Day 1: Welcome! Let’s Get Your Mind Set for Pitching Success

Each and every one of you have opted to participate in this Pitchapalooza for different reasons.

Some of you are new to travel writing and looking to get those first pitches out the door. Others have been blogging for some time but feel like writing for magazines is a glass ceiling you’re not sure how to break through. And others still have been freelance travel writing but not getting the volume of the type of work you’d really like to be doing, the work you took up this job to do.

This program is designed with all of these levels in mind, because so much of what we do, whether in my daily email missives or in your post-reading activities is designed not to be a sort of “Travel Writing 101” to cover all the same bases, but rather practical lessons that will reach you where you are and move you to the next level for you.

What We Will Be Covering and What Your Should Plan to Do
Each day you’ll get an email from me (the lesson will also be posted in the online program website if you prefer not to receive the daily emails) with a little bit to read and an activity. If the reading is long, the activity will be shorter, and vice versa.

Many daily activities ask you to produce something and post it in the forum it to inform your future assignments or to get comments and feedback from me.

In order to make sure we can all keep up and together, I will try to keep the combination of each day’s reading and lesson between 30 and 60 minutes. If you are having trouble keeping up, I know many, many tricks for making all aspects of travel writing and pitching more efficient and quick, but different ones work best for different people, so let me know what you’re struggling with and we’ll get you sorted before anything feels too onerous.

Our Week-by-week Schedule

Each week will have lessons and activities that build open the previous week but have their own focus. For your reference and planning, here are the lessons and activities in overview; I’ve got something assigned for each specific day already, but I might move specific topics around based on people’s needs.

  • Week 1: Lessons and activities designed to change the way you look at magazines, what is published in them, what is an article “idea,” and how to generate ideas from your own trips.
  • Week 2: Lessons around the make-up of magazines in terms of article types and articles themselves. Activities familiarizing ourselves with specific magazines and creating the building blocks of our pitches accordingly.
  • Week 3: Lessons on article structure, tone, and style options, including narrative arcs and the use of description and characters, and how to choose the best for each piece. Writing activities around choose scenes and details from your experiences to include in your pitches.
  • Week 4: Lessons on the most common issues I see in queries from unseasoned pitchers and how to spot and fix them in your own writing. Polish your pitch sections generated the previous week and add the final headlines and paragraphs for this week’s activities.
  • Week 5: Lessons around the next steps once the pitch is written, from finding the right editor to negotiating rates, as well as laying out the ideas you will pitch in advance for your next trip. Activities around making your pitching a regular part of your writing life after the At-Home Pitchapalooza Program has ended.

This program is designed to help you build your skills, and part of that is being able to write great pitches without me or anyone else looking over each one before it goes out the door.

Following the medical-school-style approach of “see one, do one, teach one,” it is integral to your own learning and ability to pattern the lessons in the Pitchapalooza program to chime in on the assignments of others and flex your muscles seeing what works and what doesn’t in other people’s pitches–when your own ego isn’t at stake.

That’s why commenting on others’ submissions is just as much a part of the program as completing the assignments yourself, so make sure to do so, or it is only your own learning curve that is the poorer for it.

In that vein, it should go without saying, but keep all sharing, critiquing, and commenting in the forums civil and constructive. Anything overly emotive or unprofessional will be removed and the contributor reviewed for their ability to constructively continue in the program, just as we would if one individual is creating an unsafe environment limiting the learning of others in a live program.

That being said, I have only ever seen supportive, constructive, and eye-opening shares in our online programs in the past and am sure that your contributions will be the same!

Your Task(s) for Today

When we hold weekend events in the Catskills, on Friday evening, over dinner at a huge candlelit table, we discuss the plan for the weekend as all the guests slowly get to know each others backgrounds, current circumstances, and best travel stories.

While it’s very hard to replicate those convivial conditions for everyone, it would be a great help to me, and to my reviews of your work, to start to build up that kind of context with each of you.

So, as part one of your activity for today, please take just a couple minutes to reply in the Day 1 Assignment part of the forum and let us know:

  • if you plan to commit to working through your lesson each day or working through each week over the weekend due to the constraints of other full-time employment
  • where you are with your travel writing (craft/writing-wise)
  • where you are with your travel writing (getting paid-wise)
  • where you would like your travel writing to be (more/full-time income, clips from big magazines, allow you to leave your job/become nomadic)
  • a bit about the type of traveler you are (or if you’ve lived abroad or have a similar area of expertise)

Seeing your free-form answers will also help me get a feel for the flow of your thoughts and writing and how you naturally express yourself, so I can help bring that back into your pitches (which often take on a certain formality that mangles effectiveness in an editor’s eyes when they’re looking for voice).

For the second part of today’s work, please find one (or two or three if they’re not too long or you have extra time), travel features that strike you and read it with an eye not toward reader as a consumer of travel text, but as an author of such words. Read to learn something.

I suggest paying attention to one of the following:

  • the use of the first-person
  • the inclusive and development of local characters
  • the interplay of “present” travel experience and history/political /background information
  • the amount and type if descriptive language
  • what narrative or descriptive elements contribute to the sense of place
  • what the writer uses to create an emotional response in the reader

Some good places to find inspiring magazine travel features include:

You can always choose one to start and read it again with an eye to a different element, but stick with one per pass or you won’t get an appropriately deep reading.

If you have some thoughts from your reading, especially anything that stood out to you that you feel you need to work on, that you’d like to share, feel free to post in the section of the forum for today’s assignment.

Day 2: What do editors really want?

To follow up on what we began yesterday–looking at magazines like a journalist rather than a reader–I want us to go one step further…into the editors’ shoes.

The Real Purpose of a Magazine Editor
I was just doing some editing myself last night on one of our new writers for the Travel Magazine Database. I do far less grammatical or line editing than asking myself and our writers if what they’re sharing will actually help a database user pitch the magazine in question. It reminded me of the days when I spent much more time editing than writing.

I spent many years as an editor both at a wine magazine and at a university, where my team put content out under the signature of the president, chairman, provost and various deans and nothing less than absolute perfection was a possibility. Editing a food or beverage magazine is a lot like editing a travel publication. As the editor, you occasionally partake in whatever it is your magazine covers, but you spend much more time as armchair traveler or armchair taster numero uno, making sure the author’s words portray enough detail for you to understand what they’re talking about without having experienced it yourself.

