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The long-tail of the writer’s pitch


Double click on the graphics to see actual size versions of my submissions log.

I mentioned before that I don’t think writers keeping secrets is particularly useful (in fact, I think it’s bad for your karma account, but more on that in a future musing).

I’m committed to a radical transparency not only with respect to what I write, but also how I go about it… or, as we like to say in our high-falutin’ moments of erudition:  our “process.”

So that’s why I’ve decided to share a completely unedited version of my current submission log, a document most writers protect with the quiet but unmistakable and unmatchable fierceness of a guard dog.
The purpose of doing this is straightforward: to show just how much work goes into selling a single story about a single experience.

Last summer, while working on the Fodor’s guide to Puerto Rico, I traveled the full length of the Ruta Panoramica (Panoramic Route), a rather undertouristed part of an island that’s become, regrettably, transfixed with chains and resorts.  There’s a lot to write about the Ruta, and I could easily write five different articles about it.

Until I finished my work with Fodor’s I was under contract not to write about it elsewhere, and so I’ve been saving up the story, as it were, until this month.

So here I am, almost eight months after my on the ground research, pitching articles about the Ruta to publications I believe would be a good fit.  As you can see from my log, I’ve pitched several different publications. (The angle would be different depending on the publication).

It’s not uncommon for a year or longer to pass between a writer’s travels and a published piece based on pitches sent to editors about a particular trip or place.  Who knows how long it will take to sell a piece?

Stay tuned for the answer to that question.
What else can you learn from my submission log? What questions do you have about it? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments.

*I hope it goes without saying that you should not simply email these editors without performing your own due diligence about the publication and current contact information for the editor. I know for a fact that at least two of these editorial contacts are no longer valid.


15 responses »

  1. I admire your transparency 🙂 Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed seeing your log – I have been using a submission log, but I think I need to edit it a bit to make it more useful!

  2. Karma fully intact! I think it’s brilliantly kind of you to post this for those of us who sometimes wonder what the heck we are doing and if there is a better way of doing it.

  3. Thanks for sharing this Julie!

  4. Very admirable of you to share this!

    Okay, now here are my question(s):

    I noticed you have everything from in flights to a Carribean mag to the NYT…(!!) Do you consciously try to pitch variations on one idea to newspaper/specialty mags/web outlets/etc.? Is there some reason or rhyme to diversifying where you pitch?

    Likewise, when deciding where to pitch, how do you think about/mesh different factors such as exposure, pay rate, or just flat out places you’ve been dying to write for? Or even places you are fairly sure will accept the pitch vs. places that are more “reaches”? Do you try to have a few of each?


  5. Alyssa-

    Smart questions! Here are my answers:

    The subject of each pitch is the Ruta Panoramica, but for each of the publications I list in the submissions log, the actual angle/pitch/story are different. I don’t include that information in my submission log, but have a record of each in my email. More about the angles in a minute.

    I selected each of those publications for really specific, deliberate reasons. I’d definitely loved to published in/by any of them, but the main reason is that I follow each of these publications closely and am aware in gaps in their coverage with respect to Puerto Rico. (As an aside, this is one of the many reasons why it helps a writer to have an area of geographic expertise–you’re better able to keep track of what’s written about that region).

    So for the New York Times, for example, they’ve had at least three (four, if I’m not mistaken) articles on/about Puerto Rico in the past couple of years, but every single one of those articles has focused on Old San Juan (which, coincidentally, is where I used to live). The Ruta is an “off the beaten track” kind of place and the piece for the NYT would reflect that—so in my pitch, I specifically indicated that the OSJ coverage was overdone and that they needed to look at other destinations, and Hey! Wouldn’t the Ruta be great because few, if any, other publications have covered it?! (Of course, I’d like to think that my pitch was more articulate. 😉

    I should also mention I chose the NYT specifically because I have a colleague who has written for the Times’ quarterly Travel magazine, and he was kind enough to share his editorial contact with me.

    For the other publications, each has a specific department within it where I could see a Ruta article customized to fit. So even if two of these publications ended up accepting my pitch (ah, what a dream!), the final articles would be different (for the record, I’m wholeheartedly *against* multiple submissions–i.e. submitting the same pitch or same article to multiple publications simultaneously).

    When deciding where to pitch, I tend to focus on publications I know well. I don’t really focus on pay rate at all–so much of what’s published about going rates is variable and up for negotiation, anyway. One exception in this case was the Caribbean magazine. I hadn’t read it before, but it seemed–at least topically–a magazine where a piece on the Ruta would naturally fit. But before I pitched, I searched their web archives carefully to ensure nothing had been published about the Ruta before. I also purchased a couple issues of the magazine, read the articles and got a feel for the overall style and the different departments of the publication, and read their full submission guidelines really carefully.

    Feel free to ask any more questions! I like thinking about the process and sharing it with others.

  6. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Julie! It’s really refreshing to have an editor who doesn’t mind sharing these things, as they are so incredibly helpful when beginning…

    A lot of what you said verified what I already felt to be true…but maybe needed reassurance? (esp. about having different angles, and determining outlets based on what you know well).

    Also especially helpful is your tip about specializing in a location because you will have better ideas as to what is out there, what is lacking, etc.

    Thanks again!

  7. Great post Julie. I’m curious how you remember how you’ve differentiated your pitches, as your submissions log doesn’t seem to show what kind of pitch on your destination you sent to each publication. Or did you send the same pitch but you would differentiate the article?

  8. JoAnna-

    Logical question!
    I don’t seem to have trouble keeping that information in my head, so I don’t include a field for it on my submissions log. It’s the date/name/contact info and the details of the whole life of the pitch (initial pitch, response, follow up, what I learned) that I tend to forget, so that’s why those fields are on my submission log.

    I also keep all the emailed pitches in my gmail archive and on my hard drive, though, so I can reference them quickly if needed.

  9. Great that you’ve shared your unedited log. Very admirable indeed!

    If asked via email, I readily share editorial contact information.

    In the Notebook article you linked to, there’s a screenshot of my submission log (albeit with publication and editor names removed) –

    I color-code rejections, assignments, and passes to visually gauge if my pitching is actually getting better, and also have it automatically calculate 2-week followup dates.

    • Thanks, Lola. You’re going to be getting a huge shout out in my piece about writer’s karma. Stay tuned!

      I loved hearing about your submission log, and I especially appreciate the tip about auto-calculation of follow-up dates. I need to improve in that area.

  10. Great information. As a beginner, it is incredibly useful to understand how much persistence is required!

  11. Thanks so much for this, Julie. Your whole blog is incredibly helpful for freelancers. Honestly, just reading it has taught me a tremendous amount — everything you write is so accessible, so carefully and thoughtfully explained. You never fail to cover all of your bases. You’d make one hell of a teacher (but I guess you already do at MatadorU, huh?).

    Now what I’d love to see is how Julie goes about writing a pitch! But that may be asking for too much transparency. 😉

    • Simone-

      I’m really pleased that you found this helpful. I like thinking about this blog as a complement to MatadorU, a reflection of my own in-process evolution, and (credit to Steven Roll of Travelojos for saying this), a salon where we can all talk about and share our experiences as freelancers.

      I absolutely will share my pitches with you… give me a few days. I’m working on a post about writers’ karma right now, which I think you’ll find helpful! 😉

  12. Pingback: Pitches that worked: Guantanamo Bay research story for DISCOVER Magazine « Cuaderno Inedito

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