It Snowed in Phoenix! And How to Pitch Magazine Editors

What’s that about global warming again? Oh, right … it freakin’ snowed IN THE DESERT yesterday!

I live in Phoenix, Ariz., and it actually snowed here. Seriously. I borrowed some Facebook images from our local news stations to prove it:

Snow photo_93.3 KDKB
[Source: 93.3 KDKB Facebook page]
Snow photo_KBAQ
[Source: KBAQ Facebook page]
And because I have nothing else to say, I’m re-publishing a VERY old blog post, before anyone even knew I existed (on the social Web). I used to write about professional stuff … really!

So, if you’re a writer, or PR person, maybe these tips will offer something useful. Imagine that!

Enticing Magazine Editors and Media–Successfully Pitch Your Story!

Whether you’re a PR professional selling your company’s story, or a freelancer enticing a magazine editor, understanding how to pitch well is vital.

I’ve enjoyed success as a journalist and media relations professional for a reason:

1. Keep your pitches to five sentences or less.  

As a freelancer trying to get published in a magazine, I received my best advice from a senior editor at TIME Magazine. Here it is:

Keep your initial pitch to one paragraph (I suggest five sentences, tops). 

  • If you’re a freelancer, follow-up with a brief description about your experience (places you’ve been published, years of experience), as well as why YOU should write this story.
  • Cut and paste any additional material, such as a news release, into the email body after your pitch. As a backup, attach the document.

I’ll never forget the editor’s words from TIME, “We are too busy to open any attachments. If it’s not in the email body, we won’t see it.”

2. Forget sounding fancy. Cut to the chase: the five W’s.

As a newspaper reporter, the best way to entice me to DELETE your email, was by developing a fancy first sentence. I only cared about the WHAT of your story—so I could decide immediately if it was newsworthy.

  • My number one tip from my last post on writing engaging content was to keep your article lead less than 30 words. Apply that rule to any story pitch.
  • You will lose the reporter’s/editor’s/producer’s attention if don’t tell them upfront the Who, What, When, Where and Why.

3. Make it relevant!

Is your story timely? Localized? Who’s the audience? TIME Magazine would rather publish a national trends article, whereas Phoenix Magazine (from Arizona) would seek a feature on a high school coach who’s changed the school’s morale.

Regardless of whether you’re a freelancer or PR professional, do your research.

  • If you live in California, but are pitching in Connecticut, run a Google Maps and get an idea of the geography.
  • Read through your target publication to understand its style before pitching (hint hint: you can work that style and relevance into your pitch).

4. Follow up via phone in two to three days–not the same day.

Most editors will get hundreds of emails a day, maybe more. IF they read your pitch, it won’t be the same day you sent it, so give them time. When you call a few days later, start with this:

“Hi ____, my name is _______ and I’m a freelance reporter from ______ following up on a story I emailed you a day or two ago.”  Then immediately launch into your story idea. Most likely, if they haven’t seen your email, now they’ll open it.

Above all else, never forget the WIIFM: What’s In It For Me? Always put yourself in the editor’s shoes and ask, “Why would I publish this story?”

Whatever the answer is … that will be your news hook.

Be the Chicken Nugget in a Bag of Vegetables

My boyfriend found a chicken nugget in his bag of frozen vegetables the other day.

And just to make sure it was a chicken nugget, he popped the frozen mound into the microwave. Sure enough, it emerged crispy and delicious. Like McDonald’s.

Concerned that perhaps the workers at the packaging house were rebelling, and some poor vegetarian would end up with the same fate from another bag, my boyfriend called the company.

“Are you sure it wasn’t a carrot?” the manager asked him, after he explained his immaculate discovery.

“Of course I’m sure,” my boyfriend replied. “I think I’d know the difference between a chicken nugget and a carrot.”

Though laughing hysterically, this got me thinking. The odyssey of his chicken nugget was so outrageous, that it became contagious.

So here’s my question to you: When you write, are you being the chicken nugget in a bag of frozen vegetables?

Make Your Writing Stand Out

I struggle with breaking free of clichés, as does every writer. But whether you’re a journalist trying to engage the public, a creative writer encouraging people to buy your book, or a corporate writer building your company’s brand, you won’t get anywhere if you don’t stand out.