The travel editor’s job is to be the gatekeeper between you and the reader to make sure that you are not wasting their readers time, that you are giving readers exactly what they’ve come looking for, whether that is succinct tactical advice for tackling a tricky destination or a trip to the other side of a world over a lunch break from a dead-end job that will never cover that dream trip to the museums of Paris.

So that means that it is our job, in turn, both in our pitches and article submissions, to give the editor the closest thing we can muster to what she aims to give her readers consistently each month. That starts with the topic, then the article’s slant, then the format of the piece, and finally its voice.

When we hit a home run, covering all four of these bases in one pitch, that’s an editor’s dream pitch.

And believe me, editors do dream of perfect pitches as much as we do. Because you would not believe what 70 percent of the pitches they receive look like. Why 70 percent? There’s another big chunk, 20 to 25 percent that you would probably think look and sound totally fine, but to an editor, they are missing key elements the end reader needs for a successful article. It sounds like a lot of you are stuck in this zone right now, and everything we are going to do in the next few weeks is designed to push you into the upper 1 percent (quality-wise) of pitches editors are receiving.

Because, and you may have noticed this yesterday when you were looking for travel features to read, most of the travel content being published in magazines is not mind-blowing. It’s not better than what a lot of people are putting on their blogs.

What is the difference between you and these oft-published writers?
The difference between the people whose words appear in these magazines and everyone else is that they do not give up and do not settle. They blithely pitch the biggest name magazines because “why not,” and keep following up with editors until they get a response.

Full-time freelance travel writers I know that write exclusively for magazines and newspapers–and the household name ones in particular–are ALWAYS pitching. If you don’t like to pitch a lot, you can set yourself up with some recurring content marketing gigs or stick to trade magazines, but the thing is, those destination features in well-known publications are there for the taking.

They’re not written by Chaucer. Just someone who has gained an editor’s trust.

And there are three steps to doing that:

  • demonstrate you understand the publication
  • prove you are easy to work with
  • display a never-ending font of well-aimed ideas

Today we’re going to tackle the first one. I’ve set you all up with accounts on the Travel Magazine Database for this program.

  • If you didn’t already have one, you can log in with your first initial and last name (all one word) and the password dotw2018DOTW (please change it after you log in).
  • If you have an annual subscription already, I’ve pushed out the date on your subscription.
  • If you have a monthly subscription, I’ll refund your next recurring payment when it comes in.

Your Task for Today
We’re going to go for a bit of a swim. In the wide ocean of magazines. You can stick to what is in the Travel Magazine Database, grab some issues from your book shelf, cruise Magster or Zinio, or take a trip to the bookstore.

The goal is to spend a set amount of time (I recommend setting a timer for five minutes less than you plan to spend because you’ll invariably get caught up in an interesting new magazine and need a wake up call) familiarizing yourself (shallowly) with the types of articles published by as many magazines as possible.

Aim to be surprised by magazines you didn’t know existed, sections that look very easy to pitch that you had never considered before, or intriguing article foci and formats that get your creative juices going.

Find five magazine stories or sections that piqued your interest for one of the reasons above and share the full text of the section from the database in the Day 2 section of the forum.

We’ll do more dives like this for focused pitch generations later, but the goal right now is to expand your horizons of what is possible and pitchable and start to retrain your eyes and brain to see new stories and article ideas.

Today, I don’t want you to get too mired in looking at specific publications that you’re jonesing to pitch; this is about getting a broader familiarity with the types of stories editors need from freelancers.

Day 3: What would you *like* to write about?

What I want to explore today is a way to reframe your estimation of what you specialize in away from what you know well to what you’d like to learn more about. Because “writing what you know” can be a tricky issue for travel writers, who are motivated more at their cores by a search for novelty than comfort and the familiar.

I’ve borrowed the “research interest” terminology from academia, because we, as travel writers, share something important with professors and other professional researchers. Our jobs are built around exploring our topic of expertise, discovering new things to share on these topics, and publishing text that shares those insights with the world.

Academics are always evolving what they are researching, not just because of new developments in the field, but also because they find new aspects that pique their interest. No matter how old they are or how long they’ve worked in the field.

My husband’s Ph.D. advisor at Princeton is incredibly distinguished in an area of computer science that’s more like math (I believe they trace their advisor-advisee lineage back to Einstein or something), but has recently become very taken with practical applications of his work. A total 180 from his long-established theoretical work.

Keeping your research interests flexible is key to long-term success as a travel writer.

We all go into this field because we’ve decided that pursuing what we love is more important than something else easier to learn or more easily lucrative. So when we’re not loving it, because we prioritize passion, it’s hard to stick to it.

So today, we going to pick travel writing research interests for you that will inform your upcoming trips and pitches so that you’re able to use this job to continually get paid to learn new things that interest you about the world.

Your Task(s) for Today
We’re going to set up two different types of research interests for you: topical and geographic.

There are so, so many different topical niches within travel writing. Here is just a starter list to get your brain going in the right direction:

  • sailing
  • boating
  • biking
  • RVs
  • road trips
  • train travel
  • pilgrimages/long-distance walking
  • hiking
  • surfing
  • running/trail running
  • scuba diving
  • hang gliding
  • canoeing
  • kayaking
  • cooking classes
  • types of cuisine (Indian, Italian, South African, etc.)
  • weird/gross foods
  • pastries
  • agritourism or farm-to-table cuisine
  • wine
  • beer
  • cider
  • whiskey
  • spirits generally
  • sculpture
  • public art/street art
  • modern art or architecture
  • ancient art or architecture
  • medieval/gothic art or architecture
  • renaissance art or architecture
  • spa-ing
  • jewelry artisans
  • cloth artists
  • maker culture
  • indigenous cultures
  • hybrid cultures
  • developing cultures
  • high-tech cultures
  • living abroad or the intricacies of doing it in a specific country
  • responsible travel
  • ecotourism
  • rural tourism
  • urban tourism
  • off-the-beaten-path/”undiscovered” destinations
  • luxury travel
  • budget travel
  • culinary travel/food tours
  • reward (points and miles) travel
  • family travel
  • multi-generational travel
  • traveling solo as a female
  • destination weddings
  • voluntourism
  • study abroad
  • national/regional parks

Pick three from this list or your own brainstorming that you feel excited enough about to commit yourself to focusing on in the year ahead. Some will pan out, yielding great stories and relationships with editors who know you as the “undiscovered” destination person, others might not interest you as much as you thought and get replaced over time.

