Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pitch, Post or Email?

Whilst running a series of workshops for Relax and Write last weekend, in Derbyshire, one area of questioning that cropped up was: How do you submit your work? Do you pitch the idea first? Do you write your article on spec and submit by email, or do you write it on spec and send by post?

The problem with answering these questions is that there is not a one-size-fits-all kind of answer. It depends. So, I thought I'd explain how I usually operate.

I pitch the vast majority of my article ideas. That means I contact the editor and try to sell my idea before I've written the article. When an editor replies with a 'yes', then I write my article. Sometimes an editor will clarify how they prefer to receive submissions - usually by email - sometimes as an attachments, or pasted into the main body of the email message.

If I've been commissioned to write a feature, I always try to maximise the number of angles I can get from that research, and often pitch to other magazines different ideas for their readerships on the same topic.

I'm always on the look-out for any potential market, so no magazine gets past me without a quick analysis. This means that when I'm scrutinising an idea for all possible angles, I often think of a particular slot in a publication that I could produce some material for.

If the word count for that slot is low, then I sometimes consider producing the text on spec. For example, there are slots, or columns, within magazines with a maximum word count of 500 words. If I've spent most of the day typing up a 1500-word feature that I've been commissioned to write, then producing a shorter 500-word piece on the same topic is relatively straight forward for me, especially whilst I have all the research in my head, or close to hand. And if the slot I'm targeting is generally aimed at reader-contributions, then I wouldn't bother pitching the idea to the editor. I'd simply submit it on spec. Amateur Photographer magazine's BackChat column, is one such example.

Another example is the newsletter of an photographic association I'm a member of. They have a regular slot for photographs that members have taken, which have sold well. For this slot they want to see a copy of the image and then 300 words on why the photo has sold. They don't want pitches for this slot - they want to see the images, and learn the story behind their success. So, I have always written these on spec. Payment is £40, but it is something I can do in about 15 - 30 minutes.

I always follow the guidelines. I prefer to submit by email, because it's cheaper, and the magazine has the option of cutting and pasting text. But there are some magazines who ask for postal submissions. One magazine I write for prefers to scan the printed document, rather than dealing with email attachments. It seems a little strange these days, but that's what the editor wants ... so that's what the editor gets!

The submission process also depends upon the type of material you are writing. When I submit short stories, there are some markets who only accept email submissions, whilst others only accept postal submissions. And with short stories, pitching is not an option - the editor wants to see the finished piece.

So how and when I approach a market often depends upon the length of the potential piece and the size of the market and whether the editor expects to receive pitches from professional writers for the slot I'm targeting.

Good luck.