No hammers or saws here. This is section is all about the tools aspiring freelancers/entrepreneurs need. This post is a work in progress.
TOOL #1: PITCH PERFECT
I’ve had a number of students ask me how to pitch their ideas and stories. You need to adapt these pitch pointers to your own situation – whether you’re proposing ideas at a morning, story meeting at CBC or trying to sell a freelance article to a magazine. These guidelines are based on my own experience and research.
REFINING YOUR IDEA:
- have more than just a concept, idea or a topic. (You need some meat on the bones)
- have a deeper issue/character in mind (preferably, you have spoken with the character and know you can build the story around him/her)
- have a good idea of the story arc and why it’s something people will pay attention to
- do some research to make sure the story hasn’t already been done. (Ask the main characters/sources if this story has already been reported)
- research, yet don’t invest too much into the story (this is a fine balance)
- grab the editor’s attention (brief, oral pitch) or if it’s a written pitch: show your ability to write
- practice your pitch with a friend/colleague
Know how to answer the following questions (the producer/editor may ask):
- why should the audience care about this story?
- how much time do you need to complete the story?
- what kind of resources/money needed to do the story (i.e. equipment/travel)?
Pointers for Freelance pitching:
- Network to get to know the editor/people you are pitching to — ask if you can come in for a chat/coffee to get to know what kind of stories he/she is looking for: prefer long pitches or short, by phone or by email?
- Tell editor what your niche is, so if she’s looking for commissioned work, she knows where to go
- Pitch multiple ideas and to multiple editors
The following information comes from Stanford University re Magazine pitching:
Journalism professor Jennifer Kahn (U.C. Berkley), a magazine feature writer, says she has 25 percent of her research and reporting done before pitching. Kahn says she does hours of research: “probably 10 one hour phone calls before I pitch a magazine story. And I probably only pitch one in five or one in ten of the stories I start researching. I know who my main character is going to be and roughly what the structure is before I pitch, and I probably have 25 percent of the reporting done before I pitch.”
She suggests sending the editor a pre-pitch email. Summarize the idea in two sentences and ask the editor to email you back if he’d like a full pitch. “Otherwise, they might dread the pitch that just shows up in the inbox unsolicited.”
“A good magazine should be a page to a page and a half. Wired requires that pitches only be one page. The first paragraph should show the magazine you can write in a compelling style. Summarize your story or use an excerpt that gives a sense of what the piece is about.
The next paragraph should be the nut graf – the “why we care about this story” The third paragraph should be another reason why we care – why this story affects people in the real world. In the fourth paragraph, give your specific plan for reporting this story. Use specific names of people you’ll interview and specific places you’ll go.
If you already have travel plans to report the story, say that here too. The final paragraph should be the kicker. Remind the editor what question you’ll be answering and why the answer is important to the magazine’s audience. At the end of their five-paragraph pitch, you may want to include a few sentences of biography and a few prominent publications you’ve contributed to before. Offer to provide references or clips, available upon request. Paste the pitch into the body of the email, rather than attaching it as a separate document.”
AVOID THE #1 NOVICE MISTAKE: NOT KNOWING THE CHARACTERS
Never pitch a story until you know who the characters are going to be and understand the arc of their story: You may not know exactly how the story ends, but you need to know the heart of the story. That’s the only way you can guarantee the piece will be interesting.
NOVICE MISTAKE #2
Don’t start your pitch with a long scene from the story…write in a compelling magazine style…in one paragraph not seven…Wait one to two weeks. And don’t resend the whole pitch each time, just remind the editor…We talked a few weeks ago about my story about…(summarize the story in one sentence.) Just wanted to check and see if you had a chance to look at it yet.”
Read successful pitches here.
Some suggested reading:
The Write Track: How to succeed as a freelance writer in Canada, by Betty Jane Wylie
The Canadian Writers Market, By Joanna Karaplis