Then there are geographic research interests. Here we’re talking not just about where you live (although if you haven’t lived there long, that might not be your first choice), but places you’ve lived in the past and are very familiar with, or places you have an academic background in from your reading, language training, and research and would like to learn more about.

Here also, pick three, but vary them. When I started freelancing, for a long time I used:

  • Italy (lived there, degree in Italian)
  • Japan (only academic background, worked for the MIT Japan program for years)
  • California (grew up there, lived there briefly recently and did a lot of local travel, go back often to visit relatives so lots of opportunities for fresh research).

Now I’m more about these destinations:

  • New York (I’ve lived here long enough to finally have something to say about it!)
  • the Southeastern U.S. (started getting assigned stories there for my regular editor, took a lot of trips, and now I’m an expert!)
  • Italy (sunk too much time into this one to let go! though I adore Greece and am slowing inching that in more and more)

Pick three geographic foci with different levels of scope (countries/regions/cities), then share your three topics and three geographic areas in the Day 3 section of the forum.


Day 4: What do editors need from us most?

I’m going to keep the “lecture” part of today short(ish), as the activity for the day might take you a little while to get through depending on how organized you are.

We delved a little earlier this week into why editors, and travel editors in particular, need freelancers, but today, we’re going to take that a little further and help you better understand exactly what it is you provide to editors.

Are You Really Getting Paid for Your Writing?
When putting together the invitation information for our last IdeaFest retreat, I was reminded of a talk full of some of the best freelancing advice I’ve heard in a while.

Geoff van Dyke is truly a lovely person, but he also happens to be not only an accomplished editor of an award-winning city magazine, but also a former successful freelancer, who left a full-time job at Men’s Journal to freelance, because even at a magazine of that caliber, he found:

One of the epiphanies I had at Men’s Journal was that there are not that many great freelance writers out there, because my job was rewriting people who were professional writers.

When he started freelancing, because he understood what editors needed, he was able to make $40,000 the first year with no clips or relationships and go on to quickly double it.

But it wasn’t because of his writing.

He understood what editors actually need from freelancers: good ideas.

That’s why now, as the editor of Denver’s 5280 magazine, he tells writers:

“Magazines are ideas that are manifest in print. As an editor, I’m hungry for ideas. When we run out of ideas, the magazine sucks. I don’t really care if the writer has a lot of experiences. If they demonstrate through their pitch they can at least give a good faith effort on it, we can take it across the finish line.

“I always encourage people not to hold themselves back when pitching. Because you’re just screwing yourself. What’s the worst they can do? They say “no.” But you never know. Magazine editors are hungry for ideas. Don’t be afraid.”

The Difference Between Freelance and In-House Ideas
How we come up with good ideas is the stuff of many lessons, and I’ll be stealthily teaching you how to do so through many of our activities (it may feel like Karate Kid exercises at times, but I promise it’s teaching you the skills you absolutely need to do the job well and successfully!).

But it’s important to always remember that while travel editors are primarily stuck at their computers, getting their information from press releases, blogs, and other magazines, we are on the road getting information that has no way of making it to a travel editor otherwise.

For the huge anniversary of the U.S. National Park service this year, everyone and their mom was pitching editors ideas on the park system, and editors were doing a lot of parks coverage, but they weren’t typically buying these ideas from freelancers.

Because editors knew about this anniversary themselves long before we freelancers even thought to pitch it, they were brainstorming how they wanted to cover the anniversary in editorial meetings and then assigning those ideas out.

Editors need us to come up with the other ideas they would never get their hands on but that their readers can benefit from. That is part of what they are paying us, as freelancers, to do. To be the correspondent or stringer no matter where we are based (and whether we’re writing about where we live or places we travel to).

So before we get to our pitch writing, we’re going to do a resource inventory that we will access both to formulate the pitches we’ll write during this program and the ones that we will plan during the last week to write after our time together (and I hope you will continue to share the results of these in the forum even after June 30 so that we can all continue to support each other and give feedback on one another’s pitches).

Your Task for Today
I warned you. It’s a bit of a whopper if you’re not organized.

As today’s assignment, please compile a list of every trip that you took in the past year and share it in the Day 4 section of the forum.

For the purposes of this assignment, “trip” does not only mean a 10-day trek in the Andes. It is:

  • an afternoon trip from where you’re based to another major city or small town in driving distance
  • a weekend trip (to see family or for leisure) that wasn’t to somewhere particularly “exciting”
  • any press tours you’ve been on even if just one tour locally where you live
    travel for conferences or other meetings for work outside of travel writing
  • and so on…(If you’re not sure what counts, email me and ask.)

Compiling this list will also help you with your taxes (if you’re U.S.-based and don’t already have expense reports made up), as it will show you all of the transportation, meals, and activities that you should be writing off on your taxes (in the other category as research expenses, not in the travel and food and entertainment sections!).

If you’re not already using it, I recommend setting up a free account with TripIt, which will hold all of your travel reservations and keep then handy not only for when you travel, but also when you do your taxes or expense reports.

For each trip on this list, try to note down the general topic area of the things you did/saw and the amount of time spent if you have time to help the rest of us if we are making recommendations for which magazines you should pitch later in the group.

Now that you’ve started to familiarize yourself more widely with what magazines are looking for, feel free to chime in (later today, over the weekend or whenever you have time) on other people’s trip lists if you have recently seen a magazine section that sounds like a match. It will help lay the ground for the assignment for tomorrow that you can also spend more time on over the weekend.

Enjoy your “time travels” (what I call it when I relive the memories of past trips to pull up trip ideas)!

Day 5: Extracting the ore of your article gold

I know a lot of you are still working through yesterday’s lesson, and that is the one that I can’t make any faster for you, but it will provide a lot of benefits, so take your time and get it done when you can, and then chime in the forum on other people’s lists if you’ve noticed something in your time wandering the Travel Magazine Database that could be a fit.

We’re going to do some work with the database for Monday’s lesson, so if you are having any trouble getting into your account, let me know so we can get you sorted before then.

Turning Your Trip List into Salable Ideas
As I’ve explored in a few of the past lessons, editors really need ideas, but they prefer (or in the case of big magazines, only care about your ideas if) those ideas come pre-packaged matched to holes in their magazines.

