Pitch Pit #1: Where’s your head at?

Dear XXXX: A Burmese cat sanctuary, cooking school, organic garden, hotel, restaurant and free youth vocational training center and conservation project center, all in one block? No, that’s all in one complex, and a striking complex it is: Inle Heritage Center off Inle Lake in Myanmar. The complex is a hive of happy activity, where I spent a recent day touring, picking items in the garden, cooking them in a vibrant cooking class (and eating them with gusto), petting Burmese cats and chatting with the genial administrators of the organization.

Before I even read a word, I’m thinking, ‘Where’s the headline?’ As I suggest in this post, I’m always looking for signposts to guide me through a pitch, to instantly give me the info I need without having to read through seven blocks of dense text. This isn’t an insta-delete-worthy crime, but inwardly I sigh a little as I sense the start of an unstructured pitch. What headline would you give your piece? Inevitably your headline won’t make it onto the final page, but it gives me an idea of what you think is the story’s most important angle and shows me how you would like to ‘sell’ it.

Importantly though, you don’t need to use these ‘sales methods’ on me – I’m a pro, I’ll know a sellable (clickable) story when I see one, so just tell me what the story is. In that respect, your first line doesn’t work. It’s trying too hard. I’d expect a ‘complex’ to have various venues and experiences to offer, after all.

I cringe a little when I read ‘hive of happy activity’, ‘vibrant cooking class’, ‘eating them with gusto’. Call me a cynic, I even give a little sigh when I read ‘genial administrators’. Attempts like these to paint every facet of a place or experience as glowingly upbeat and affirmative remind me of a TV ad I used to watch: all I recall is the images of dozens of call-center employees, beaming, giggling, guffawing their way through their work day like it was a heavenly eden wrapped up in paradise. It was a call-center for god’s sake. One of the most inane, mind-numbing, unenjoyable work places I can imagine. That strategy may work on some people, but not me. The fix: just tell me what’s going on, what you did, what’s there, I’ll decide if it sounds glorious or not. Ie report, don’t ‘write’. (More on that in this post, under the question ‘What advice would you give an aspiring travel writer?’)

 

The nonprofit organization began its life as a breeding program in 2009 to return the decimated Burmese cat population back to health. The cats are thriving, but the center has morphed into a multipart organization emphasizing sustainable practices for the hospitality industry. Built of recycled materials, its vocational training center hosts a 9-month boarding program for poor students to become high-level workers in the hospitality industry. All fees are paid for by the center itself.

The lack of a headline and the rather saccharine-dusted feel of your first par has me already reaching for the delete button. This par has me back on board. Finally I feel like I’m getting some good, useful information. I’ll read on. 

 

The complex has an extensive organic garden, source of the cooking class fodder. The beautiful high-ceilinged restaurant serves “grandma’s” traditional food in high style. (And a compliment to the cooking class chefs: I have never eaten my own prepared food with such delight.) The entire complex is practicing sustainable waste management and wastewater treatment procedures to keep Inle Lake clean and are advocates to other local businesses on those issues.

More good info that gives me a sense of the place, and perhaps also the angle you’ll be looking to explore most, though I also inwardly question it. Sustainable practices are old news these days – I could fill a website with pitches I’ve received about green/eco/sustainable places and strategies. But I love your allusion to your own cooking skills here – the best line of the pitch so far. Also: advocates? Or advisors? Not a biggie though.

 

I’d love to do a piece on the Heritage House doings for XXXX showing how they’ve woven disparate elements into a vibrant whole. I could interview one of the principles of the foundation and the head chef of the cooking classes, who was a delight.

Senior interview subjects, good. ‘Heritage House doings, confusing. Another ‘vibrant’, yuck. And another ‘delightful’ person, double-yuck. I get it, you loved this place, found it ‘striking’ and ‘vibrant’ and full of ‘happy activity’ and lovely people worth writing about, and I agree it sounds interesting and enjoyable. But I wouldn’t assign anything off the back of this pitch. Probably, it’s an instant No, but thanks. At the most, I would write back to ask if you could dig out an angle that will appeal to my readers. This pitch tries to corral everything about the place into my head, and it feels disjointed. Far better to pick out a theme or element, and focus on that. And I’m certain there’s one in here – I’m already curious about the success of the cat breeding program, how it happened, is the place overrun with cats now, does the restaurant have a cat-hair problem etc etc which you mention but don’t go into. Pick one route in, then weave details of the current tourist trappings around that.

 

I’ve written travel pieces for the Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, Wine Enthusiast, San Diego Union-Tribune, Dave’s Travel Corner and many others. I’ve won three Traveler’s Tales Solas awards. Here are some links to recent pieces:

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Please let me know if you’re interested in the piece. I look forward to hearing from you.    Thanks,

Fine way to end, handy links to previous work especially appreciated, though I would add to each linked text which publication they’re written for. I would also add one line about who you are right at the top, before you get into the pitch, to let me know I’m dealing with a pro.

5 thoughts on “Pitch Pit #1: Where’s your head at?

  1. Useful analysis as ever James, keep it up, thanks! 🙂

    It also seems quite long to me, what are your thoughts on optimum pitch length for travel, or is that a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question?
    Jools

    1. Hi Jools, it’s right on the limit I would say, yes, especially without signposts, subheadings etc to break it up. Then again, were I engrossed by every word and thought I’d eat it up. So how long is a piece of string? As long as it is interesting!

  2. James, thank you. I did lard on the treacle with a trowel there, didn’t I? The fact that I really enjoyed the place shouldn’t have had me piling on the adjectives, but I didn’t head them off like I should.

    And speaking of heads, thanks also for reminding me (I know this, but forget, sigh) that supplying a head is a signpost to the article’s structure. Oh well, still learning, after all these years. Much obliged!

    1. Thanks for submitting Tom! And like I say I feel there’s a story in here somewhere – it just needs defluffing and to be given a going over with the reportage/investigation brush.

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