Episode 31: Perfect Pitching from AHP 2019
Joined by long-time successful freelancer Jennifer Bryant, Abigail and Kate steered a session titled “Elevate Your Pitch” during the 2019 American Horse Publications Equine Media Conference held at the Hotel Albuquerque in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Raise your hand if you’re planning on doing speed networking tomorrow! Exciting – a lot of you! Hopefully, this will be helpful for you tomorrow” – Abigail.
Before getting into the meat of the presentation, Abigail, Kate and Jennifer introduced themselves. Jennifer Bryant is a full-time freelancer (writer and photographer) and is contracted to edit the United States Dressage Federation’s magazine, USDF Connection.
What are the “4 Steps to a Perfect Pitch?” HERE WE GO!
What makes a perfect pitch? First – Precise.
Jennifer explains that being precise means tailoring the pitch to the right audience and subject matter for the title you’re pitching to. For example: Don’t pitch something on stock horses to a Dressage magazine. Hone the pitch to suit that outlet’s audience.
Abigail explains that before pitching, read the magazine for clarity. Also request submission guidelines from the magazine. Digital editions are available on issuu.com for many titles!
Kate explained the previous session was a presentation from three editors that pointed out when they were putting together editorial calendars for the next year. June is a great month to pitch to magazines! A reminder to pitch article ideas in a timely manner, no matter if the idea is seasonal or based on a specific event, be sure to pitch the article in a timely manner. Evergreen topics, that can run anytime, are always great and appreciated by magazines. Getting ideas to editors in a timely manner is key to getting a pitch accepted. Jennifer gave a real-world example about pre-panning that worked out for a freelancer to work in Germany during a family trip overseas. Takeaway, the editor sometimes has to consult with others before making the decision so more time is better than asking for a quick answer. Abigail followed Jennifer’s story with an example of how she built a trip to New Mexico, cobbling together different stories for multiple magazine over time communicating with editors.
Abigail describes the importance of giving enough detail but not writing so much it takes an editor too long to weigh through the information. One bit of feedback Kate recently received is that editors do appreciate receiving a pitch with a working title and dek, and she relayed why that is important. She went on to explain how she puts together a pitch that details the direction of the article.
Jennifer countered with her concern in a pitch is whether it is an interesting idea. Also, if she hasn’t worked with a writer before, then she wants to know about their experience and expertise before hiring them. In the pitch, answer: “Why are you the right person to do this article?”
Kate and Jennifer went on to visit about the importance of sources and how specific sources can impact whether or not a pitch is accepted. For example, pitching to association magazines often requires visiting with a handful of approved sources only, or have a special qualification or credential. Looking for potential sources that are “good” for an association – try to find their list of approved professional horsemen! If you don’t have a source but have a pitch, let the editor know you’re open to source suggestions.
The previous session, with editors Chris Hamilton (Western Horseman), Liz Moyer (Horse Illustrated) and Larri Jo Starkey (AQHA media), gave insight in the best time to follow up – and it is about a week after initial contact. Kate continues to provide additional things to consider for timely follow up, such as wait to pitch an idea after an association’s big show or convention so your idea isn’t lost in pre-show e-clutter. That also shows awareness of whats going on in the industry.
Jennifer says that often she will say, thanks and I’ll be back to you ASAP. Unfortunately, small staffs mean backlog. So don’t be afraid to follow up!
TYPES OF PITCHES
1. Event Coverage
Kate discusses the challenges of event coverage for print magazines. She describes how her magazine, Reined Cow Horse News, or other event-heavy titles like Quarter Horse News, need to have travel plans for events lined out early. Also, how to cover it but keep something unique for print.
What can you offer in a multimedia package? Kate describes how a freelancer can create a full multi-media package for event coverage.
A question from attendee asks about ability to control the website or social feeds as a freelancer.
Abigail describes how writers can shine by covering interesting people or horses.
3. Training pieces
Each magazine handles training pieces differently, Abigail said, so reading the issue prior to pitching is vital. When pitching training, sometimes Abigail pitches the trainer and goes back to the editor with ideas after the trainer is approved and she’s spoken to the source.
Some titles, like Horse and Rider, have articles written in the trainer’s voice. Others are written in a more traditional third-person voice.
