How to write a magazine pitch

This is pretty dweeby, but I’m doing a pitching workshop with the Walrus interns tomorrow and I thought I’d post a version of the handout I’ll give them. Although writing a magazine pitch seems pretty basic, I still get a lot that fall far short of what you’d expect from a simple query letter. These are guidelines, of course, not hard-and-fast rules, and a lot of great writers can churn out pitches that don’t check all of these boxes—but the thing is that they’re great writers. Anyway, curious freelancers, here you go:

What makes a good magazine pitch?

1. Solid, novel angle

Why is this story unique? Has it been written before? What’s the takeaway for the reader?

2. Thorough research

Can the editor tell that you’ve done your groundwork, or are you just saying what you “hope to” discover? Do the sources, subjects, and data to back up your story even exist, or are you just assuming that they do?

3. Sense of writing style and quality

Is your pitch elegant and well-written (without being flowery or showy)? Does it give the editor a chance to figure out whether you’re even capable of writing the piece?

4. The elements of a good story

Does your pitch introduce the editor to the necessary elements of the piece? Does your story have a narrative? Characters? Colour? Conflict?

5. Confident but polite

Why are you the person to write this story? Why is this outlet the best place to tell this story? What are your qualifications and experience? Is your pitch confident without being presumptuous?

Suggested structure:

  1. Greet editor and introduce yourself
  2. Anecdotal lede that doubles as possible first graf of story
  3. Expository graf: context, numbers, etc.
  4. Expansion on 2 and 3
  5. Practical info: your qualifications, when this piece could run, etc.
  6. “Thanks for your time. Please let me know what you think.”

Fundamentally: you need a story, not a subject.

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Sledgehammer

Photograph by Benoit Aquin.

Photograph by Benoit Aquin.

In the new issue of the Walrus, I’ve got a feature on the Sochi Paralympics, sledge hockey, and the way we see athletes with disabilities.

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A change of plans

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Not long ago, I decided to leave Maisonneuve, after many wonderful years, to move to New York, where I hoped to keep working in editing and writing. Until very recently, that was still the plan. But then an opportunity arose that I couldn’t pass up: as I announced earlier this week, I’m joining the Walrus, in Toronto, as a senior editor. New York will have to wait, for now.

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Why read literature in the digital age?

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I’ve got an essay, “Solitary Reading in an Age of Compulsory Sharing,” in a collection titled The Edge of the Precipice: Why Read Literature in the Digital Age?, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press. The book has famous people like Mark Kingwell and Alberto Manguel in it. And it’s my first time being anthologized.

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Body and Soul

Photograph by Tim Georgeson.

Photograph by Tim Georgeson.

Last summer, I participated in the Banff Centre’s Literary Journalism program, a month-long residency in which nine writers each work on a single long non-fiction essay. There, I wrote a piece about my lifelong best friend Dan Harvey, who became a quadriplegic following an athletic accident in high school. It’s undoubtedly the most personal and important thing I’ve ever written, and it was just published in the new issue of the Walrus. You can read it here.

You can also listen to this podcast, in which Dan and I talk about our friendship, the writing process, the different versions of the story (an early draft was 14,000 words; the Walrus version is 6,500), ableism, the sex lives of disabled people, etc.

And my band, DEBT, recorded an album. You can stream or download it for free here.

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The end of the world

My first review for Globe Books, on climate change and Annalee Newitz’s Scatter, Adapt, and Remember.

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More fiction

I’ve been writing more fiction. This time, it’s published in the mighty Joyland. My editor, Dave McGimpsey, came up with the fantastic title: “St. Urbain’s Horse’s Ass.”

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