How to Pitch a Nonfiction Article to a Publication

This is coming in late because I decided to take an impromptu vacation for the Christmas holiday, but I still wanted to get this out there for those of you eager to learn how to do it in a way that actually gets you paid assignments and continued work. There are tons of resources out there, and I’ve read most of them. Taking that knowledge and my experience, I’m going to give you straightforward advice on how to pitch your article to a publication.

In the title, I made sure to add that this is specifically for nonfiction articles. Pitching a fiction pieces isn’t something that is normally done unless you already have a relationship with the editor and they request one. If people are interested in hearing how to do that, sign up for my writing craft email group where I’ll be getting into that topic in the new year.

Coming Up with Pitches

The main difference between nonfiction and fiction, when it comes to publishing, is that nonfiction pieces oftentimes don’t need to be written first. Many publications’ guidelines will directly state that writers should wait to hear back when it comes to writing their article idea.

That’s because editors use pitches to determine whether or not a writer’s idea is ‘good enough’ to be published. Good enough is determined by 5 factors:

  • Is the article suited for the audience
  • Can the writer deliver on the idea
  • Is the idea developed and focused enough to become a full fledged piece
  • Has the topic been covered by the publication or its competitors
  • Is the topic evergreen or timeless

It’s sorta crazy having those factors laid out before you because using them, you can turn out an endless amount of ideas and articles to pitch. That’d keep you publishing and living lovely for the rest of your days.

I kid. But only slightly.

There are a couple of other things that tend to determine whether or not an editor hires you for an assignment or not. What comes up when your name is searched and does your voice sound like someone they want to work with on this article. If nothing comes up when you search your name, that’s totally fine. However, if upon searching your name you find that there are tons of embarrassing pictures or high school poems you’d rather not be read by a potential editor i.e. job, then you have a slight problem.

It’s only slight because you can rectify it pretty simply. Reach out to the editor or webhost of the places where your poems or pictures appear and see if they can be taken out. And make a website and a profile on a couple of other professional writing sites like Linkedin and Medium. Make sure your name appears all over on these platforms and tagged with your content.

Eventually Google will reorganize your information so that your personal sites appear first over older pieces of content.

Then there’s writing your pitch in a voice that makes the editor want to hire you. I’ll get into that more in the below section.

Let’s get back to the 5 factors that you can use to create a pitch that catches the editor’s eye.

The first place to start when coming up with pitches or seeing if a pitch will work for a magazine’s editor is by reading back issues. Often times, magazines or markets will have free content to read on their website or you can order a couple of back copies. If you plan to submit to a magazine multiple times or want to work with them longterm, get a subscription and learn their editorial calendar.

Pro tip: most publications will give out their editorial calendar to writers if they query or ask.

Whichever way you do it, learn the voice and themes of the magazine before you start generating ideas or sending off pitches. Nonfiction editors can smell a writer who doesn’t know their magazine just from reading your pitch. By doing that, you will have taken care of 2 of the factors on the list (audience targeting and whether or not a topic has been covered recently).

Next, let’s focus on developing and focusing the idea in a way that makes it evergreen or timeless.

After you’ve read a few issues of the magazine(s) you want to pitch, you should have an idea on the type of topics that the reader base (therefore, the editor) is interested in. If you don’t have a clue after reading, then go back and read some more until certain themes, topics, and ideas start jumping out to you.

Using those, take to Google and search those topics. What other things are people searching for related to that keyword? Throw those into your topic salad and begin brainstorming ideas.

Like with free writing or drafting ideas, let your mind go. Don’t put any restraints on the types of ideas that come out, just let it all flow. If an idea jumps out that’s intriguing and exciting to you, make sure it isn’t something previously covered and jot it down.

From the list of ideas, develop them by answering these questions:

  • What can the reader learn or take away from this article?
  • What advantage or experience do I offer and bring to this piece?
  • How can I twist this article to make it unique?

Readers search out and read magazines because they offer some form of value to their lives. Each publications’ audience is different and expects different takeaways. Use your knowledge of the magazine to come up with insights and value pieces for your idea.

What from your life can you use as material for your stories? Have things happened to you that you are afraid of sharing with others? Use it. Dig deep into the caverns of your mind and history to create the types of stories that only you have first hand expertise at. It’s those moments of closeness to yourself that makes a story original.

When it comes to twisting a pitch to make it unique, that takes spinning or pushing ideas just a little further to see where they can go. An idea on journaling and your experiences processing grief? Cool. An article about discovering old family or town bones by journaling your way to closure? That’s a bit better. Keep pushing until the idea that started out broad or shallow becomes unique and focused.

It’ll also connect with other people who have been where you are. That may sound confusing because you’re writing the things that are unique to you, but there are others out there who have gone through. Those people are apart of your greater community and need your stories.

When pitching to current event markets, you have to be on the dime with your pitches. Evergreen is a bad word. Current event editors want trends and hot keywords that will drive their readership while also delivering information that the readers can’t get anywhere else.