Besides writing about the unexpected, consider these tips to transform yourself from a frozen carrot into that chicken nugget:

  • The Curse of Knowledge: A communications coach from my work once fed me this term. Are you so embroiled in your area of expertise, that you forgot what it’s like to be an outsider? Think: what would excite an 8-year-old to read your story?
  • Humor: Of course, this depends on what you’re writing, and for whom. But while making people cry takes talent, making people laugh takes true genius. Ask yourself: am I laughing as I’m writing this?
  • Your Personal Voice: Don’t you want to slap those teenagers who try on new identities as easily as they change outfits? With writing, you need to let your unique voice shine through. Don’t try to be anyone else, except you, even if you’re writing for a company (yes, I said it!).
  • OBSERVE: Admittedly, I’d forgotten this tip lately. My boyfriend had to remind me that the best writers observe the world around them. Are you stepping back and just looking? Seinfeld was insanely successful for a reason.
  • Realism: I don’t care whether you’re writing about a real person, or a character you developed. That person, and his or her story, better be realistic and believable. If people can’t relate, they won’t care. Which leads me to my next point . . .
  • Conflict: We’re all drama kings and queens at heart. Without conflict in a story, we’re bored! Build the tension of conflict, whether for a novel, article, or short story. In the corporate world, you can do this too. Established a new process? Interview an employee and learn how hard their job was before the new process kicked in.

Considering this is probably the longest blog I’ve ever written, I’ll stop here. But make yourself that chicken nugget in the bag of frozen vegetables—and surprise the world!

Like the advice I offer? Subscribe to my free blog (upper righthand corner) for email notifications on new writing tips, short stories, and media lessons. As a professional writer/editor, journalist, media strategist and communications consultant, I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others grow.

3 Social Marketing Lessons from a Bananagram

Plastic letters in a banana. Was I hallucinating? No, but after one simple email, I switched from a skeptic to an advocate for this unique “game.”

I’m talking about the new age of social media marketing. About a week ago, I wrote a humorous, yet cynical blog post entitled, “Bananagrams: The New Age of American Consumerism.”

A Bananagram.

The next day, when I checked my inbox, I found a surprise. There, filling my subject line, all in caps, was one word: “BANANAGRAMS.”

Turns out the email author was the PR representative for Bananagrams. “Morning Shari,” it read. “I just saw your post.  You have to play it!  It’s so much more than Scrabble in a banana. I attached a few articles on the founder and the creation of the game as an FYI.”

The three articles were from the New York Times, TIME Magazine, and the Boston Globe. Within the hour, I was all hers. How? Well, besides introducing me to the very endearing story behind the Bananagram, she did three very key things:

# 1. She found me.

I wrote my blog without knowing a single thing about Bananagrams. All I observed were five oversized fabric bananas hanging off an aisle at Walgreens. I had no intention of researching these contraptions further.

Yet, the PR rep for Bananagrams searched cyberspace that day for her brand’s name, and miraculously found my blog. She read it and saw an opportunity to educate a potentially influential “advocate.”

#2. She researched me, I’m guessing.

I can’t say for sure, but from the way she approached me, I imagine the Bananagrams PR rep poked around my blog and saw I really am a serious journalist (I say this because the same day I received her email, I had several views of my resume and professional clips).

I have plenty of information on my blog about me: where I’ve worked, the Associated Press awards I’ve won, and clips from the various magazines for which I’ve written.

#3. She educated me, the right way.

After getting a feel for me, she didn’t try and push her brand onto me. Instead, understanding my journalistic values (again, I’m guessing), she attached three articles from three very reputable publications and let the objective stories speak for themselves. Additionally, she didn’t threaten me or ask me to take down my blog post—nor did she request I write a positive follow-up (that’s right, this post was MY idea).

Roundup

This should be a lesson for EVERY company or service out there. You can no longer rely on your potential consumers to contact you. Instead, you need to find them—where they live—whether on Facebook, Twitter, or the blogosphere.

But before you do, spend one minute (literally) reading my first post about the Bananagrams. And see for yourself the difference one email can make. You’ll be amazed.

Magic of the Magazine Staff Box: An Old Professor’s Secret to Pitching

Ever wonder HOW to find the right editor at a magazine to whom you should pitch that amazing story idea?

