When you go through your inbox in the morning, which emails do you open first? Do you check your favorite newsletters and dive down a rabbit hole before starting on the rest of your emails from co-workers and clients? Maybe you only check the emails from names you recognize because everything else is spam, and the one that seems the easiest or most interesting to tackle wins your attention first.
It can be hard to stand out in someone's inbox when you're one of the hundreds of emails that person receives each day. The unfortunate truth is that there isn't a winning formula, especially when it comes to grabbing the eyes of publication editors.
These editors often have to sort through PR pitches, random queries, promotional submissions, and unreasonable requests. So while you may know exactly how to pitch a publication editor, one tactic that could work for several editors might not work for the one you're pitching to. Finding ways to stand out is what it takes to get published, and that takes time.
Here are a few places where you can start to make your mark:
If your subject line doesn't compel an editor to open your email, then even your greatest pitch will get lost in the abyss. It helps to be clear and to the point. Using keywords like "pitch," "submission," or "article" in the subject line is encouraged, but you also want to get to the crux of your topic.
Be mindful of any subject line instructions that the editor may require in her submission guidelines. You can check the publication website or the editor's Twitter feed to see whether she's shared that information publicly. If you can't find details on how the editor prefers to be pitched, then experiment to see what works. A well-placed emoji (see example below) or compelling phrasing could help you stand out.
Once an editor opens your email, you've won half the battle. The next half starts with keeping his attention long enough to sell your pitch. Try connecting the editor to the topic: How does it affect him as a professional? As a human? If the topic has a twist or a surprising solution, start with a question to pique his interest. Can your expertise bring a new perspective to the topic? Share a bold opinion that your colleagues don't typically share.
This is the last place you should be playing it safe and blending in with the crowd of voices. At times you're going to be ignored, and you're going to get rejected here and there, but that's OK. It happens to me, too, and it's my job to be good at this! Once you find something that works for you or for a particular editor, make note of it, but then move on to try your next idea.
Here's the thing: You can pull every trick in the book, but you still need a good story. The foundation of your pitch is all in your head, and you need to convince the editor why you're the person who needs to tell that story. By sharing your ideas, you're giving the editor a taste of your style in addition to showing her what kind of working relationship you want to build.
Get straight to the point here. The thesis of your article should be one sentence, maybe two. It's tempting to share every bit of information you have for the pitch, but try to hold back. The editor will ask for the details if your topic is basically on target for her readers. If you have a writing sample or a section of your draft figured out, it doesn't hurt to include it after your signoff.
Over time, as you play around with the subject lines and experiment with various pitch formats, you'll get feedback from the editors you're pitching. Take feedback to heart (but don't take it personally) and do what you can to show the editor that you listened to his feedback the next time you submit a pitch. He'll notice the effort, and when you do have the perfect pitch, he'll be ready to work on the article with you because you've shown you can take guidance. Use the feedback to springboard your next experiment with other editors, too.
The feedback I've received from the editors I work with has helped me grow more than they know. It's taken me more rejections than I can count, lots of reading, and all of my note-taking to get a sense of whether a topic is something my editors will want to look at. Thankfully, most of the feedback I've gotten has encouraged me to do one thing: Try again.
Meagan Nolte is a Senior Publication Strategist at Influence & Co. Her obsessions include her kitten, reading good books, and eating dark chocolate. She's made habits out of singing musicals in the shower, taking her kitten on short walks, and traveling whenever she can.