The perfect pitch (or ‘what editors want’)

I’m an editor. I’ve worked with hundreds of freelancers and PR people over the years. I’ve commissioned and managed probably a couple thousand pieces. Spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (of someone else’s money) on that content. Generated hundreds of millions of page views. I’ve always tried to provide feedback, even if it’s a quick “No thanks.”

Yet one thing consistently eludes me: the perfect pitch.

One-time perfection

I have received one “perfect pitch” in my decade as a commissioning editor, and it came through earlier this year from a LinkedIn contact. It was sublime. I read it three times. This 130-word message moved me more than poetry. (I have the writer’s permission to copy-paste his exact pitch in my ebook about pitching – now available on Amazon – see the sidebar on the right).

How come in 10 years as an editor and thousands of pitches, I’ve received only one that I can say this about?

There must be multifarious reasons, one of which and possibly the biggest is that I am a stubborn-headed fusspot who, when it comes to pitches, is constantly seeking the one perfect outcome that I (almost) never get. It would be more surprising if I DID get perfect pitches more often than not, after all.

But among the other reasons is one that PR writers and freelancers can control, and one they should therefore be aware of. I think many people who should know better consider the pitch an annoyance, a minor chore that they’d rather not have to deal with. I’ve got this fantastic story, goes the thinking, it’s so clearly genius. Surely I don’t need to SELL it to you? I’m a writer, not a “pitcher”!

Well, you do, and you should be.

The pitch is an art form, and a science, in itself. The best thing about the perfect pitch is it really isn’t that complicated.

Head + Sell + Summary = Perfect pitch

Editors want to be able to quickly gauge whether a story fits their beat. An 800-word essay detailing various potential angles with no signposts or parts that might make it into the end product is not going to win an assign, no matter how beautifully it’s written.

Perfection = hard work

Of course, the formula above only gives the outline. What writers need to know is what makes a good head? What makes a good sell? What makes a good summary? You can learn a little about that here.

It may also help to understand how your editor thinks and what motivate his or her decisions. More about that here.

So is there such a thing as a perfect pitch? Absolutely. Is it complicated? Absolutely not. Does it require researching each specific publication and editor you want to pitch and tailoring your pitch to their needs? Yes.

There is such a thing as a perfect pitch, but it’s not a magical jacket that fits all who try it on. No pitch should be copy-pasted two dozen times and sent to two dozen different editors.

The perfect pitch is a simple story outline that contains signposts (headlines and standfirsts) that is also tailored to each receiver.

2 thoughts on “The perfect pitch (or ‘what editors want’)

  1. I absolutely can’t wait to read your book James, and have been loving your detailed, super-helpful posts! I actually just got back from Hong Kong yesterday. You’re so lucky to be based there. I’m going through dim sum withdrawal…

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