Kate cautions that pitching a wildcard idea like working with Shawn Flarida but not knowing how to get in touch with him because you’ve never worked in the reining industry, that’s probably not the best idea. Another “rule” is not to pitch a source without having spoken to them –BUT Kate explains that when she freelanced she would reach out to editors to ask if they are interested in a source and if the answer was yes, then she would talk to that source and go back with a specific idea. Never promise a source without having the source’s agreement.
Abigail also cautions that writing training pieces require some familiarity with the subject. She began writing training pieces in the fashion of the ones she read so that they had the same style.
Writing for a youth-focused magazine requires writers to get to the point faster. For Young Rider, a shorter pieces is more likely to be accepted than a 2,000-plus word article, said Abigail.
Starting writing with one of the sister publications to a “big title” can get a freelancer’s foot in the door said Kate. Jennifer talked about deconstructing an issue so that the writer is familiar with the different departments needed to fill each issue. Doing that helps writers figure out what each department is for, who is the key reader and how each is constructed. Ask: what did the editor need to put this piece together? You want to provide every piece of the content.
Abigail likened stories to buckets that fill an issue.
Most all magazines need health stories! Abigail said that if you can write about equine health, you can become invaluable to a magazine. Health is a good “in” with a magazine.
Precision is incredibly important pitching health pieces, Kate said. Detail, detail, detail! And, Abigail reminded, how are you going to illustrate the issues?
As an example, Jennifer describes how she would cover colic and the different angles she’d need for different titles. Abigail agreed, emphasizing that if she were covering colic for the Paint Horse Journal, she needs to have a Paint connection.
Kate said it is hard for a first-time freelancer to get a feature on their first pitch because features are a lot of real estate in an issue. Some “ins” like being friends with a well-known family, can help. Be willing to write shorter pieces to build a relationship, she said, before launching a feature idea.
TIPS ON PROPER PITCHING
Abigail reminds listeners to pitch things she really wants to write versus “throwing spaghetti on the wall.” Because you don’t want a pitch accepted then not enjoy gathering and writing the article.
“If you take one thing away from here, it is not to pitch the same story to two different magazines the same year,” Abigail emphasized. “Nothing will get you black-balled faster.”
While pitching a similar idea but tweaked to different magazines may work in different years, Jennifer said that a topic idea is too generic if it will work for 10 magazines. She said it can’t possibly work for all of them so it isn’t targeted enough. She, as an editor, would need to tweak it.
“Don’t get discouraged, keep trying and maybe pitch an online piece!” – Kate.
Pitching to a magazine’s online editor can be a great way to start a relationship and build confidence. As Jennifer said, print pages are finite and online is unlimited. Media is looking for digital content to update regularly.
Jennifer said there aren’t two ways a pitch goes—it’s not only rejected or accepted. Look at the pitch as the jump-off point for a conversation with the editor. Be open to visiting with the editor to make a topic idea really fit the magazine. Let it turn into a brainstorm! She doesn’t have an In / Out only box, it’s more like “maybe, but…”
QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE
For a new-to-you freelancer, would you like to see clips (other writing), or should the pitcher wait until they’re asked for examples?
Send a link to a website in a paragraph about yourself. It is nice to see other published work. That or a brief list of a couple of items. In today’s industry, sending a package of clips is not the norm. Kate suggests thinking of pitching like applying for a job. In the email body, introduce yourself and a brief bit about the pitch. Attach the pitch in PDF form to the email. That way, you give the editor info about you as a worker/rider/writer.
This segues into a suggestion for how to handle Speed Networking, where editors and freelancers sat down one-on-one at the conference. Abigail describes having an elevator pitch and one or two ideas to start a conversation with an editor.
Jennifer said that freelancers should ask the editor what they need and then figure out how to fill that need.
That’s it and happy pitching!
About The Freelance Remuda
The Freelance Remuda was founded by veteran freelance professionals Abigail Boatwright and Kate Bradley Byars. Beginning with The Freelance Remuda Podcast, which explores the trials and triumphs surrounding life as a freelancer in equine media, while sharing valuable tips from equine media editors and creatives doing what they love; Abigail and Kate also offer a mentorship program for aspiring freelancers in equine media.
The dictionary lists a remuda as: re•mu•da (noun): a herd of horses that have been saddle-broken from which ranch hands choose their mounts for the day. The goal of The Freelance Remuda is to help train up a herd of professionals specializing in equine media, from which editors and businesses can hire to do great work. Find and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and for more information on The Freelance Remuda Mentorship Program, go to freelanceremuda.com.