How to Pitch a Story Idea

Know the Magazine

Every magazine has a different focus, theme, style, tone and audience. If you have a story idea, read dozens of magazines to figure out which one is the best outlet for your idea and to make sure they publish articles like the one that you want to write.

If you want to write for a specific magazine, don’t just read one issue; become a subscriber or go to the library and read as many back copies as you can to get an idea of the types of articles that appear in the magazine and whether the writer changes from month to month (to ensure it’s not a staff writer or columnist’s article). Take note of specifics: does the magazine publish both third-person and first-person stories? What is the typical word count of a story like the one you want to write?

Pitch to the right person

You may have a great story idea, but if you send it to the wrong person, you may never get the assignment. Once you decide the magazine you want to pitch the idea to, determine which section it best fits into, then figure out who the assigning editor of that section is. Not sure? Call the magazine and ask. Then, make sure you spell the editor’s name right. Spell it wrong, and you’ll not only annoy the editor, but you’ll show that you don’t pay attention to details – and that’s the last thing an editor wants in a writer.

Be concise

Editors are busy. They don’t have time to read a page-long pitch. Instead, give a hed, dek and one-paragraph summary of your story idea. Mention sources you can use to show that you’re a self-starter. Suggest a word count that’s reasonable for the topic; no editor wants to say that you’re going to take 1,500 words to talk about a single topic that really only needs 300 words.

Tip: Be sure you’re pitching a story for the appropriate season. Magazines work at least three months in advance, but pitches need to be at least five months early. For example, if you’re pitching the story idea in the summer, it should be appropriate for a winter edition, and vice versa.

Be helpful

Suggest a timeline of when you can deliver the article. Magazines have their own timeline, but if you pitch the idea on the day that an editor realizes she’s short one story for an upcoming issue and you tell her you can turn the story around in a week, that might be the tipping point that gets you the assignment. However, if you suggest a timeline, be prepared to meet it. Similarly, if you get an assignment, submit the article on time. Sending it late or asking for an extension on your first story is an almost guarantee you won’t get another assignment from that editor.

Be persistent

Follow-up on your idea if you don’t get a response within a few weeks. Then, send more ideas. Often, your first idea won’t be a winner, but your fifth, 10th or 50th will. Also, one of the ideas you pitch might not be appropriate at that moment, but the editor may assign it to you down the road. Continuously pitching ideas will also show that you’re committed and determined to write for that particular magazine, and it will keep you at the top of an editor’s mind. This is key particularly if she suddenly needs a story written on a tight deadline and all her regular writers are busy with their previously assigned articles. As well, some story ideas are often generated in-house and assigned out to the best writers. By showing your interest and your wealth of ideas, you might end of being one of the writers who gets stories assigned to them – without even having to pitch!