When I was the managing editor and writing correspondent coordinator for an online magazine, I received emails similar to this one at least a dozen times. (I am strictly paraphrasing – this is not an actual copy of an email from a real person.)
My name is W. I am a student at Totally Awesome College studying A Subject. I stumbled across your blog the other day and was wondering if you would be interested in publishing some of my work as a guest post on your site. I am hoping to get my name out there and thought your web site would be the perfect place to start. Here is a link to my blog so you can take a look at my writing. I have also written an article that I think would be perfect for you to publish, so please let me know if you would like to review it.
Student at Totally Awesome College
I may be exaggerating just a little bit, but not my much.
This was a very small magazine, so I imagine editors from larger publications get dozens, if not hundreds of emails like this daily. Pray for them. They need it.
There are so many red flags in this short but disastrous email that I don’t know where to start. But other than the exhausting number of “I” statements and not making it very easy for the email recipient to actually find relevant writing samples (even if the email itself didn’t turn them off), there’s a huge piece missing.
W didn’t even tell the editor why they’re interested in writing articles for that publication. There was no purpose statement. There was no “why” other than the one “why” editors really don’t care about.
Publish my work. Publish my name. Look at my blog. It’s a wasted effort.
Eventually I came up with a few different formula responses for these types of emails. It always started off by pointing out that I was the editor of a magazine, not a blog, but that’s beside the point. Usually, these email correspondences never went anywhere, because these writers weren’t really interested in writing for my magazine. They didn’t know why they were pitching to me. And that pretty much ruined their chances of ever getting their work published in my magazine.
Why am I telling you all this? Because you’re going to be pitching to editors.
And if not editors, then agents, or publishers, or potential clients. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing fiction or self-help articles or you just like posting stuff on the internet for fun. There’s a very important element to any form of pitch email that far too many people miss, and no one ever tells them about it.
What is it? Your purpose.
Not your life’s purpose, not your purpose for being a writer in general – that’s important, but not necessarily in a short pitch email. Query letters may be a little different, but full disclosure, I’ve never written one, so I’m not an expert in that particular line of communication (yet). I’m mostly talking about pitching shorter works of writing or writing services, but fiction writers can benefit from the general advice as well.
Your “why” is your ticket to ride.
It’s not about you. It’s not about what you want out of the deal. It’s about what you can – and intend – to do for someone else. The email above misses the mark because it doesn’t tell me why I should want to work with W. If all W wants is to get their name out there and doesn’t care where, that doesn’t make me want to say, “Yes! Write for me!”
Why are you interested in writing for This Great Magazine? That’s what I want to know. Why should I pick you, over the dozens of other people who have asked the same question? What can you contribute to my editorial flow? What do you have to add to the conversation? What makes you unique?
It’s not what you’ve studied in school, though for things like health, that actually does help (science needs more credibility, that’s just the way it is). It’s not even really about what you’ve done in the past. It’s what you’re going to do, in the future, to make this publication a little bit better.
Why do you want to write for me? Because you are interested in the subject, it is somehow relevant to you, and you have something of value to give to my readers.
Here’s how the email should have read.
Hello Ms. Dowell,
My name is W. After reviewing the content of This Great Magazine, I am writing to ask if you are taking any article submissions at this time. If so, I would be interested in contributing to your Student Life section.
I am currently a student at Totally Awesome College. As a new reader of This Great Magazine, I would love to be able to contribute my skills and experience as a writer and undergraduate student to a publication dedicated to helping students succeed, grow and thrive.
If you are interested in reviewing my writing samples, to better evaluate whether or not I might be a good fit for your publication, you are welcome to review my online writing portfolio here [link].
Thank you for your time. I look forward to working with you in the future.
It’s not perfect. But it’s an improvement.
Tell an editor why they should care, and they’re much more likely to care. Start with what you want. Then go into more detail about why you want it. Then, for the love of God, give them a place to look at writing samples. Don’t expect them to go digging, because they won’t. They don’t have time. They’re too busy sending off formula responses to people who never learned how to pitch to an editor.
Ask yourself that one question before you pitch. Why? If you can come up with a publication-focused answer, then you’re already halfway there. Editors will love you. Trust me.
As you can tell, I enjoy writing on this topic a little bit too much. So if you want more, leave a comment down below letting me know. I could write a whole book about this. Hmmm….
Also, if this helped you, or you have a different method that works better for you – let me know that, too! I’m only one person with one perspective on the issue. I’d love to hear what you think as well.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.