So as you work through today’s lesson, finish yesterday’s if you haven’t already completed it, and explore the Travel Magazine Database or your local library or bookstore, I caution you don’t not to get too attached to anything specific, whether an experience from your trip or a magazine section.

There’s an expression that I love:

You can have anything you want. Just not always the way you expected.

I’ve seen it bear fruit countless times over the years for things big (a spouse or a relocation to a dream country) and more day-to-day (income when you need it, that first dollar-a-word assignment, or getting to a country that’s been on your bucket list since you were little).

We will get this trips pitch and get you article assignments, but they’re not usually going to be the ones you’re most attached to, so work on keeping an open mind and heart about even article topic from early in the process.

Your Task(s) for Today
So far we’ve narrowed down the geographic and topical areas we are going to carve out some time to really research and become more expert in in the year ahead and looked at where we’ve gone in the previous year.

Now, let’s match them up. Choose two preferably one-to-(maximum)-five-day trips from your list. I encourage you to not chose the whopper 10-day trips at this point because those will be much easier to work with once we’re further into the course, and it would be nice for our work ahead to have a couple locations to work with rather than one trip that you’re beating to death by pitching only that for the next few weeks!

Pick two trips that somehow match your foci for the year, whether topically or geographically or both. If you were on our webinar on breaking down a trip, you’ve seen me do this with several of my own past trips, and you can rewatch that here.

For each trip, you need to grab the full itinerary (or just write it down if it was a personal trip) and fill in every moment that could potentially be a story.

I know those of you who follow our webinars have heard me extolling the virtues of making your pitch process magazine-then-idea rather than idea-the-magazine, but we’re going to do a hybrid model.

And I want you to have this list of rough article ideas to go back to in an assignment at the end of the course where you’ll have fresh eyes (as I frequently hear from people about their pitches in general after webinars), so that we can look at what general tune-ups and adjustments we can make to how you think up article ideas going forward.

So think of this list as the raw clay, the blank piece of paper, the full slab of marble. It is, for each trip, the starting font from which article ideas come, both the ideas themselves.

If you’ve read either of these blog posts on breaking ideas into pitches, we’re only doing step one right now. Don’t start matching these topics with different types if audiences or going crazy on article formats. Just figure the elements of your trip now, and later we’ll spin into multiple article types like this example around a restaurant meal, which can turn into:

  • a profile of the chef
  • a recipe-driven food story on a type of cuisine
  • a food heritage feature
  • a round-up of places to eat a certain food
  • a review of a restaurant or cooking school
  • a play-by-play of a cooking class with recipes at the end, and more

The types of experiences to include in your blown-out itinerary are things like:

  • aspects of a culture you didn’t know before and became familiar with through a particular moment
  • trends you notices and the experience or establishment that led you to notice them
  • tours
  • meals
  • attractions you visited in purpose
  • attractions you stumbled upon
  • interesting walks you took
  • interesting neighborhoods you came across
  • interesting interactions with locals or other visitors
  • and so on

There are quite a few examples in the forum!

Day 6: Which magazines will we pitch (for now) and why?

On to today’s lesson…the reading is a little long, so if you’re short on time, you can jump to the assignment and come back to the reading later.

An interesting thing has happened among travel writers who are still looking for their big break (from a magazine publishing standpoint), in recent years.

It used to be that most people in this cohort were almost singularly focused on national publications like National Geographic Traveler, Budget Travel, The New York Times travel section, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure or magazines of that caliber on a more local level like Sunset and The San Francisco Chronicle in the west.

Increasingly, and I’ve been very excited to see this in some of the lessons people have completed for this program, freelance writers are excitedly turning their gaze toward other publications that aren’t already drowning in so many pitches they can just delete your email because they don’t know who you are like a snotty big city restaurant that won’t you make a reservation.

The reason this makes me so happy to see is that it’s simply much more sustainable to spend your time working on pitches for editors who need them. You’re less likely to get disheartened, more likely to get assignments, and even more likely to get favorable responses (even if they’re no’s for the moment, because there’s a similar story already in the hopper or they’ve covered the destination too much recently).

The Publications That Need You Most

When I was first starting to freelance, I heard a webinar with Bob Howells on travel writing in which he outlined how he broke into Outside magazine, one of those extremely hungered after clips like The New Yorker that you could spend a lifetime working toward and still never bag. He even became a freelance editor for the magazine through his writing work.

But he didn’t impress Outside‘s editors with his travel background. He brought them something else they didn’t have: expertise in cycling gear. He used this to score short front-of-book pieces that grew into buyer’s guides and other longer assignments.

I had you spend some time thinking last week about what topical and geographic niches you’d like to explore, because these area form the foundation not only of your ability, over time, to make inroads with major magazines, but offer two important advantages in the short-term:

  • specializing offers editors an instant answer to their natural question when they get a pitch they like: “can this writer really do this idea justice?”
  • having prior expertise in the geographic or topical area you’re writing about saves you research time when you’re working on pitches or writing (keeping your all-important hourly rate up!)

I asked you to choose both geographic and topical foci, because those editors are in an interesting position. They might really not get that many pitches, in which case, if you hit them with something coherent and somewhat a fit, they’re happy to help you work it into something usable.

But, more often than not, editors of magazines with a topical or geographic focus get an especially high percentage of pitches from people who happen to live in a place or know about a topic and have something to say that they think the magazine would publish…even if they have no writing experience and even less clue what makes a good idea for a magazine article.

Editors at these magazines (as well as trade magazines, which are sort of topical magazines on steroids that I haven’t mentioned them, because you approach them with a letter of introduction not a pitch letter, so they’re outside the scope of this program, but we will circle back to them the last week of the program) are usually *super hungry* for pitches from real writers (as we saw the editor of Denver’s 5280 magazine say last week). And, yes, please hold any objections, you are a real writer.

That’s why we’re going to focus on publications that fit our research interests for this month. If you can prove to these editors that you are hardworking and easy to work with, you’ll quickly lay the groundwork for many more assignments to come. If you’re looking to build a sustainable income or sub out some lay-paying writing clients with something that pays better that you enjoy more, this is the way to do it.

If you’ve got some major magazines, especially ones that are quite general in their travel coverage or are actually lifestyle publications with only a smaller percentage of travel content, don’t fret! We’re going to work with these magazines for the time being because geo- and topic-focused titles provide the easiest and quickest path to on-going relationship with editors and features even for newer writers. You can easily apply everything we’re doing to your household-name publications once you’ve tried it out on some lower-tier pubs.

