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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.

Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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