriate editor’s email address. On rare occasions, staff members’ actual email addresses will be listed on the masthead. But generally, you’ll have to do a bit of detective work. Try Googling the editor’s name and the name of the publication, along with keywords like email address. Alternately, sometimes it’s possible to deduce the correct email address. Returning to our Travel + Leisure example, for instance, emails there generally follow a firstname.lastname@example.org format. Not every editor’s email address will follow that pattern, but many will. (One insider tip: If you send an email and don’t get a “message failed” reply, this generally means it has reached the intended account.)
This strategy, however, brings up an important question: Won’t these editors be a little miffed over receiving unsolicited emails in their accounts from freelancers? In my experience, few editors are ever upset to see a good pitch, i.e. a relevant, newsworthy idea expressed succinctly. Writing a good pitch, however, isn’t easy. It’s an art form in itself and takes time to master.