Your Task(s) for Today
First and foremost, if you do not already have a time tracker set up, I highly recommend installing one now (Toggl is widely recommended; I use OfficeTime, which also has a free trial if you just want something quick and easy for now).

The single biggest problem that I’ve seen hold people who don’t pitch enough back from doing more is that they say it takes them too long.

Spend the rest of the month recording how long it takes you to do each task for this program (with different “projects” set up for each lesson now and later each pitch, once we start writing them, so after we work on them in chunks, you can look back and see which ones took longer and we can work together to figure out why!) This will also keep you from getting lost in the research rabbit hole, because you’ll see your timer ticking away.

Next, we’re going to put together a target list of magazines to approach this quarter.

When I’m looking to add more magazine clients to my income stream, I like to have ten new magazines at a time that I’m looking to break into. I start by making a list of everyone I would like to build an on-going relationship with, and then I assign out ten each month to reach out to for the first time.

Deciding in advance takes a lot of the guess work out at pitching time, but also allows you to subconsciously scout ideas that could be a good fit long before you sit down to pitch, so you have a lot of material for each magazine and never suffer from blank-screen-induced writer’s block.

Today, we’re going to put together a list of thirty magazines to target (and tomorrow we’ll sift out which ones we’ll pitch this month based on how the sections those magazine need freelancers for fit the trips we have already taken and are ready to pitch).

I encourage you to grab them from the full breakdowns in the Travel Magazine Database if possible, because it will make tomorrow’s assignment and your pitches easier, but we don’t have deep coverage yet in several geographic areas, so if you have a copy on a magazine on hand or can easily get one (online or in print), feel free to also use others. Don’t choose magazines you can’t get your hands on, because you shouldn’t pitch a magazine you haven’t seen at least once copy of. It’s one of the easiest ways to ensure you put a lot of time into writing up an idea that an editor could never possible use in her publication.

Here’s how to put together your list:

  • pick five magazines for each of your three geographical and three topical foci
  • don’t feel restricted to magazines that cover only your focus area; if you want to specialize in Japan, Action Asia could be a great choice, likewise an airline magazines for a carrier with frequent service to Narita
  • be careful not to populate your entire list for any focus with very specifically niche publications, which, with the exception of trade magazines, tend not to pay particularly well

For example, if one of my foci were Southern (southeastern U.S.) cuisine, I might pick a mix of general regional and regional food titles, such as Southern Living, The Local Palate, Charleston magazine, Savannah magazine, and Edible Asheville, in which Southern Living pays very well, Charleston and Savannah do as well, but more like $0.50-1.00/word rather than $2.00/word, and Edible Asheville is a bit of a wildcard pay-wise, but a beautiful publication I could generate TONs of ideas for because of my knowledge of the area.

Not sure something fits? Post to the forum while you’re working on your list.

If you are active in the group, please chime in on others’ posts with suggestions of publications to include or other thoughts on balancing others’ lists.

Day 7: The matching begins

Whenever I do a webinar on pitching, I always start out with at least five or ten minutes reminding listeners that no matter how good they may think their pitch idea is, it’s all for naught if the editor could never possibly use it.

There are three common causes of editors not being able to consider ideas pitched by freelancers, and they’ll all get you a bong (a rejection of one kind or another):

  1. a pitch that isn’t about anything in particular, i.e. an email that is practically a press release in terms of giving too much information about something, a hotel, attraction, or an entire trip because it doesn’t have a point (a clear request that the editor commission a certain story)
  2. the topic doesn’t fit the magazine’s content (a frequent issue when you try to shoehorn a story that you think *could* fit what a magazine covers rather than choosing an idea that is *actually* like what it covers)
  3. the idea is interesting to the editor as a person, but doesn’t seem to fit any editorial sections the magazine has, or has available to freelance writers

One of the easiest ways to avoid getting a bong is to ground your pitch firmly in something that the editor needs: a solution to a hole in his or her magazine that exists every month, constantly demanding more and more new answers to the same question.

Editors Have Specific Needs, and They’re Easy for Us to Fill

In the applications for new writers for the Travel Magazine Database, I received a very apropos email from an editor of a national magazine who also freelances for publications like Travel + Leisure and Mental Floss. She said,

“Too often, I have writers pitch me stories that just aren’t a good fit for us, or that simply wouldn’t fit in our existing editorial structure. (I also have writers ask me what they should write!)”

“Seeing exactly what sections appear in a magazine and being able to easily access its editorial positioning and target audience is a huge help in both deciding what to pitch and where to pitch. I think when people imagine a freelance writer’s work, they usually focus on the actual writing portion, rather than the hours of research that can go into it.”

If you’ve spent some time exploring the magazine database on your own or for an assignment, you’ve no doubt come across a lot of incredibly specific (and often surprising) magazine sections like:

  • National Geographic Traveller‘s “Snapshot:” a 50-100-word, first-person description of an encounter with a person in an international location, such as meeting a priest in Italy and overcoming the communication barrier with gestures, followed by the priest gifting his rosary beads and providing a blessing.
  • Enroute’s “Insider’s Guide:” a profile of Canadian native who is now based abroad. There is a 70-word sidebar introduction followed by a 250-word first person article outlining four of their favorite spots in their adopted city. This frequently includes restaurants, parks, and hotels with their addresses and phone numbers included. Recent examples of cities covered include Vienna, Quito, and Tulum.
  • Adventure Travel’s “Adventure Academy,” which looks to the experts for lessons on adventure trips in the four categories of “Photography,” “Mountain Skills,” “Fitness,” and “Bushcraft.” For each respective category, a recent issue teaches “How to Take the Perfect Shot,” “How to Avoid Avalanches in Winter,” “Understanding What Keeps You Going on the Mountain,” and “How to Start a Fire With a Fire Steel.” This section is written in second-person instructional format with each subsection ranging from 500 to 600 words.
  • Conde Nast Traveller‘s “Way of Life:” a 1,000-word article written in third person about the home or hotel of a notable person that you can stay in. In a recent issue, the Cotswolds house where Nancy Mitford grew up is featured. (via Stacy Brooks)
  • United Airlines’ Rhapsody‘s “From the Sideboard:” a drinks-themed section focusing on an area or place that United Airlines fly to. The section is approximately 300-500 words and includes quotes from an interview with a bar manager or vineyard owner, for example. This section is often followed by a short section recommending drinks or a cocktail recipe. Article examples include “Vine of the Times” about wine production in Portugal and “Prix-Fixe Pours.” (via Hillary Richard)
  • Saveur‘s “A Meal to Remember:” a photo that is the final embodiment of each issue and a short 250-word story written in first person about a memorable meal. A recent example titled “The Spearfisher’s Dinner” is about a spearfisher who catches her own dinner while free diving 75-feet below water in the Bahamas.(via Elizabeth Georgian)

