Magazine Stories: To pitch or not to pitch?

Problem

You’ve gotten plenty of press in the local newspaper, but now you’re ready for reaching a broader audience with a different kind of story.  You think that targeting a few niche magazines might be the right place for an in-depth examination of your issues.  Unfortunately, you’ve never pitched a magazine before and you are not sure where to begin.  What can you do to increase your chances of placing your fantastic story in a magazine?

 

Strategy

Magazines provide you with a very different form of media than daily newspapers or television.  Most magazines have very targeted audiences and cover specific topics.  Moreover, a magazine will stay in a person’s home for several weeks or months, while the newspaper goes out with the recycling each day.  Magazines, therefore, offer a unique opportunity for more in-depth stories targeted at a specific audience.  Making a successful magazine pitch, however, takes practice and a few helpful strategies.  Your strategies should include preparing for longer lead times, researching each outlet before pitching, making targeted pitches, and being sure to focus on the magazine’s editor. 

 

Use magazines for feature stories

Before attempting to land your first magazine story, you must decide if your story is really fit for a magazine.  Magazines are not the best outlets for breaking news stories that operate on short news cycles.  Rather, magazines are more appropriate for longer in-depth feature stories and large colorful photographs.  Make sure your story is a feature story that has a strong human- interest component, visually appealing graphics and strong narrative elements like tension, place, public interest or people striving towards a goal.

 

Prepare for longer lead times

Magazines are NOT newspapers.  They look different.  They feel different.  And most important they have different lead times.  In other words, you need to expect your story to appear in print several months after you initially pitch it.  It often takes magazines six months or up to a year to publish stories.  Generally plan for a fall story in the spring and a spring story in the fall.

 

Know the outlet

Magazine editors have a short attention span for people who can’t make a case for why a story should appear in their publication.  This requires that you know each publication well before you begin pitching your story.  A little research can go a long way in helping you accomplish this goal.

 

The best resource for information on magazine outlets is The Writer’s Market, which Writers Digest Books publishes annually.  You can purchase the book for $30, or find a copy for free in the reference section of most public libraries.  The best deal, however, is to subscribe to the online version of the book at www.writersmarket.com for $30 a year or $3.00 a month.  The book, in both its online and print versions, will provide you with information on just about every general, niche and trade magazine in print, in addition to useful information about book publishers, literary agents, screenwriting markets and playwriting markets.  You can search for outlets by name or keyword, as well as by state or area code.  Each outlet’s record in The Writer’s Market contains information on submitting stories and photos to the outlet, the type of stories that interest and don’t interest the editor, the outlet’s publishing and payment schedules, its percentage of freelance writers and other useful tips.  Use this book to either narrow down a long list of potential magazine targets or to create new a list of magazines that might be interested in your stories.

 

Take a good look at the magazine BEFORE making any calls

After identifying outlets that you think are a good match for your story or issues, take some time to closely read a copy of the publication.  You can do some of this online, but many magazines only offer abridged versions on the internet.  Most likely you’ll have to crawl out from behind your computer and go to your local newsstand or library to get a better sense of what kind of stories a particular magazine publishes.  This will also give you some insight into the names of the magazine’s staff reporters and freelance writers, its demographic leanings, its advertisers and its overall personality.

 

Forget the blanket press release; make a targeted pitch instead

Given the fact that magazines cater to specific niche markets and often offer in-depth stories, magazine editors usually don’t bite at a blanket pitch.  Therefore, sending out a press release as you might normally do with breaking news probably won’t work with magazines.  Instead, based on your research of the appropriate outlets for your story, make targeted pitches that will make the greatest impact on the editor and give you the best chance of placing your story.

 

Get to the Editor any way you can

The key to getting your stories in a magazine is convincing the editor that it is a good idea.  In most magazines the editor decides what will run and what won’t run.  Therefore, without the editor’s support you won’t be able to place your stories.  To get the editor’s ear you’ll likely need both a good story and a relationship with the editor.

 

You can form a relationship with the editor in two ways.  First, you can try to build your own relationship with the editor through networking and personal meetings.  Second, and often more productively, you can work with people who already have relationships with the editor.  Try pitching a freelance reporter who already has a good relationship with the editor.  Let the reporter convince the editor that he or she should pick up your story.  Once the editor is convinced you’ll have yourself a successfully placed magazine story.

 

Increase your chances for publication by choosing a weekly or bimonthly

It’s important to remember that even if you know a magazine well and have a relationship with an editor it is still very difficult to pitch magazines.  You can’t expect the kind of success you might expect with newspapers or online.  The bottom line:  the more a publication is published, the easier it is to pitch.  Some magazines publish a few freelance stories per edition, only six or four times per year.  That makes for a tough pitch.  Weeklies or bimonthlies are much easier, but might not reach the niche audience you’re targeting.  Whether you go after a quarterly or weekly magazine, don’t get discouraged if you fail with your fist pitch.  It will likely take time and hard work to place your magazine story, but once you do, you’ll benefit from the opportunity to reach a potentially new and untapped audience.

 

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January 2004-1

 

 

This Media Tip is sponsored by The Mountaineers Foundation.