Pitch Pit #4: Dead in the head

Thank you for your candid and constructive comments on the “Pitch Pit” section of your Travel Write Earn website. I was hoping you could give me your feedback on this pitch I sent a month ago (see below.)

I’m brand new to pitching and don’t have very many articles or other clips to show as experience. I don’t want to openly admit that I’m new to the industry because I think that would be a big turn off to editors. Let me know if you think I’m wrong. If you have any suggestions on how I can word my “experience” paragraph differently, I’d be interested in your thoughts.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me. Thanks for your help and time!

 

August 1, 2017

_______, Travel Editor
_____ Magazine
(Address)

Dear Mr. _______,

Get Your Ghoul On in Portland, Oregon.

JD: It’s great that you’ve got your headline up front and centre (literally!) good and early. However, I fear it’s a little too early. Without an introductory paragraph explaining who you are and why you’re worth listening to, along with the centre-alignment and choice of words, this looks like a press release and as such would be destined for the bin within a few seconds of opening. The “Get your XXX on” construction is one of those that makes me wince. It’s a bit like the “exploring the world, one pizza/barbershop/other themed thing at a time” construction. Done to death, and therefore not nearly as clever or poetic as you probably think it is. What’s the story?

Halloween, the early Celtic holiday that marked the end of the harvest and transition to winter, was originally called the “bridge to the world of the dead.” This “bridge to the world of the dead” isn’t confined to just Celtic lore anymore. The “bridge” is available and waiting for _____Magazine readers who want an original fall road trip idea, apart from customary views of fall foliage. And it’s waiting for them in Portland Oregon.

Portland Oregon, known as the “City of Roses” also plays host as a Halloween “City of Horrors” with their own Halloween walking tours of Portland’s paranormal. Portland’s eighteenth century, gritty merchant marine history is the perfect backdrop for some of these haunted neighborhood tours that I can write about in your online ____section of _____Magazine.

Conjuring Portland’s “eighteenth century, gritty merchant marine history” is a nice touch, but for the most part these pars are wordy and overwritten, mainly because of the superfluous detail. No need to explain what Halloween is in the pitch nor to give the city’s tagline unless these are pertinent to the story, in which case you need to explain why. A fact like “… was originally called the ‘bridge to the road of the dead’” is a nice detail, but I immediately question the accuracy. What do you mean exactly? Was there another word used originally, which translated as that? Not a deal breaker in the pitch, but if your story contains too many clumsy sentences you’ll soon hear about it. And for me trying to force this bridge metaphor “available and waiting for readers” just doesn’t work. In fact, it confused me the first time I read it. Plus what is a “City of Horrors”? Why have you put it in quotes? Is it some sort of official recognition? Why is it worth mentioning? I fear you’re using quote marks in lieu of explaining things properly. Finally, and yes I’m being really pernickety here, but mentioning “xxx magazine readers” and “online xx section of xx magazine” doesn’t work here either. I know what you’re trying to do – tailor your pitch to a specific title – which I wholeheartedly advocate. But don’t do that in the middle of the story, which just takes me out of the story; do that in a separate paragraph altogether. “I have a story that I think would fit really well in your xxx section online” for example. 

I propose an article between 800-1000 words that outlines the history, features, directions, and travel/visiting tips to the following haunted tours:

  • The White Eagle Saloon;
  • Lone Fir Cemetery;
  • Old Town Pizza Parlor;
  • Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels through Portland’s Old Town and Chinatown; and
  • Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tours

For this article, I could share my experiences with some of these tours as well as interview some of the business owners and tour guides from the companies listed above. I could have the first draft to you no later than the week of September 3rd. Let me know if this timeline works with your editing process.

This is the most important graph of the pitch (the detail, the story), and it’s a letdown. Names are not detail, unless you’re identifying exactly who you’ll interview and why they’re worth listening to (which you haven’t). I do at least have a sense of the story you want to write: “Portland’s real-life horrors: 5 Halloween tours through history”, or something along those lines (incidentally that (or something like it) would have been a better working title for your pitch). But I still would like to know some details. What happened at the White Eagle Saloon? What characters are there to see in Lone Fir Cemetery? Etc.

I have more than twenty-five years of professional technical writing experience. The range of my writing voice can be seen from examples of my professional staff report writing (links to reports previous written) experience to my blog posts with the Girl Scouts of America (links to applicable blogs) You can also see my latest published article “_______” from the _____2017 edition of the Costco Connection Magazine (link to article.)

Thank you for your consideration of this article. I look forward to your response.

(My name, contact info.)

This is the graph you’re troubled by, which is possibly why you’ve left it till last. And I can see why. However, I always suggest you get this par right up top so the editor knows who he’s dealing with. When you’re light on experience, my advice is to err on the side of economy. Twenty-five years writing experience, great. Twenty-five years technical writing experience not so great. Pitches should be purged of all unnecessary detail, and that includes your own bio. The idea is to give the editor the info he needs to consider the assignment. Get your foot in the door, get them to reply, and then if they ask of course be truthful, but hopefully they like the idea so much and you’ve demonstrated adequate ability that they’ll be willing to give you a shot.

(On the same subject, one thing rookie writers (or those entering a new ‘genre’) can do is provide the angle no one else can. Anyone can write about Portland’s greatest horror tours – what can you bring that makes your story stand apart? One of the previous Pitch Pit victims (Pitch Pit #2) did this, spending five days inside the club that organises Las Fallas fire festival in Spain. Could you similarly bring some kind of behind-the-scenes angle to this piece? Could you be employed as a ghoul for a day in one of the tours and use that as your main angle, and list out the other tours at the end? Or could the story be about the working life of one of these salaried zombies, based on shadowing him/her for a day? Those sorts of angle may not be totally unique or impossible for others to do, but it’s a much more enticing angle than just listing out a bunch of tours.)

Back to your bio: don’t feel like you’re underselling yourself with an admission you’re new to this subject area. Yes, some editors may hesitate, but if your idea is good, if you demonstrate a good writing voice, professionalism and some writing experience, it shouldn’t be as much of a disadvantage as you think. That said, if it makes you uncomfortable, you can simply omit. Try:
‘I’m a writer with more than 25 years writing experience, with work published in publications from The Girl Scouts of America website to Costco Connection Magazine.’
The editor can dig into your past experience if he’s that intrigued, and as you add more high profile publications to your profile, add them to your pitches.

Summary: A good seasonal idea for a Portland- and/or Halloween-oriented title, but in a pitch that is a bit too long, is high on the kind of detail that doesn’t count and low on the kind that does.

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