If you want to have any chance of making it as a food writer, you need to know how to grab an editor’s interest with a short description or essay pitch.
1) Boring Pitches
Put yourself in the editor’s shoes. Would this pitch excite you? Really? Are you sure? Seriously? Well, have you taken the time to craft or polish your writing in a way that will intrigue a reader? Style matters. Your pitch is a writing sample, Sherlock. Langholtz said this is her number one pet peeve. “I receive boring pitches all the time. It’s clear when someone doesn’t take the time to write something in a way that feels exciting to me.”
2) No Clips
Editors need to gauge your skillset to consider you for an assignment. Before an editor takes a chance on your idea, you need to demonstrate that you are a good writer. “People will pitch me stories, but they won’t send me any clips. Even if it’s a link to your personal blog or an attachment, I need to know if you are a good writer when you pitch me.” And don’t be afraid to send a clip that is outside the editor’s subject area — good writing is good writing!
3) Poor Clips
Do not send clips that you are not proud of. “I’m assuming a clip is the best example of their work. This is the best piece you’ve got? If the writing is not great, why would I want to give you an assignment?” If you are not sure how to choose your best work, ask a trusted person to review your work before sending it to an editor.
4) Sending Resumes
Unless you are being considered for a job, editors do not care about your resume. “That shows me they don’t know about this field. I don’t care where you went to school or if you know French — it’s better not to include your resume.” D’accord?
5) Tone Deaf Pitches
Have a firm grasp of the publication. Know the audience. Think about what they would want to read. It’s for them. “Know my beat. Send me a pitch that says you know what my publication is about.” Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan are far more likely run an article about a new farm-to-table restaurant that compensates farmers in a unique way than they are to publish a profile of the CEO of a fast food chain — unless the chain was starting a new local sourcing initiative.
6) Bad Timing
Digital and in-print publications operate on different production schedules. You are better off asking an editor about his or her production schedule than sending a pitch that is entirely out of context, time-wise. Sometimes the best season to pitch an article about summer corn is early winter because magazines need months of lead-time to edit, layout and print the piece. If you want great, original photos of the corn in the right season, you may want to pitch the piece an entire year early when the ears are as high as an elephant’s eye.
7) Weak Lede
Pitches with weak ledes conjure despair. A lede is the first line of a story or a pitch. Sometimes the first line of a pitch becomes the first line of the resulting story. Ledes are supposed to serve as attention getters. If an opener is good enough to grab a reader at first glance, it will likely also be good enough to seize an editor’s attention. Do not ruin your potentially good pitch by inserting the verb “is” or “to be” into the opening sentence or paragraph of your lede because forms of the verb “to be” often make for flaccid writing: Is, are, am, was, were, be, being, been, has…. etc.” Try interesting verbs like “conjure.”
8) Lack of Storytelling
A lack of storytelling is a common mistake among novices, especially when writing interviews. Don’t submit a story that chronicles everything that happened in order. Your story should captivate an audience, not give them a play by play. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times….”
9) Writing in the First Person
Unless you are pitching a personal essay, there is absolutely no reason to include “I” in a pitch. Langholtz said she notices a lot of young writers using their own story where it doesn’t belong. Not everything is about you. At least at first.
10) Attempting to Connect with the Editor on Mutual Interests
As much as we wish this were true, editors are not our friends. It’s nice that you may share similar interests, but an editor is reading your email to see if you’ve got strong ideas and promise great writing. Deliver the goods.