Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Avoiding Pitching Pitfalls

Pitching ideas to editors is the lifeblood for every freelancer. And for me, if an editor says, "Send me your ideas," it's my opportunity to prove that I have the researching ability to handle any topic. It also gets my foot in the door, because once an idea is accepted, it opens opportunities for more stories to be eventually assigned.

But sometimes I actually choose not to send ideas to an editor, based on the initial email response from them.

The only comparison I can make to this is dating: I sift through a lot of people, and I have eliminated men based on what they may or may not say to me ... not in person, but in an email.

In person, everybody is putting their best foot forward and uses non-verbal communication to their advantage. But in an email, people have a tendency to say what they really think. I'm not sure why or how this happens, but a computer screen automatically tears down a psychological barrier to people saying things they otherwise may not say in person. For example, I lean strongly to one political argument. On a date, if a man tells a political joke, he'd pick up my non verbal cues on whether I agreed with the joke. But in an email, he can send a joke freely and not fully anticipate my response. Why on earth would anyone send out a political joke in an email when they can't predict how the other person will react, I can't tell you, but it happens to me a lot. And if I know that a person is on the opposite polar spectrum of a political issue, chances are we're not going to agree on other meaningful areas in life. I don't have to waste anyone's time or money on a date.

So. How does this relate to shopping for editors?

Let's look at what happened to me yesterday.

I'm on vacation, which may or may not have set up my frame of mind to reject this editor, but suffice it to say, I'm glad I had the presence to walk away.

I sent an introductory email to an editor at a trade magazine for theaters -- not the kind where you see movies, but where you'd go for live, dramatic productions. I'd written for this magazine from 2001-2003, but the pay was low, and I'd move on. But I took a renewed look at its Web site and thought I'd test the waters to see if pay had risen in 10 years. I enjoyed writing for the former editor, so I sent the new editor an offer to come up with a list of ideas.

Yesterday morning in my hotel room, he got back to me ... and it was clear from his email that he thought he was doing me a favor. You know how this works if you're on a date, especially if you're a woman. Think of it as a guy taking you out for dinner and overtly checking out every other woman in the restaurant.

So this editor says, "Go ahead and send me a list of your ideas. And I only work with writers who have experience in the theater, so tell me why you're qualified to write these stories."

Well, I picked up a hint of snobbery. Let's look at our dating analogy. It's like a guy saying, "I'll take you out to dinner, but be aware that I'll be looking at other women the entire time we're out. And I only date blonds, so if you're a brunette, no chance, but let me know why you think we'd be a good match, anyway."

But I wanted to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. So I responded that I had 24 years of reporting experience on many subjects and easily adapt to writing about any area. I've written about everything from rocket scientists at NASA to window treatments in pizza restaurants ... and, point in fact, I'd also written for his magazine about theaters. I explained to him that I didn't want to waste time for both of us -- mine to research story ideas, or his if he was going to dismiss me for not currently working in theater.

Here's the way I saw this situation: An editor who understands how experienced reporters work understands that they are chameleons and have no problem at all researching and presenting stories for the targeted professional audience. But an editor who is a little too puffed up with self-importance would make things difficult for even a producer at "60 Minutes." It's just not worth the time and effort to try to please someone like that. The hint is that these types of editors will insist on people who only work in their industry. And, of course I see that as short-sighted, because they are missing out on an opportunity to work with someone who can give stories a fresh and objective eye, while digging thoroughly to uncover an insightful storyline.

I sent this editor my email and then left on the second part of my trip -- a six-hour drive to Charleston, SC.

This morning, as I got ready for a day at the Isle of Palms, I pulled up my email and saw that the editor had responded, unfortunately in the way I had predicted he would.

He agreed that it would be a waste of time for me to send him ideas, because he would not work with me if I didn't have theatrical experience. BUT, he said, "If you come across a burning story that needs to be told, let me know!"

And that's all I needed to know that if I'd submitted my ideas, not only would he have rejected me as a contributor, but he more than likely would have taken those ideas and given them to one of his "theatrically experienced" writers.

I could draw another dating comparison here for you, but let's keep this blog at "Rated PG."

Bottom line here is ... don't waste time coming up with ideas for a potential editor if you haven't screened them for whether they really are interested in using you. If I'd jumped at putting ideas together for this guy, I would have used precious time during my vacation, only to be told that I lacked his desired "experience."

And now ... I'm off to sand and palm trees ... I may not have an assignment in hand, but I'm glad I'll be spending today in the surf rather than at my laptop, churning work for a person that never would have validated my efforts in the first place.

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