You may or may not have heard this before, but it holds true, even in today’s digital world: the magazine staff box. I learned this tidbit from an old college professor who, at the time she taught me, was also the southwest editor of Backpacker Magazine.

And behold, today her advice has put me in touch with editors from Phoenix Magazine to TIME Magazine.

What is the “staff box,” and where can I find it?

In case this is a new term for you, the staff box is that magic page in a magazine which lists the advertising contacts, the contributing writers and the editorial staff. It will list everyone, from the executive editor, to the art director, right down to the contributing photographer.

You can usually find it toward the beginning of the magazine, most likely within the first 10 pages. Every magazine is different. However, the staff box is NEVER in the middle, or toward the back of a magazine.

How do I use the staff box to determine the right editor?

Here’s the key: never start at the top.

Instead, search for an assistant editor. Call that person, tell him or her you have a (health/education/lifestyle/etc.) story to pitch, and you’d like to know who edits the (health/education/lifestyle/etc.) section.

How will you find the phone number to call? Here’s the beauty of the staff box. At the bottom, in tiny print, underneath all the names and in the midst of a difficult-to-read paragraph, will be the magazine’s phone number and address.

Call that number! And ask to speak to ________, the editorial assistant. Remember, you now have that person’s name, because you looked it up in the staff box.

And always remember to . . .

Research the magazine before you call! In simple language, don’t develop an education story, and ask to speak to the editor of the education section—when the magazine doesn’t have a section devoted to education.

You will come across as unprofessional and amateur. That’s the LAST thing you want for a first impression.

Good luck! And please share below if this post was helpful. Feel free to check out my most recent post for tips on enticing magazine editors to successfully pitch your story.

Enticing Magazine Editors and Media–Successfully Pitch Your Story!

Whether you’re a PR professional selling your company’s story, or a freelancer enticing a magazine editor, understanding how to pitch well is vital.

I’ve enjoyed success as a journalist and media relations professional for a reason.

1. Keep your pitches to 5 sentences or less.  As a freelancer trying to get published in a magazine, I received my best advice from a senior editor at TIME Magazine. Here it is:

Keep your initial pitch to one paragraph (I suggest 5 sentences, tops). 

  • If you’re a freelancer, follow-up with a brief description about your experience (places you’ve been published, years of experience), as well as why YOU should write this story.
  • Cut and paste any additional material, such as a news release, into the email body after your pitch. As a backup, attach the document.

I’ll never forget the editor’s words from TIME, “We are too busy to open any attachments. If it’s not in the email body, we won’t see it.”

2. Forget sounding fancy. Cut to the chase: the five W’s. As a newspaper reporter, the best way to entice me to DELETE your email, was by developing a fancy first sentence. I only cared about the WHAT of your story–so I could decide immediately if it was newsworthy.

  • My number one tip from my last post on writing engaging content was to keep your article lead less than 30 words. Apply that rule to any story pitch.
  • You will lose the reporter’s/editor’s/producer’s attention if don’t tell them upfront the Who, What, When, Where and Why.

3. Make it relevant! Is your story timely? Localized? Who’s the audience? TIME Magazine would rather publish a national trends article, whereas Phoenix Magazine (from Arizona) would seek a feature on a high school coach who’s changed the school’s morale.

Regardless of whether you’re a freelancer or PR professional, do your research.

  • If you live in California, but are pitching in Connecticut, run a Google Maps and get an idea of the geography.
  • Read through your target publication to understand its style before pitching (hint hint: you can work that style and relevance into your pitch).

4. Follow up via phone in two to three days–not the same day. Most editors will get hundreds of emails a day, maybe more. IF they read your pitch, it won’t be the same day you sent it, so give them time. When you call a few days later, start with this:

“Hi ____, my name is _______ and I’m a freelance reporter from ______ following up on a story I emailed you a day or two ago.” Then immediately launch into your story idea. Most likely, if they haven’t seen your email, now they’ll open it.

Above all else, never forget the WIFM: What’s In it For Me? Always put yourself in the editor’s shoes and ask, “Why would I publish this story?” Whatever the answer is, will be your news hook.

Good luck! And stay tuned for another blog, on my old college professor’s secret on finding important magazine editors (yes, she was a magazine editor too) . . .