So you want to submit a pitch

Let’s talk about pitching. A crucial element of publication, the pitch is often the first communication between a writer and a potential publishing outlet (an agent, an editor, the slush pile, a blog, a magazine, a publishing house…). Ergo, it is an element that authors quite understandably sweat over.

Here’s how to sweat less when it comes to pitching.

Find the Guidelines

Before you do goddamn anything else, find the guidelines. They will be there, if your chosen publishing outlet is worth anything. Check their website, look for a tab, a link that says SUBMISSIONS, SUBMIT, PITCH, WRITE FOR US, CONTRIBUTE (beware of that one; it often means authors don’t get paid), or similar.

Whatever that page says, whatever the downloadable PDF (ick) requests, follow the instructions to the letter. At this point, that is your highest calling as a writer. If you find conflicting instruction (publishers have as little time as everyone else and forget things as often as everyone else), use your best judgment and go with your gut.

Because here’s what you absolutely do not want to do.

Don’t Reach Out with Questions

Don’t send out any emails with “just one question” before you’ve pitched, and I’ll tell you why. Your pitch is meant to go to Someone, and Someone needs to have certain information before they can decide if they want to work with you. All of that information is in their pitch guidelines.

(Or it should be. If it turns out they left out something crucial, run away from them. They are disorganized beyond acceptance, and your writing life with them will be misery. I guarantee you would not be paid on time.)

If you do send one (or five, as happened to me today) emails to the hapless individual whose address you found without giving them a pitch first, here’s what will happen:

  1. First email. Depending on the length of this email, you might actually get a response, possibly even an answer to your question. You’ve been extraordinarily lucky, and you probably caught the recipient on a very good day.
  2. Second email. The recipient will remember your name. They will frown. An individual of exceptional patience will respond with a polite suggestion to reread the guidelines and possibly take a look at their publication list (or blog or archive) if you need more information.
  3. Third email. If you get a response this time, it will be terse, possibly impolite. I guarantee you’ve done significant damage to the possibility you’ll be published via this outlet. Your pitch (when you do finally get around to sending it in) had better be solid gold for this person to consider it now.
  4. Fourth email. You’re done. You will not be published here. You have flagged yourself as extremely high maintenance, incapable of finding information on your own, or, worse, think of yourself and your work as so exceptional as to be above process. Unknowns do not get to be above process. You can possibly be above process if you are sleeping with the publisher or have already contributed impressively to their fiscal year.
  5. Fifth email. Your email address is blocked. If the publishing house has a blacklist, your name and contact info are on it with a note to reject all pitches from you out of hand.

A note about Twitter

All of this applies to Twitter as well. By all means, attempt to communicate with your chosen agent/editor/publishing individual via their public Twitter, but again, be intelligent about how you do it. This is not the new place to ask questions specific to your project.

Twitter is where you retweet things they’ve said, respond to questions they ask, and comment on things they talk about (avoiding any level of frequency that might be construed as stalkeresque, of course).

Present Yourself as Easy to Work With

Obviously, you want your pitch to convey a great idea. A well-thought-out blog post, an irresistible novel, a meaty, relevant article. That’s a given. If you have any expertise to speak of, either in writing or in the topic you’re writing about, you might want to include a single, short line about that.

But in my opinion, the most important thing your pitch can do for you is present you as someone easy to work with. Following pitch guidelines will do just that. You’ve taken the time to do your own research, you’ve proved you can follow instruction, you’ve shown initiative — basically you’ve proven that you can do serious work and follow process without anyone holding your hand.

By and large, in any field, adults want to work with adults. No one is looking to collaborate with anyone who has to be spoon-fed information. Prove that that’s not you.