Last year, during a lengthy dry spell in writing assignments, I decided I’d take the time to pitch ideas to just about every major magazine in which I’d ever wanted to be published. What the heck, right? I had nothing to lose.
Except, perhaps, my time. But time was something I had far too much of. So I started brainstorming for ideas, coming up with what I thought were novel spin-offs of perennially popular subjects in all the women’s magazines: health, family, parenting. I pitched articles on Reiki for rescue dogs, on spanking, on 13 traditions to start the school year. I pitched an article on cyberchondria that even mixed in my husband’s experience with temporary paralysis. I pitched so many ideas that I needed to create a spreadsheet to keep track of them all.
I had high hopes, of course, but I also put a great deal of effort into my queries. As writers know, we (typically) can’t just dash off a two-line letter to an editor with our brilliant idea and hope it sticks. There’s research to be done, and sources to be lined up. There’s a coherent structure to lay out.
And for some of these magazines, even that’s not enough. They want a full-length proposal that practically requires writing the article before you know whether they’re going to pay you to write the article. They know they have the upper hand, and they use it to their advantage. Many writers — many experienced, talented writers — scramble around doing this spec work on the very off-chance they’ll get the golden Yes from these editors.
I willingly threw myself into this glut. Hey, no guts, no glory, right? Well, maybe. But after all my work, all my time, let me tell you how many magazine assignments I got: one. One article, to a regional magazine. I was happy to get it, and I enjoyed writing it. But still, I felt gypped. Overall, I felt like all that time was wasted.
I feel even more strongly about that now, especially since I embarked on a letter-writing campaign this summer that netted me clients with a shockingly higher rate of success. We call them LOIs in this biz — letters of introduction. We’re trying to get ourselves on an editor’s radar, to simply say, This is who I am, this is what I’ve done, and if you need writers, call me.
When I did hear back from them, I already knew two things: they needed writers, and they liked my portfolio. Another bonus is that these editors typically have a steady string of assignments to offer, not just the one-off project to complete for a magazine before getting right back on that hamster wheel to pitch again.
I know it would be foolish to abandon pitching altogether. But these days I’m reserving this tactic for truly unique ideas that literally scream how compelling they are in the midst of all the other noise out there. The best pitchers, after all — the real ones — tune out the noise of the crowd to deliver their precise, well-timed fastballs.
I’ll take a lesson from them, but I’m not going to wear out my arm in the process.