Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

4 ways to instantly improve your pitching – freelance journalism

with one comment

  • Think Visual

If you can write a pitch where the editor can ‘see’ the story, see the characters and the setting, then you’re immediately inside the editor’s mind, a good place to be. Just a couple of good sentences that can bring a character or some aspect of the pitch to life. Be vivid and show details that can make an editor stop and think. These words from Guy Davenport were influential to me not just for journalism but for writing in general:

Harry Levin, at Harvard, taught me a lot, especially about iconography, how to read images in a text—that literature is as pictorial as painting or sculpture. [Source: Paris Review]

  •  Think visual, visual, visual

Sorry to hammer home this point but it’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to improve pitches. I like to play with font colours, use bold where necessary, inject relevant photos inside the email, and hyperlink anything that might need clarification. You can use these formatting tools to emphasize points or themes. Just don’t go crazy, your central idea should always be the focus but a bit of extra effort will help your email stand out.

  • Is it a complete story?

Don’t pitch topics or subjects, pitch stories. Pitch ideas that are wrapped in a story. What’s the difference between a story and an idea? To quote Richard Morgan, a complete story is one with “interesting characters in an interesting situation that changes over time in an interesting environment”. The story can also demonstrate a principle or universal theme adding depth and meaning, forming a ‘take-away’ feeling or message for the reader.

  • Have an outline

You should have an outline of what the story will look like, who you’ll interview, the basic structure of the piece, and the estimated final word count. It pays to imagine for the editor what the content of the article will be and how it’ll develop paragraph by paragraph.

Show you have the expertise by quickly sketching which named people you’ll interview and who they are. It’s also good sometimes to offer options in your treatment of the story: a more intimate interviewee-based feature, or an omniscient analysis with multiple characters? Editors like surety so demonstrate you have a clear understanding of what the story will be and how it will progress.

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