Monday, July 22, 2013

The Art of the Pitch

As a media tie-in writer the pitch is something I know well – almost everything I write begins as a pitch to an editor or licensor of the intellectual property for which I want to write. Time was my pitch would earn me approval to submit the story or article without any guarantee of a sale; this is still the case with markets that don't know me. (This, btw, is how you get around the "no unsolicited manuscripts" gatekeeper many publishers use; it's not so much a roadblock as a filter.) With markets that do know me an accepted pitch means I have a contract in hand before I type word one of the story or article.

Most Novelnauts and most of you who read our musings write original fiction. You have no interest in selling a Doctor Who story or creating a new arena for Dungeons and Dragons action. For you the pitch is all about getting your completed ms in front of a new editor – the elevator sales speech or the less-than-a-page follow-up to the chance meeting at the writers' conference. But for many of us the internet is an integral part of marketing ourselves and our work. And a generally effective, low-cost option for increasing our internet presence is the guest blog: showcasing our personalities and skills to a new audience to perhaps entice a few readers to seek out our published works.

To be a guest on an established blog, you need to be invited. And to be invited you need to pitch. Here at Novel Spaces we usually invite writers, editors, and agents known to the Novelnauts or follow up on recommendations of members and readers – but we do get our share of pitches. Some are interesting. Most are like the one I'm quoting below. For those who might be pitching to blogs in the future, I'm presenting this all-too-typical example, received just this week, along with a few comments and my response to the pitcher.

Hello Spencer!
I came across (link to Novel Spaces) and was curious to see if you’re currently accepting new contributors. If so, I’d love to be considered as a future contributor. Here’s what I can offer:
- A unique perspective that may be valuable to your readers.
- Fresh, quality content that readers will love.
- More traffic and increased readership.
- Below are some previously published articles I have written:
(link to article on using natural pesticides to control specific insect types)
(link to article on managing finances as a small business)
Thank you for your time,
(name redacted)

The salutation is either to the admin of another blog to whom this obviously mass-mailed pitch had been sent or a mangling of Liane's last name.
"Came across"? If you're trying to show genuine interest, tell us you've been reading the blog and back it up with examples of articles that impressed or interested you.
No one is looking for contributors; everyone is looking for meaningful, engaging content. What you'd love is not relevant, what you can write about – achievements, unique life experiences, etc. - is.
Weasel words – unsubstantiated generalities meant to create the impression of meaning but devoid of verifiable information – are worse than useless. Using weasel words announces in no uncertain terms that even you don't think you have anything substantive to say. Be brief, of course – you don't want to try anyone's patience – but be specific and never say anything you can't back up when asked (if it's your opinion, be ready to explain why you hold it).
And when you provide examples of your work, be sure it's your best work and as relevant as possible.

Here's my response:
Things to consider as you pursue your writing career:
When soliciting work, taking the time to learn the name of the person you're addressing would probably create a better impression than a punch list of weasel word "benefits".
Also, you may want to consider presenting examples related to the topic of the blog. For example, Novel Spaces is a forum in which professional, published writers share thoughts and insights on writing technique and the publishing industry. In this instance a link to a description of your published novels - whether your own website or your Amazon page - would carry more weight than a link to an article on pest control.
We wish you well in your endeavors.

I imagine 99 out of 100 recipients of (name redacted)'s all-purpose pitch deleted it after the second sentence. Infusing your own pitches with little professionalism will ensure none of them suffer a similar fate.


Charles Gramlich said...

I don't pitch very often. I try to do most of these things when I do, I believe.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Powerful post. The same advice applies to job seekers in the workforce.

Liane Spicer said...

On point. Hope the author of this one appreciates the time you took to give him a few pointers.

One of the first things I learned about this industry is that you have to pitch to the appropriate markets. The scatter-shot approach is a waste of everybody's time.