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Here’s How To Pitch Your Stories & Your Writing To Publications

Pitching is only half the battle.

Workin’ Girl

As a person working towards becoming a part of the publishing world someday, I make sure to explore it daily, learn what I must learn, and discover its little secrets so it becomes familiar enough for me to conquer it and not get lost in it. Part of the reason I created the Writers Club within xoNecole's xoTribe community app (if you haven't become a member of xoNecole's community app, join the tribe here) was to help novice writers sharpen their skills and gain confidence through practice and feedback, as well as gain tips from experienced writers within the group.

Equipped with those tools, there are quite a few subject matters that the writer in me feels confident enough to issue and advise other writers on. A perfect example of that is how to properly pitch stories to writing platforms. When submitting stories to websites and writing platforms for opportunities to be featured and have your work published, it's all about the pitch. In fact, there are a few keys all beginner writers should keep in mind when pitching and submitting stories to outlets. You can find them below.

Know The Audience, Know The Voice

via GIPHY

Before you pitch or submit anything, it is of the utmost importance that you do your research when looking to write for a site. How can you write for a site that you don't read? Depending on the area that you want to pitch yourself for, take time to read 3-5 of the latest stories published within that section to get a feel of the kinds of stories that are published, frequent writers that are used, and most importantly, the voice of the site. Is it conversational or uplifting? Informative or personal? It's important to know who the site is to know how to best craft the ideas and the subsequent pieces you wish to pen for a publication.

An editor can tell a mile away if you're a reader of the site you publish based off of your ideas and writing style. For example, a site like xoNecole is not going to publish a story called "10 Times Claire Danes Gave Us Our Lives On 'Homeland'". Why? Although it's a women's interest site, they cater more exclusively to Black women and WOC and if you researched the site, you'd see that although the talk about TV and movies from time to time, it's about Black content, ideally centering around Black leads. So yes, take your time to get to know the audience because that will help you understand the voice and the kind of content they prefer to be featured on their outlet.

Only Pitch When Necessary 

In my opinion, pitching stories without submitting a draft when it's not necessary is somewhat a waste of time. For both you and the editor. You should only pitch a story without a draft when the story you want to cover requires you to put in a high level of work (i.e. extensive research, interviews), invest your own money (i.e. when you could potentially use the resources of your proposed outlet), or when you want to make sure that the topic you're writing about will only be covered by you (i.e. you don't want to write about something that another writer could already be covering). If none of that is the case, then you don't want to wait around for your editor to give you the green light before you start writing. To me, as a writer, your judgement should be strong enough to know whether your story fits your targeted platform's voice/genre or not.

As author Elizabeth Gilbert stated in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, ideas wait for no one.

You either do something about them while you can or someone else might do something with the idea you had while you're waiting for a response from your editor. Moreover, writing a piece that you aren't 100% sure will be published on the platform of your choice isn't the waste of time you might think it is; it's experience. It's work that you can still submit to another platform if it gets rejected, publish on your own site, or attach to your resume when you apply for writing jobs.

When you do pitch, include the pitch and the proposed headline in the email's subject line to entice the editor to open the email. Inside of your email, give a quick intro into who you are, then segue into the pitch idea(s) you'd like to pursue, ideally formatted like the example below:

Proposed Headline

2-3 sentences summarizing what the article is about (not an excerpt), the angle you want to approach (especially if it's a subject already explored on the site -- how will yours be different?), and the kind of article it is (interview, listicle, timely, evergreen).

Side note: Ideally, you'd also include the full draft of the proposed pitch idea with your email, if not, the editor and you will usually correspond about whether or not the pitch is the right fit for the site at the time.

Submit Full Drafts That Only Require Few Edits 

via GIPHY

Keywords: full draft.

Unless it's for requesting guidance or a professional opinion, I never submit an incomplete draft (a draft that isn't fully ready for publication). Simply because that too is a waste of time; it lengthens the writing, editing, and publishing process. I believe that when you aim for your story to be considered and/or secure a contributor contract, you must provide the editor with material that displays your writing style, versatility, and talent. You don't want to submit only an excerpt and risk the editor overlooking a potentially great pitch just because it was unfinished and didn't reel them in. Show your editor that you can cook and plate your ideas mostly on your own so that the only thing that is left for them to do is add a little seasoning.

Pro tip: When you submit your work to a platform you've never been published on before, send along a short author bio (include any links you want hyperlinked) and a picture of yourself to avoid too many email exchanges.

Format Your Drafts According To Your Targeted Writing Platform's Guidelines 

Formatting your draft according to your targeted writing platform's guidelines, if any, is like wearing the right outfit for an interview; you want to ensure the draft is presentable, the way you intend for it to publish on the site, and easy to read. That said, platforms don't really set rules when it comes to formatting, at least not that I noticed. How do you know how to arrange your draft then?

If you study several pieces published on that particular platform, you'll find clues here and there. For me personally, every time I submit a story to xoNecole's Managing editor, I make it look like it was already published on the site:

  • I give my piece a title (side note: even though it's more than likely going to be edited, it's good to provide the editor with options to choose from),
  • I place a subheadline (a catchy sentence that acts as a preview for the content within the post that sits under the headline),
  • I include clear and concise headers (especially to highlight the points that I make in my paragraphs),
  • I quote one or two of my own sentences (just because it catches people's interest and keeps them reading),
  • I use GIFs or other illustrations (and also include links to the sources),
  • I use a similar font to the one used on the site and change the size when necessary.

The reason why I format my submissions this way is to condition the editor's mind to post them on the site just because they already look like they're content you'd see published on the site. And if they already look like they are and the content is good enough, why wouldn't they actually be?

Now mind you, not all contributors do that—yet they still get published—and this technique isn't a promise that your stories will get published. But knowing that some of mine pieces have been published the exact way I submitted them, I see that there is method to the madness and that it does indeed work. Plus, I'm sure it's appreciated by the editor(s).

Now, watch your editor open your emails before anyone else's.

Are you looking to link with a tribe of writers? Join The xoTribe's Writers Club, an online community where among other amazing things, experienced and aspiring writers can connect and find the resources, motivation, and coaching they need to produce great quality work ready for publication.

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