FWA: Can you tell us from your experience what stages a pitch goes through on its journey from idea to publication?
OS: The stages are many and sometimes unfold over a very long time. There is the idea stage, which is easy and fun. “I want to write about this!” Then there is the initial research stage. Here you begin to do some reporting. Find a main character. Find the main story. Understand some of the key issues involved. Then you write up the pitch and send it to an editor.
Hopefully the idea lands and your pitch is accepted. But sometimes it doesn’t and you have to try somewhere else. Or sometimes an editor will be interested but wants you to do some more reporting before they send through a contract. Once the pitch is accepted, reporting begins. Depending on the story, this might take a week or it might take a year. And then when you’re done reporting, you write it up, send it away, and await edits, fact checking, line editing, design. Then, eventually, you’ll see it published. You’ll write a tweet about it and get a few likes and retweets.
FWA: What are some of the common traps awaiting writers new to the pitching process?
OS: The biggest trap, I think, is confusing an idea or topic with a story. You might want to write about how spiritual leaders are using social media to spread their message. If you pitch this to an editor, they will not be interested. It’s too vague. Too abstract. But if you find a story about a young woman who left her family to join a commune of spiritual Instagram users living in Costa Rica, the editor is more likely to be interested. In other words, don’t pitch topics and ideas, pitch stories. If you want to write about a certain topic, don’t pitch until you have a compelling story through which to explore this topic. And always keep your eye out for good stories, even if they don’t necessarily connect to a topic or idea you’re supposed to be interested in.
FWA: What’s the main thing you hope students of Pitching for Publication will take away from the course?
OS: I hope that students will be able to leave the course with the confidence to go and pitch some of the world’s best magazines and journals.
Pitching for Publication
with Oscar Schwartz
25 May – 8 June, 2022