How to pitch an editor – according to an editor!

How to pitch an editor – according to an editor!

Rosie Hayes

Rosie Hayes
11th April 2018

There are so many submissions received by editors, the importance of creating a stellar pitch is paramount. It’s incredibly easy to submit a substandard, lazy idea and plan, but this is waste of time that will only get your work dismissed or simply forgotten. Editors are bombarded. Considering the multitudinous emails that editors receive, it probably seems hard to submit something that’s likely to get a definitive ‘yes’. This means that your pitch and its accompanying note must really stand out from the rest. The good news is, all it takes is a little effort.

Written content is submitted by all kinds of individuals, including freelance writers and specialists with expertise to share. Publications range from magazines to academic journals, and in the digital age, the ease of submission has improved exponentially. There is a publication for almost every kind of content, allowing thought-led and factual information to be presented about even the most niche topics.

The plethora of potential publishers is great news for people who want to submit written content, as they can choose the most relevant to suit their interests, style, and concepts. It’s not advisable to send your idea/piece to lots of different publications, but rather the ones that are most aligned with your offering.

This article pertains more to journalistic work and essays more than creative work (such as poetry or fiction) but hopefully, there is something to take away for all who want to create and submit. I’ll also presume you’ll want to send your content via email, as this is a fast, convenient method.


First, it’s imperative to find out whether the publication is accepting submissions. This will help you to ascertain whether it’s worth approaching at all, or if your efforts will be futile and better off redirected. Some will have in-house writers, whereas others will outsource or have a blend of the two.

Find out all that you possibly can about the publication. Research the publication’s industry, history, major competitors, and content style. Find out about the publication’s brand purpose, its goals, future vision and how these align with what you’re providing or want to provide.

Within the actual publication, have a look at what it publishes by topic and category. Think about the relevance of the subject matter that you have or want to cover in relation to the publication.

Some publications have an editorial calendar, which can be an invaluable resource for writers who want to write something in advance ready for the topic/idea to be covered. If this appeals to you, see if you can find the editorial calendar on the relevant website or send a request. If the company doesn’t have one, or just doesn’t wish to make it public for whatever reason, then you can try to forecast events and topics that are coming up within the industry quite easily by engaging in some related reading or attending events.

Have you written the piece already, or do you intend to suggest an idea? You can find out what the publication accepts by researching or contacting them. Some publications will accept a complete piece, whereas others might want an idea with a plan. Some may accept both.

Let’s consider both of these options.

If you have already written the piece

Even if you have already written something, you should be sure to tailor the article to the existing editorial style and audience of the company you wish to submit to.

But how can you do this?

Every publication usually has a media pack openly available for download, and even if it’s not shared online, you can probably obtain it by sending a request. The media pack is replete with useful information, including readership and demographics. Some might even go into lots more detail, providing a plenitude of research that will help you to alter your content with intention.

Likewise, the publication might also have a style guide that it adheres to. If it doesn’t, you can easily assess what’s already published regarding:

  • Tone of voice
  • Textual complexity
  • Diversity of vocabulary
  • Repetitive vocabulary in alignment with branding
  • Use of, and frequency of specialised language
  • Grammar (specific to publication) for example, arbitrary choices such as the Oxford Comma
  • Other stylistic commonalities

From what you’ve learned about the publication from its media pack, style guide, and your own personal research, apply this to your piece.

If you haven’t written the piece yet

Some publications will accept ideas with plans for content pieces in order to move forward with a definite commission.

In this instance, it’s probably easier to implement all the considerations at the planning stage than it is to go back and modify something.

You should take a look at the company’s website to find out what they expect from a submission, and reach out to its employees if you’re not sure. Some might expect an idea with a brief plan, but conversely, others might expect a plan with lots of detail.

In its most basic form, a pitch for a content piece should include a proposed title; introduction plan which states the purpose of the piece of writing clearly; listed topics in a coherent and logical structure, with further added detail if required; how you plan to summarise. Depending on the type of content you’re preparing, the introduction plan should make complete sense; for example, even a thought piece has an overall argument or overarching idea.

Introducing the pitch

You’re sure to be passionate about what you’re writing about, and this will be lucid from your introductory pitch. The editor will easily be able to tell if you’re committed to what you’re doing and if you genuinely care about the publication and its content.

From your research, you’ll know what kind of pitch the publication accepts in terms of complexity and depth, so all that’s left to do is to craft a supplementary note to go with it.

This should include all basic obvious information such as your name, contact details, website with portfolio, and if applicable, links to other work.

The note that you send along with your piece should really be reflective of the research you’ve done about the publication, and how this relates to your work. From what was suggested in the ‘pre-pitch’ section above, you should be able to demonstrate how your piece is in full alignment with the brand, its current offerings, and perhaps its goals. Scroll back up to that section to separate some of these ideas and see if you can establish clear links with your output. This is what you should put in the supplementary note. Why the piece matters should be completely perceptible.

Final advice

Make sure that your pitch is sent to the right person. This will prevent the email from being disregarded or ignored by someone who might simply be in the wrong department. If you can’t find the right person, give the publication a call to find out their contact details.

It’s probably not the best idea to pitch to a huge publication before you have a reputable portfolio. If you’re an expert contributor this doesn’t apply as much as to a freelance writer, as experts have the basis of their work to rely on, whereas writers face fierce competition even with a solid portfolio.

Follow-up if you need to. Editors are extremely busy, so if you don’t receive a response, feel free to send a follow-up to determine whether the piece is likely to be taken forward. Even if your contribution is rejected, you’ll have a clear answer.