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How to pitch a piece of writing

Pitching a piece of writing requires thinking strategically about possibilities for seeing your work published, given your personal and professional goals as a scholar. We’ve created a series of tips for approaching editors and publishers that include preparing your materials, making the pitch, and following it up.

1. Preparing your materials.
Seek ideas from colleagues about matching your written materials with a particular journal/publisher. Sometimes colleagues can help us can discern patterns of thought to guide us in approaching a particular editor/publisher.

Pay close attention to the title, the opening, and the closing. These places are crucial in any piece of writing as they receive readers’ prime attention; make sure they are clear, accurate, and distinctive.

Follow the submission guidelines slavishly. Editors devote considerable energy to developing criteria that best match their needs, so follow the specific guidelines they provide.

2. Making the pitch.
Think about your piece of writing. What is its allure? Is there some emerging, timely question the piece is trying to address that attracts an editor? What feature of your piece would catch an editor’s attention?

Distill the article’s focus. This focusing is essential, because this emphasis is how the most successful pitches begin. Hook your audience by stating the main thrust of your article in one or two irresistible sentences.

If it’s not immediately apparent why your story belongs in the publication to which you’re pitching, clarify that connection now. Seattle freelance writer Haidn Ellis Foster suggests addressing “The Three Ys”: why here (what makes your piece interesting or useful to this publication’s readers?), why now (why is your piece timely?), and why you (what makes you uniquely qualified to write this piece?). It’s also persuasive to include links to other pieces you’ve written to demonstrate why you are the best person (or one of the very best) to write this piece

Float your idea with an editor. Even when it’s still just a twinkle in your eye. Consider doing this in person if you have a chance meeting with an editor. This angling will help you decide whether to submit to a particular publication, and it may also give you a writing angle. Or some key words to include in your query letter to attract the attention of the editor.

Pitch it before you’re totally done. This angling inspires completion and advances momentum, and sometimes results in learning enough from an editor to focus your idea more carefully toward an upcoming theme or issue.

Compose and edit your query letter or prospectus carefully. Editors will anticipate the quality of your manuscript based on the quality of your query or cover letter. Treat the query like any other important piece of writing that merits revision and reshaping as needed.

3. Following up your pitch.
If a reasonable amount of time has elapsed without a response, send a follow-up query. We can’t assume that our submissions always arrive at their destinations, so it’s fair to contact your target editor or publisher to confirm receipt.

If your initial pitch results in a request for revision, toast your good fortune! Then, get it right back out the door.

When resubmitting a piece, create a simple, friendly cover letter to acknowledge each of the reviewers’ comments in writing and describe, specifically, where in the revised piece you have addressed each comment. Then, pitch it back to the editor or publisher.

In using any of these strategies, always consider your own style and preferences, as well as the protocols and preferences of the people who make decisions about what gets accepted for publication. Choose the ones that feel right.

Karen Hoelscher is professor of education at Western Washington University, where she guides teacher education majors into and out of the K-8 certification program in the year-long internship program at Woodring College of Education, and writes about intercultural communication and faculty development. Carmen Werder is director of the Teaching-Learning Academy and of Writing Instruction Support at Western Washington University, where she is also on the faculty of the Department of Communication and part of WWU Libraries.

Originally appeared in the December 8, 2010 issue of Inside Higher Ed as part of a Faculty Writing Workshop series and was titled, “Reading the Creek.”