Each of these descriptions conveys many things that should shape your pitch:

  • the regular length of the article
  • the type of research required for the article (via previous angles)
  • the article’s tone
  • topics the editor has accepted for this section previously

Looking through the entry for each magazines further, you’ll also find more information that shapes the ideas you can pitch to this section:

  • a description of the magazine’s readers (the “Target Audience” section of the “Demographics” tab
  • the magazine’s differentiation factors in terms of coverage and voice (the “Editorial Positioning” section in the “Description” tab)

If you’re not accustomed to working with magazine editors, and particularly if you have your own blog, it’s easy to skim over some of this information. You feel like you have ideas that you want to pitch.

But the reality of the matter is that the ideas that you come up with on your own, in a vacuum, as a new-to-magazine-writing writer, are rarely going to hit the mark, because you’re missing an important point: editors can only buy what they can publish, not what they like.

To ensure that your pitches have the absolute best chance of success, before you write a single word of them, we’re going to make sure you’re not one of the writers committing the three principal pitching errors outlined above.

Your Task Today
Today is the big day. You are going to pick which magazines you are going to pitch for this program!…..well, sort of.

More specifically, I want you to pick **the sections** you are going to pitch.

It’s more important that we get a good fit to a magazine section right now than shoehorn something into a magazine that you just can’t wait to pitch.

Here’s what I’d like you to do today:

  1. Familiarize yourself with last Friday’s assignment breaking down two of your trips.
  2. Check the Travel Magazine Database entries or your own copies of those magazines for entries that match up to things you did, saw, learned, or experienced on those trips.
  3. Balance the sections you choose so that you select three short/front-of-book sections (this is a good place to include larger magazines that are harder to break into, like AFAR or Sunset), four departments (one-to-four-page sections between the shorts in the front and the features that typically follow a clear structure like Delta Sky‘s “1 City 5 Ways” section) and three features (if you are newer to magazine publishing, choose these from smaller regional or niche magazines for the best chance of success).
  4. If you’re having trouble getting solid fits for your magazine list with the two trips you’ve broken down, circle back to your full 2017 trip list and see if something stands out as a fit for one of the magazines you’ve looked through.
  5. Having trouble making any matches? Post in the Day 7 section of the forum! We’ll get you sorted.

VERY IMPORTANT: You are not coming up with specific article angles/approaches/ideas, per se right now. Just choose topics and experiences and don’t fall too far down the rabbit hole of envisioning the idea or the pitch. We will work through many parts of the process of fit this weeks.

Only choose the sections of the magazine and the corresponding subjects from your trip for today’s assignment.

The assignment for tomorrow is to keep refining these, so we have plenty of time to make sure we get the right, tight fits.

Day 8: A perfect fit is worth more than it appears

I bought a new pair of boots in Italy, because I got caught in unexpectedly cold weather. They looked great, and when I was in the store, the sales person yanked them on for me (very common practice in Italy; you should see when they do it with jeans!), they were comfortable once I had them on, and I bought them because we were in a hurry.

Fast forward three months to this winter, a horribly slushy time in New York City, and me cursing my impulse buy as I spent five minutes trying to get the boots on over my thick cotton winter tights.

Shoehorning things that aren’t a perfect fit isn’t fun, and getting burned by it will make you incredibly guarded about making the same mistake in the future.

Editors have typically been burned many times in many ways and see from a mile away a shoehorned idea or a writer trying to shoehorn his or her writing ability in general. And they’re not about to sign up to repeat any of their past mistakes. It’s simply bad for business.

Double Entendres
The issue with trying to shoehorn an idea that you love into a publication that just doesn’t have a section for it is that you come across as someone who:

  • isn’t observant
  • believes her ideas are always right and won’t take edits well
  • doesn’t understand the editor’s publication

All of these things make you look difficult to work with.

There’s three important factors in getting on an editor’s good side and getting a response to your pitch even if this pitch isn’t a good fit for them. You need to show the editor:

  1. You have good ideas.
  2. You understand his or her publication.
  3. You behave like a professional.

The pitches that are real home runs address all three. We’re going to continue to work on honing our ideas to make sure they’re “good” this week, but getting editors to trust you is a bit like Maslov’s hierarchy of needs. Each piece is contingent on the preceding one, and you can’t resonate with an editor at a higher level until you’ve proven yourself at the more basic ones.

Editors *Want* to Hear from Your…As Long as You’re Not Crazy and Self-Absorbed
Editors are often portrayed as being incredibly skittish about working with new writers for good reasons–they are constantly wary of the possible obnoxious situations created by writers who don’t check these boxes.

And by obnoxious situations, I am not talking about emails that are too long or ideas that aren’t a fit, I’m talking about situations that are much more extreme and annoying and often simply don’t go away.

We’re going to get very real for a moment, also in terms of language because I’m including direct quotes, so prepare yourself.

A few choice examples from my own current position editing the Travel Magazine Database this past month illustrate the type of interactions I’m talking about (these are primarily in response to us telling folks we can’t consider their application because it doesn’t include the requested information):

  • “I’m quite a busy writer, so I have included everything typically asked for by prospective clients on my website to save time. Feel free to check it out if you’d like.”….then why are you pitching me? If you’re too busy to write me an email, how will you do the assignment?
  • “I don’t need this job, you git. I run a multinational company.”
  • “I’m not a trained pet here to do tricks for you. I make nearly 3 times the average, sweetheart…you can suck a dick. I’m fully aware of my value and you’re a flat the fuck out idiot if you think I don’t know my worth.” (This guy went on to stalk me on social media, swearing all the while.)

This is totally not a joke and emails like this are a completely normal part of doing business. All editors have their favorite stories about people like this that they share over dinner at conferences trying to one up one another with things like, “well, this guy CALLED me every month for five years!”

