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The view from the features desk
Marcus Webbon 8 January 2016
Transcript of The view from the features desk
The production manager
The photo desk
The ad sales team
The online team
Senior Commissioning editor, GQ
Be realistic - If you've never written for us before, please don't pitch pieces on the "economic state of Iceland" unless you're a known expert. We have a business desk and a load of specialists we trust. Too many freelancers pitch huge epic pieces.
Don't be afraid to pitch Short Cuts feature - we're more likely to take a chance on smaller pieces. It's also a good way to start a relationship with G2 editors.
Keep the pitch short. If we're interested in the idea, we'll ask you to elaborate further.
Don't pitch something because it's a "YouTube sensation"/ "had a million hits on YouTube". You sound like a PR. Equally, don't ever pitch anything about Twitter - most journalists spend all day on it as it is.
If you have an idea just send it. Don't email telling us you have an idea and asking if we'd like to see it.
Really obvious but please check that the Guardian hasn't already run the piece you're pitching, many freelancers still don't
Know the section you’re pitching to - I get so many pitches offering comment pieces or niche social policy features that we just wouldn't run in g2. Also, do your research and find out who the Food/ Health/ Fashion/ Women and Short Cuts editors are on g2 and approach them directly rather than sending ideas just to the editor.
Following up too quickly is annoying - never follow up the same day, give it three days, minimum - but probably content annoys me the most. Pitching interviews is always a bug-bear (unless it's Bob Dylan, don't bother - we have contacts with personal PRs in LA and New York; you, generally, don't - you're just pitching the remote possibility of a person). Also, not keeping their emails short. A good story can be summed up in 2/3 paragraphs, no more.
To get my attention I need you to send a good idea, with a solid understanding of what the hook should be (I've lost count of the amount of features pitches that can be undone by asking the question: "Why write this piece now and not a year ago?" But perhaps even more importantly, an idea that's specifically targeted to the magazine, with an understanding of the section it's for, and the angle it would take, including art/design etc.
Pitch to the relevant editor of the section. It's not hard to find this out, and if you mess up on this part, we won't have much faith in your general journalistic/fact-finding skills.
Features Editor, G2
Style Director, Men's Health
No editor or commissioning editor is going to respond to a generic round robin email, or to an email that has quite clearly just been copied and pasted and the name changed at the top.
If the first email and a follow-up have not garnered a response, a follow-up phone call is fine. But don't phone the minute after you have sent the pitch.
If a writer makes an egregious spelling or grammatical mistake in their email, it will not get a response. I am amazed at how many people misspell my surname, for example.
Make the subject heading really clear. Something like "New features idea from an award-winning writer" would be eye-catching (if true!).
Craft a really short, to-the-point email that is clearly written specifically for the recipient, taking care to spell their name correctly. Maybe start by referencing a piece in their publication that you liked (a bit of flattery never hurts) or mention any mutual contact (if appropriate).
Introduce yourself in a line and add no more than three weblinks to recent work of yours that demonstrate what you can do.
Say what your idea is in a nutshell, why you think it is relevant to the publication you're pitching to, and how you would approach it. This should be one short paragraph.
Sign off with something that invites a response but isn't too demanding, e.g. "Please could you let me know you have got this email and if this is something that interests you..."
The most annoying thing someone can do is to show no knowledge of the magazine, clearly having done no research about the kind of feature ShortList publishes.
The best way for a new writer to get my attention is a clear, precise and SHORT pitch. If you can’t sum up your idea in two sentences, then it’s not going to work in the mag. I’d also love it if a writer sent in picture ideas with it – that’s the way I ask my staff to pitch.
Know who you are pitching (haven’t run it before, relevant) No generic mails
Love the one you’re with (flattery, show that you care)
Be realistic (interviews)
Deliver the perfect email
Keep it short
Make them care (hook, why now)
Make their life easy (Cheap or free photos? headline?)
Follow-up correctly (busy people)
The Golden Rules of pitching
The view from
the features desk
Don't pretend to know and love the magazine but then very obviously not have a clue what the magazine is about and pitch features we'd never run.
We get lots of generic pitch emails too, which have clearly been sent to a million people - they get deleted straight away. And people who ask for pitching guidelines or word rates - just send us a pitch, already!
Vague emails bomb too - 'I was wondering whether you'd like something on the monarchy'. It's not up to me to work out an angle for you. What do you want to say about the monarchy? Tell me!
And pitches which are just feeble disguises for blagging: 'I thought you might like something about the luxury hotel industry in Maldives'.
Send us three brilliant ideas, all in the same format: killer headline, four lines of pitch which get me intrigued by the story, and a suggestion of how I might illustrate the piece (e.g. there are some amazing free photos at this website etc). Make it really easy for me to see the completed piece in my mind. And compliment my magazine - all commissioning editors are suckers for a bit of flattery.
Don’t rush the pitch. A day spent crafting one or two pitches is far better spent than churning out 20.
Use your best quotes or statistics in your pitch – your best material should go in the pitch and your commissioning editor would expect you to use it again in the feature.
The Golden Rules of getting recommissioned
Deliver on / before deadline
Deliver to wordcount
Deliver clean copy
Stick to your pitch
Help with pictures
Be ready for the subs' questions
Attention: Editor of Delayed Gratification
I am writing to you regarding the prospect of having the attached article published within the upcoming 2013 issue of Delayed Gratification.
My article is regarding the how our need for instant gratification influences our abilities to set NewYear's resolutions that last.
It would be greatly appreciated if you could read the article and advise me of its worthiness of publication within your magazine.
look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
One line: Hello, (the right) person's name, flattery.
One line: I am a freelance journalist and I have a feature idea I'd like to put forward for this section / this issue, with this hook
2-3 paragraphs of description. Arresting fact / quote / statistic in first line to grab attention. Explain idea as concisely as possible while covering key points. If access / interviews needed, add line about how you will get them.
One line: suggested images (links or attached)
One line: examples of past work (links or attached)
Last line: appreciative sign-off
Top ten (actually 14) sub desk bugbears
‘Nominated for two Brit Awards with plaudits from everyone from Elton John to Burt Bacharach to Carly Simon, Time Out’s Kim Taylor Bennett talks to jazz singer Rumer about loss, a new world order and learning to accept herself.’
Switching tenses mid-story – always a laborious rewrite job, and very easy to miss the odd wrong ‘un along the way.
Verbatim transcription in quotes
(unless idiom is important to the piece) Quotes that still contain lots of ers, yeah wells and I means. Clean up your quotes – it’s only polite!
Have you explained everything sufficiently so there are no obvious questions for a general reader who doesn’t know the subject as well as you do? E.g. If you’re talking about someone who’s not famous, did you give their age, occupation, where they’re from? If you alluded to an esoteric novel, did you put in a quick descriptive clause like ‘a ‘70s cult sci-fi
novel’? If you’re writing about Jimmy Choo for a gardening magazine,
did you remember to tell people he makes shoes? Don’t leave people hanging!