Help Desk

Help Desk: How to Lob a Pitch

Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

How do I pitch an art article to an editor? I have begun a writing practice that is not reviewing art as much as just reflecting on art/science/visual culture in essay-length posts. I would love to share them but don’t even know where to start. More info on pitching would be great!

Daniel Gordon. White Vase, 2015; Chromogenic print; 30 x 24 in. framed; edition of 3 +1 AP

Daniel Gordon. White Vase, 2015; Chromogenic print; 30 x 24 in. framed; edition of 3 +1 AP

Pitching is a great way to establish new relationships with editors and publications, but it requires a significant amount of time. Don’t be hasty in clicking the “compose new email” button before you’ve done some thorough research. It’s important to understand a publication’s style and content, the length of the articles, and (sometimes) the relative experience of the authors to see if your work is a good match.

I contacted four experienced writer–editors, and all mentioned suitability in their replies. Jillian Steinhauer, a senior editor at Hyperallergic, said, “There are a few things I look for in a pitch: I want to see that you’ve read the publication and thought about whether your story would fit here. Don’t pitch something that has no relation—in either content or form—to what we publish.” Orit Gat, a London-based freelance writer and editor, also had some good advice: “Pitch to the magazines you read. If you are very familiar with the publication and its editorial line, you’ll know what pitches will fit.”

As for what to include in a pitch, there are a few journals (such as Cabinet and Art Papers) that have comprehensive submission policies; but often these pages are not conspicuous, so check the site’s “about,” “editorial,” and “contact” pages to see if you can ferret out the details. Read submission information carefully and follow the instructions faithfully. This is important because editors juggle scheduling, editing, and other management duties, and a new writer who can’t comply with simple directives is not a good bet—she might be demonstrating that she also won’t return drafts on time or accept edits, and is thus to be avoided.

Most publications don’t list submission information, but never fear! Kara Q. Smith, the editor-in-chief of our sister publication Art Practical, had some counsel about what kind of information to include: “Pitches should be informed and comprehensive (who, what, when, why) and have the goals and audience of the publication in mind, and this should occur even if you have a personal relationship with the editor or have contributed to the publication previously. Pitches should be specific about the angle and content.” Steinhauer concurs: “More than anything else, I’m looking for ideas in a pitch, not just description. I want to see that you can think critically. Practically speaking, keep it short—ideally one paragraph, with a second one if you really need it. If you send me a 500-word pitch, I will turn off and stop reading. Include some brief information about yourself at the end, and most importantly, send a few clips. It’s okay if you’ve never published before or the writing you’ve done is on a personal blog—I just want to see examples of how you write.” Gat echoed the advice to keep it short: “Send a description or an abstract rather than the text—reading a draft is a lot of work. Then see what happens! An editor may ask to see a writing sample, in which case, they’ll give you directions as to what to send. Don’t be scared to blind-pitch; editors are looking for new voices and ideas, they’ll probably be interested! In any case, don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back, and try again with another idea after some time has passed.” In the end, Smith had some advice about your future relationship with a publication: “Consider conflict of interest and be open to feedback, as well as receptive to the publication’s editorial process.”

The most comprehensive answer came from Carolina Miranda, who currently writes for the LA Times. She said, “It’s in the pitching that the real work begins. The first job is to find an appropriate home for your piece. That means some gumshoe research: reading publications and figuring out which of them are appropriate for your content and which ones accept unsolicited pitches. If you don’t know where to start, ask friends what their favorite go-to sites are for essays on art (or whatever else it is that you’ve written about). And look to pitch publications that have similarly-minded content. In other words, don’t pitch essays to a news site, etc.

“Once you’ve narrowed down the places you want to pitch to, you have to figure out who to pitch to and how. DO NOT send your pitch to every editor on the masthead and expect them to sort it out. That only pisses people off. Find out who edits what section; familiarize yourself with those sections and the types of stories they run so that you can be sure you’re pitching the right person. You don’t want to send your heartfelt essay to the photo editor.

“This brings us to the pitch. DO NOT send your entire draft essay to an editor, saying, ‘Hey, check out my brilliance on this peas-in-guacamole issue.’ Editors get slammed with email and don’t have time to be reading unsolicited manuscripts. DO craft a succinct pitch that clearly explains what you have done and what makes it unique from all the other coverage out there. Did you uncover some interesting historical tidbits in an archive? Do you cover an aspect of an issue that has been overlooked? Do you have insights from an expert that change the way a hot topic can be viewed? Your pitch shouldn’t be more than one or two paragraphs long.

“If you are cold-pitching an editor you’ve never worked with before, add a paragraph at the end that explains a little bit about who you are and demonstrates your expertise, whether as a writer, academic, artist, scientist, or expert of some other kind. If you have been published elsewhere, include the names of two or three of the most significant outlets that have featured your work.

“That should bring you to a total of three short paragraphs, so be sure to make the writing count. A pitch is a pitch for work, which means the writing should be as lively and as professional as what’s in your essay. So read it carefully and be sure to spell-check. You’d be amazed at how many pitches I got in my days as an editor that featured good ideas, but were incompetently executed.

“Lastly, only pitch one publication at a time. I’ve gotten blast pitches, in which a writer sends the same BCC’d email to a bunch of editors at different outlets at once. It’s unprofessional and a sign that you’re not focused on the publication you are pitching.”

And to all this excellent advice I would add the following: Write an unambiguous subject line (“Pitch: Thomas Kinkade and California’s Vaccine Crisis”). If you don’t hear back, follow up about two weeks later with a very short, polite email asking if the editor has had a chance to review your idea. Don’t take rejection personally, it happens to the best of us. Write often, and show it to other people for feedback. Read, research, repeat—stay current. New publications pop up all the time, and the newer they are, the hungrier they are for writers. Good luck!


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