And while these seem horrific, what can actually be even worse is assigning a section to a writer only to have him or her turn in something that is completely different than what was assigned and not see the difference (we’ll talk about what questions to ask to make sure this doesn’t happen to you later in the program, but I see this happen A LOT to new writers, so if you’ve got any work in the hopper right now this could be an issue with, I encourage you to clarify anything you are 100% crystal clear the editor wants before you write anything).

When that happens an editor is left with a hole in their magazine that internal staff will have to bend over backwards to fill.

So you can see why editors are naturally skittish. But because the things they’re looking out for are typically on the extreme end of stupidity, inability to follow instructions, and just plain incivility, it’s remarkably easy to show them that you are someone they want to work with.

Sounding like a normal human is only half the battle (all of the folks quoted above sounded like reasonable people until rejected too!). A much better way to begin to get the editor to trust you is to show that you’ve done your homework on his or her publication.

Your Task for Today
When we start putting together pitches, we’ll cover specific language you can use to show the editor you’re pitching that you’re not shoehorning and have done your homework, but in the meantime, we need to make sure we’re not setting off editorial warning signs with any typical shoehorning issues.

Today, walk each of the 10 ideas you’ve matched to a magazine section through these questions:

  1. Is this destination something the publication would cover based on what you see in other issues?
  2. Is the topical scope of this idea too broad for the number of words allocated to this section?
  3. Have there been similar topics (but not so similar the editor would have to pass on yours) in this section in the past? Make sure to hold on to these, because you can add them to your pitch to make it more potent!

Don’t let these questions talk you out of your ideas–there’s an overly quoted statistic these days about how men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the criteria and women only apply when they meet 100% of them that immediately comes to mind here.

The goal of these questions is to make sure you’re question your assumptions and opening yourself to a new way of conceiving ideas, not to throw you into a well of self-doubt that none of your ideas are good enough. Coming to grips with what enough means for you is one of the greatest barriers to becoming a successful freelancer, and I’m here to help you through it.

Struggling with your matches? Pick something. Start somewhere. Then work the steps to check the fit. You won’t learn to match if I do it for you. You’ll see what you personally are stuck on–and then you have options for solutions–when you start trying something.

This is the toughest part of pitching, but the most important to get right, so stay strong, we’ll get through it and come out victorious on the other side 🙂

Day 9: Editors need to know what’s in it for them (and their readers)

No matter what the real topic of the interview is–how exactly to pitch different sections in the magazine, how to break into the publication–so many editors replay the same, super basic pitching advice time and time again:

  • “I once had a guy call me up; he gave me a one-word pitch,” said Jordan Heller, editor-in-chief of Hemispheres in an interview. “He said, ‘Macau.’ And that’s not really a pitch, is it? It’s not a narrative. It’s just a place.”
  • “I get pitches that say, ‘I want to do a story on Salt Lake City.’ That’s not going to cut it,” said Anne McSilver, editor and publisher of AAA’s Via. “There has to be something specific going on in that city—trends, attractions.”
  • “It needs to be a story, not a topic or an idea,” said Afar’s Cosgrove. “‘I’m going to Peru. Would you like an article about my time there?’ gets a swift and immediate delete.”

And these admonishments come, more often than not, from editors at major publications. The publications you’re afraid to pitch because they must be getting so many awesome pitches from other writers.

We’ve talked a lot about how to make sure that your article idea is more than just a place or restaurant or neighborhood or attraction by fitting it into the exact framework of a specific section in a magazine.

But to write pitches that have the best chance of success, we have to make sure our article ideas go further than that. That they truly pass Heller’s “just a place” test.

We need to be sure that we have a point.

It’s Like a Good Old School Essay; You Need a Thesis
I can already hear some of the thoughts that might be flying through your mind right now:

“But it looks like [city] hasn’t been covered in this section before, and it’s just a formulaic guide. It doesn’t need to have a point, right?”

“This pitch is really just about a hotel that’s interesting and kind of gives information about it. But it’s just for a short section in the front of the magazine with interesting tidbits. There’s not really a specific point to them that I can find.”

“I’ve got a round-up of some really beautiful tree house hotels all around the world. It’s mostly just highlighting them and showing the pictures. Round-ups don’t really have a ‘point’ per se, right?”

Eeeeeeeennnnnhhhh. (I can’t figure out how to spell out a buzzer sound!)

For each of the three examples above, there absolutely are, and should be, points. In fact, there’s multiple options for each:

  • City guide: For editors, it’s always a question of why they should cover the city you’ve pitched instead of hundreds of others. There’s dozens of different types of reasons you can give an editor for why your pitched city belongs in an upcoming issue, and a great way to learn this is the check the leads (introduction paragraph) on New York Times “36 Hours” pieces or The Independent‘s “48 Hours In” pieces. Here are some examples from recent ones:
    • Ottawa celebrates its 150th anniversary this year and has extra festivites in store for visitors (likewise: Delhi’s government started a campaign this year to rebrand the city and announced a “Delhi Festival” reportedly set for early 2017 to showcase its culture and heritage and San Sebastian is a designated a 2016 European Capital of Culture)
    • Berlin is safe to visit and in need of incoming tourists after its terrorist tragedy
    • a new low-cost flight between Las Vegas and London makes Vegas extra-cheap
    • the Lunar New Year is the best time to visit Hanoi
  • Hotel profile: Like city guides, we need to make extra sure there is a good point for covering the hotel you’re pitching as opposed to another.
    • is the hotel new?
    • is it the only one of its kind?
    • is it in a historic building that is celebrating an anniversary?
    • is there a human interest backstory like a local family who saved it from being turned into a department store and got the building declared protected status?
  • Round-ups: Round-ups are the type of article where people are most likely to skip elaborating a clear point, which is why you can have so much success when you do. As innumerable round-ups appear on the web, print editors are making extra sure theirs have something clear to offer. In this case, you can try:
    • is this a new trend?
    • is this an opportunity to experience an international trend for the first time locally?
    • are these treehouses in unusual settings like urban areas?
    • are you showing that they exist much more widely than people assume?

While for us writers, the point is often initially little more than that you were in a place and found a cool thing, editors (and their readers) could frankly care less.

We need to show them the “what’s in it for me” factor with evidence and spell it out loud and clear in our pitches to get assignments.

Your Task for Today
Take each of the ten article ideas that you’ve matched up to specific magazine sections over the last couple days, and tell me what is the point of each of then.