If you’ve come up with a pitch that is unique and specific to you, you’ve done most of the work at proving that you are the best person to write the article. On the other hand, if your pitch is a bit distant from you and your life, then you have to show why you’re the one to write this piece in other ways.

I’ve found that having some past published pieces helps me land writing assignments when I’m not personally tied to the article. Though having some relation to the topic is always best. In lieu of a relation to the topic or any previous clips, come up with an informed why and how.

An informed why and how behind your article idea is where your passion and work ethic meet. It’s all about letting them know this project is important to you and you plan on going about it in specific ways. Briefly outline how you’re going to tackle a piece that you have no connection to. That gives the editor an idea of what type of article you’re going to put together and let’s them know you have a plan of attack.

So now that you have your ideas for a few different pitches, let’s get into where to send them.

Where and Who to Pitch

Most publications put their submission guidelines in their About Us section. Sometimes at the very bottom of the page there will be a link usually attached to some text like Write For Us or Contributor Guidelines. If you can’t find the submission guidelines anywhere on the site, don’t be shy. Reach out to the editor and ask them how to go about submitting.

Sometimes this will get you a direct connect with the editor. If you do this to an editor who has clearly stated and easy to find submission guidelines, they might see it as a sign that you don’t do your research. Which in the nonfiction world, is not a good thing to have attached to you.

There are a couple of publications that have automated submission pages where you can fill in a form and it’ll send your pitch and info off to the slush pile. I’m not a huge fan of those and much before direct to the editor pitches. As long as there isn’t a statement in the magazines submission guidelines about contacting the editor directly with the pitch, you should go this route, too.

When determining which editor to pitch for a piece, figure out if there is a managing editor or if each section has its own editor that should be spoken with. Get their direct work email and name so that when you reach out you know who to address it to.

Only submit pitches to markets and publications that you want to write for and think their audience will benefit from your work. Don’t focus on high-buy markets outside your genre or niche that spend $1+/word on their assignments. Focus on markets within your niche.

How to Write a Pitch

Nonfiction writers who want to sell their story need to present an outline and understanding of not only the article but how they’re going to tackle it.

As you develop a relationship with a market and its editor, you won’t have to pitch as hard. A paragraph or a couple of sentences will be enough to entice an editor.

When you construct a pitch for an editor, make sure you’ve read the guidelines and learned them. Understand that the editor is a person with certain interests and tastes. Play to them. Deliver to them a pitch in the correct way.

Most pitches that you’ll send out to editors won’t be longer than a thousand words. Start with a quick introduction of who you are if you don’t have a relationship with the editor. Let them know where you’ve published, your writing awards/certificates/diplomas/etc., and if you have any expertise or connection to the topic you’re pitching.

The chunky bit of the pitch focuses on the topic itself and why it is perfect for the market you’re pitching to. Show your expertise in the market and topic.

Close with how you plan on tackling the topic. Are there interviews, research topics, etc. that you plan to include? Give the editor an idea that you know how to write this piece and already have a plan. It’ll ensure that they see you as a professional who knows how to handle a story.

It is not uncommon in the nonfiction world for editors to reject a pitch that you’ve submitted and toss another article at you if they see that your pitch shows talent and skill, so don’t burn bridges or be upset if they say no to one idea. Never stop pitching unless you decide that you are done. Don’t take rejection as a permanent no to a market. Sometimes it takes years to break in, but during those years, you will be growing, learning.

Voice in a Pitch

Getting your voice and personality to shine through can be as simple as your signature, greeting, and the way you write your pitch. If you’re writing to a market like BuzzFeed, keep things short and focused without losing any detail. Other markets like The Writer are looking for longer more detailed pitches.

Don’t open with cuss words or cuss anywhere throughout the pitch as a way to stand out from the crowd. This will only turn out bad for you, unless the editor and market is one where that type of voice and tone is appreciated. Be professional without being a robot and don’t be afraid to let certain quirks shine.

I’ve gotten in’s at markets and assignments based off this simple query or pitch:

Howdy!

I’m a writer and editor for niche specific pub, niche specific pub, and a few other places. I’m a HUGE fan of your publication. It’s helped me magazine specific takeaway.

If you’re into it, I’d love to send some pitches your way that have been rattling around in my head.

Pitches

Let me know your thoughts. Thanks again for the great content!

It’s simple, but it shows my personality and that I’m familiar with the publication without wasting time.

Parting words

Pitching and querying are how nonfiction writers get work. It’s how they make connections and stay constantly publishing. So, it’s best to have a regular pitching schedule that works for you and your markets.

Always be on the look out for new markets, ideas, and ways to grow as a person and writer.

As you gear up to send out your pitches, try to do the editors and yourself a favor by keeping the number of pitches down to 3 per magazine. Also, don’t send simultaneous pitches out to markets hoping that one will pick it up. Magazines and editors don’t want to go into a bidding war with you. So, if they find out an article they want from you is also being considered by another magazine, there’s a chance they’ll move on and have the story run by another contributor.

Once you get into the hang and swing of pitching, you’ll look forward to the idea generation and game of finding markets.

Further Reading

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