Surviving Pitch Season
By Kate Bradley Byars
OK, I thought it was a joke when Abigail said she suffers through pitch “season,” the time when most magazines request story ideas for the next year’s editorial calendar. Nope. No. It is not a joke, folks. All the magazines want all the ideas and they want them all at the same time!
Having spent a few years in this business, and three coming up with ideas monthly for a magazine, I figured it was a piece of cake to rattle off ideas. Boy, was I wrong. It is mind-numbing to try and gather together ideas for different magazines with emphasis on keeping all the ideas REALLY separate. I will not pitch the same idea to two magazines because unique content is like gold to publishers!
It is not that the ideas are hard to come by, it is also the other factors you must consider:
- Is it a breed association’s publication? Be sure you know how to access the professional horseman list to suggest sources that fit the bill.
- Are you familiar with the magazine? Starting out as a freelancer, you can get a little scattered in your story pitches. Don’t pitch a rodeo-focused story to a magazine that promotes dressage. Read up on each magazine’s needs.
- Does the magazine have a style guide? When some editorial staff send out the email requesting story ideas, the staff include a publication style guide, or tips for the types of articles they want. Look at it and follow it. Work to meet their needs and your rate of success can increase.
With these factors in mind, I pulled together more than two dozen story ideas for my first freelance pitch season. Here are some of the ways I pulled it off.
1. Write it down. All of it!
Think of a random idea that relates to riding, owning, showing or even looking at horses? Write down! If you’re driving, text to talk a message to yourself. Somehow, get that idea down so you don’t lose it. I started this process way back when I was on staff at Western Horseman, and since going full-time freelance, I have become a crazy story idea gatherer! Putting thought into a few of those random jumbles of ideas resulted in solid story ideas, and a few that may be a little crazy.
2. Mine social media.
I follow so many horse trainers, horse owners, ranches and veterinarians on social media that it can be a blur scrolling down my newsfeed. But sometimes a post makes me stop. It can be a post from a friend that is a veterinarian about a horse that survived a terrible mishap, and I will screen shot that post. Magazines are always looking for health topics or stories about how a potential tragedy turned into a story of survival. Pay a little more attention on social media to what can become a great story idea. You can not only mine the idea, but you also have a potential source for the interview and photographs.
3. Poll your horsey friends.
As a rule, I try not to lean on my friends too much for articles. Let me correct that, I tried not to use my friends because I didn’t want to bother them. Now, I realize that having close friends in the horse industry is a benefit! I can use them as sounding boards for ideas, sometimes as sources, and often they want to help. One of my close friends went above and beyond when I asked her to let me know if she had any story ideas – she sent me SIX. Tweaking those and adjusting for the publication it best fit, she truly helped me get more ideas pitched. The takeaway here is to get other horse folks involved by asking their interests, what they have questions about or what they want to read in a magazine.
4. Listen to your husband.
Or your mom, or your non-horsey friend, or your brother, or you anyone that has a question or idea about horses! I used to kind of dismiss the hair-brained thoughts my husband had about possible story ideas. Then, I realized he was on to some topics.
It put my thinking cap on when he said I should do an article on our friend who raises grass fed beef. Uh, dear, I don’t write about cattle, was my automatic response. He informed me that they probably used horses to work those cows – DUH! Not so hair-brained after all, huh? Sure enough, the friend’s family does use horses and it is a cool story. I ate a little crow there, and ever since I have been putting a lot of thought into what I used to think were random ideas from my family and non-horsey friends.
You never know where an idea or inspiration can come from, so get all those ideas down in a folder or notebook. Having a huge stock will come in handy once pitch season rolls around. And, when you do hear that some of those pitches were accepted, be sure to celebrate. Be happy and enjoy the little moments, because pitch season can be savage!
For more on HOW to pitch in a professional fashion, re-visit Episode 5: Solid Story Ideas and Pretty Good Pitches.