Editors at #AHCJ18 share tips on composing a winning pitch

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

PHOENIX – Successfully selling story ideas requires energy, skill and plenty of patience. At Health Journalism 2018 in Phoenix on Thursday, a panel of seasoned magazine editors offered tips to freelancers on “Crafting the Perfect Pitch.”

“Pitching is an art, not a science,” observed Jennifer Bleyer, who until recently was an editor at Psychology Today. Still, some general rules apply, including, “Be brief.”

Get to the point, she added, and have a great story to tell. Remember to tailor your pitch to the publication you are approaching.  If an editor turns down a pitch, ask for advice and stay in touch.

Invest the time to develop a pitch thoroughly, added Betsy Agnvall, a longtime editor for AARP Media.

“Make my life easy. Submit a well-crafted query. A catchy headline helps,” Agnvall advised, reminding attendees that editors are swamped, and their inboxes often are overflowing.

Lynya Floyd, who is health director for Family Circle magazine, agreed. Even the subject line of an emailed pitch should be designed to attract the editor’s attention, she advised

“Make it as ‘sexy’ as possible,” Floyd said. “Make yours stand out.”

Also, consider the publication’s style, mission, and target reader, she added. “Is this something she wants to read?”

Accuracy also is part of the perfect pitch, said Dina Fine Maron, health and medicine editor for Scientific American. Typographical errors and other mistakes in a query will raise concerns in an editor’s mind.

“Do not be sloppy,” Maron warned. If an editor responds to your pitch with additional questions, be candid. It is fine to say you don’t know the answers, while assuring the editor you can find them.

“I don’t expect you to know everything about everything,” she said.

Above all, keep trying, urged Bleyer, who not long ago left her editor’s post at Psychology Today to return to freelance work.

“Be persistent,” she counseled the audience. “Just keep pitching and pitching and pitching.”

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