The universe works in mysterious ways.
As I was trying to figure out what my next column would be about, I got a bit of a promotion here at DIY MFA. I am now the Web Editor (among other responsibilities). While reviewing the contact page and submissions guidelines, inspiration struck! I could write my next column about how to pitch to a publication.
Without further ado, here are tips for pitching a guest blog. And while I use DIY MFA’s policies and procedures as examples, this advice is definitely applicable across the board for any online publication.
Research Before Pitching
This should be pretty obvious, but unfortunately it isn’t. We get a lot of pitches for do-it-yourself plumbing projects and other home renovation topics. People see the DIY in the site title and they don’t even click to read what we’re about.
Assuming you actually visit the website, take the time to read a few of the more recent posts or articles. You don’t have to go through the entire archive, but check out what is current. This will give you an idea of what kind of topics they post about, who they feature, etc. It also clues you into the format of guest posts, so you can determine if your voice and style are a fit. This knowledge will help you pitch the best, most relevant piece you can.
Search for Submission Guidelines
Some publications make them easy to find; others like to play hide and seek. A good starting point is the contact page. At DIY MFA, our contact page lists the email for general inquiries. But if you look at the whole page, we have a section for Guest Submissions. We even link to our Guest Article Submission Guidelines, where we spell out the A-Z of pitching for DIY MFA.
The New Yorker and New York Times both have their submission guidelines on their contact page. The Write Life and ProWritingAid blogs offer links to the guidelines in the website footer.
Follow the Directions
But in those cases where the publication makes it a bit harder to find the submission guidelines, use the all-seeing Google. Enter “(name of publication) submission guidelines” or similar query in your search bar. You might have to look through a couple of pages, but they should pop up if the publication accepts pitches.
I cannot stress this enough—follow the directions.
Our guidelines specifically say where to email pitches for guest posts, yet we still get a bunch that go to the general email account. We also give specific instructions for everything to include in the pitch, yet we still get incomplete submissions. When we see these blatant disregards for following instructions, we delete the emails with no response. This is how the vast majority of publications operate.
If an editor is constantly responding to pitches that don’t follow directions, that’s time they’re not spending on finding the right writers to serve their audience. By not following directions, you also show you won’t be easy to work with and will likely ignore further instructions for a full submission.
Proofread Your Submission and Accompanying Email
It’s cringe-worthy to receive a pitch with tons of grammatical errors, some even starting in the subject line. This doesn’t inspire confidence for an editor that you can piece together a coherent article. Blog copy editors are amazing, but they have other stuff to do than fix your misspellings.
In your pitch email:
- Be personal: Address the email to the right person. You’ll probably find their name if you look for the guidelines. Also, if there is a connection, mention it. Maybe you met the editor at a conference or you know someone else on the team who gave you the editor’s email. Starting with a personal connection is a great way to break the ice.
- Be specific: Tell them exactly what you are pitching. Ideally, you’ll send 2-3 ideas that are vivid enough the editor knows what your post is about and whether it will serve the audience.
- Be concise: At the same time, be concise. Don’t write out your entire article in the email unless a full submission is requested.
- Include links to your work: Writing samples are great. It gives us an idea of how you typically write, so we can tell if you’ll be a good fit. If you don’t have any professional credits yet, don’t worry. You can link to your personal blog.
Double-Check the Directions
Once you’re done double-checking that you followed the guidelines—triple check! Seriously. You don’t want to wind up in the trash box simply because you failed to follow one tiny step. If it says email a particular account, email that account. If it says to include a particular subject line, include that subject line. If you’re reading this blog, then we know you’re a better writer than folks who don’t do their homework or follow the guidelines.
There you have it, some simple tips on how to write a pitch from someone who has recently dealt with a lot of them. Fortunately, it really can be as simple as following the directions. Yes, you have to have writing skills, but the rest will get easier with practice. Promise!
Lori Walker is the Operations Maven at DIY MFA. Though she’s fallen off the wagon as a writer, she’s hoping to return to writing essays (perhaps even a novel!) through her involvement with DIY MFA. She also teaches yoga part-time in Smalltown, Oklahoma, where she lives with her husband and their cat, Joan Didion. You can follow her on Instagram at @LoriTheWriter.