If you’re having trouble, dig in and look through press releases for anniversaries or upcoming openings, or Google a bit to see if there’s a deeper trend you can highlight, such as “Baltic is the new Nordic.”

Day 10: The first building block

A few years back at a conference primarily for writers of book-length works, many of them writing fiction, there was an opportunity to pitch book agents live.

But you only had 90 seconds.

If they liked your concept, they’d ask to see a partial (some pages from your book) or your book proposal. It seemed like some folks walked away from this without any asks at all. Everyone I spoke to asked for my book, so I was I very perplexed about why so many others were striking out.

I sat down with some of the writers and we all shared our 90-second pitches. I found that many folks spent the entire 90 seconds telling me such early stage things from their book in such detail that I really couldn’t understand what the book was actually about.

As they saw it, they were giving information the agent needed to understand the story, but the fact of the matter is, that even for a 500-page novel or a 2+-hour movie, you still only need one or two sentences to get the point across:

  • “The British Secret Service asks a retired spymaster to find a soviet mole who must be one of his former protégés. He can trust no one as he tries to discover who the traitor is.” (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
  • “Four teenage boys make a pact to lose their virginity by prom night.” (American Pie)
  • “A FedEx executive must transform himself physically and emotionally to survive after a crash landing on a deserted island.” (Castaway)
  • “After 9/11, a CIA ana­lyst spends years track­ing Osama bin Laden down and must nego­ti­ate ter­ror­ist bombs, moral dilem­mas and skep­tical super­i­ors to find the ter­ror­ist leader’s hid­ing place and per­suade the gov­ern­ment to attack it.” (Zero Dark Thirty)

These brief descriptions are often called log lines, and they accomplish two important purposes. They don’t just tell what the story will be about like a summary, they give a hint of what the story will be about, but they also make you curious to know more.

When I receive pitches to review from many travel writers, one of the primary things that separates them from the type of pitches being written by successful, full-time freelance travel writers who are pitching every day (or on a designated day each week), is bloat. This is what turns your pitch from a tease into an encyclopedic volume after which the editor doesn’t feel the need to write you back for more.

But the bloat that’s often present in these pitches is hard to spot unless you are 100% clear on the only things that need to be there. And this bloat creeps in most commonly during the part of the pitch in which writers explain what their piece is going to be about, so today, we’re going to look at a formula for assembling that section.

The Whole Structure and Nothing but the Structure
It’s very easy to take a kitchen-sink approach to this part of your pitch, mentioning different angles you could possible take, all sorts of activities you could potentially include, or a complete list with mini descriptions of venues you might highlight.

The issue here is that rather than offer the editor the opportunity to come around to your idea if he or she wasn’t sure initially, all you succeed in doing is showing an editor that you aren’t really clear on what you are pitching.

Which they read as one of the dreaded warning signs discussed on day 8, namely that you don’t know how to put together an article and are going to send them drafts and email explanations that are also too long and packed with unnecessary detail.

Editors often say that you should write the shortest pitch possible, by which they mean three to five sentences, which horrifies many writers who think they couldn’t possibly express everything the editor needs to know with so few words.

But therein lies the rub: your pitch letter is a test.

The editor wants to see that you know how to get your point across effectively in the fewest words possible.

This is in no small part because print magazines are typically paying by the word and don’t want to waste their money, but also because space is simply limited, and they need writers who can pack the most punch possible into that space.

So then it seems like the issue becomes: how do we tell an editor everything he or she needs to know to evaluate our pitch without taking up too much time?

But, thankfully, we also don’t need to do all that.

Our pitch doesn’t need to have everything an editor might need to know to give us an assignment…just enough to get them interested enough to write us back. It’s incredibly common, no matter HOW complete you think your pitch is, for the editor to come back with some questions before assigning you a piece.

We need to show someone that doesn’t know us from their bus driver that we are professionals and worth reaching out to to begin that conversation. Showing that we understand the magazine and the specific section of the magazine is how we do it. And having an idea that is a solid fit is only part of that equation.

The P2 Assembly Line
Today we’re going to start assembling the various parts, or building blocks, of a pitch.

I like to do them in a certain order as it keeps you from getting ahead of yourself and getting very attached to writing lyrically or thinking about your idea in ways that are relevant to the potential future article (which you haven’t been assigned yet) that have no place in a pitch, so we’re going to start with what many people call the “nut graf” or the “nuts and bolts” section, to keep you grounded in the language and mindset of pitching rather than article writing for now.

We’re going to call this “what the article is about” section P2, going forward as this will become the second paragraph of your pitch email.

Here’s how it goes:

“I’d like to propose a piece for your [name of section] on [topic in one to maximum five words], because [line on why the editor cares and keep it succinct!!!]. I know this section typically runs about #### words, and in that length, I would cover [include the things that you’ve found from your analysis of a magazine or from the Travel Magazine Database that are always included in this section and give a few examples].”

For that last section, if you’re pitching a part of a magazine that has a very clear rubric or format every month, make sure to include that. So if you’re pitching enRoute’s High & Low, which is a 350-word article outlining expensive and budget options on three themes in a particular city. Recent examples include expensive and budget options for excursions, food, and souvenirs in Galway, Ireland; Fika, Middle East food, and smorgasbord in Malmö, Sweden; and wine, cycling, and Chinese food in Adelaide, Australia, you would say:

“I would cover both budget options and big-ticket experiences in the city around the themes of [explain themes], incorporating options like [give a couple examples].”

For ones that are more of a round-up like Mercedes Benz’ “The Area” or AFAR’s “One Great Block,” you can explain the broad categories of things you will cover (for instance, handmade ceramics shops, boutique barbers, and bookstores that print and bind your requested book on demand in front of you) or mention individual places with an interesting tease (the 600-year old Chateau Lafitte, located in a monastery restored to a very unmonastic level of luxury, and the 5-star Maison du Madame, where guests’ orders are taken by the noble family’s matriarch herself).

Your Task Today
Take your found “department”-length pitch ideas and write up a P2 following the format above.

If you haven’t split your pitches into these categories (briefs, departments, features), though I think most of you that have them all set have, the departments are the sections around 400-to-1,000-words-long with a clear rubric or structure to their content. Delta’s 1 City 5 Ways and the ones I’ve mentioned above are prime examples.

These shouldn’t take you more than two to five minutes per pitch idea. If you’re spending longer than than, you’re adding to much bloat! Use your time tracker to be sure