You’ve got your idea, and you know the magazine or website you’d like to sell it to. Now you need to make sure your pitch goes to the right person.
Sending your idea to the correct contact will save you time. When the wrong editor or contact gets a pitch, they might ignore it. There are several ways to find out whom to contact for a magazine, blog, or company and if it’s open to writers.
If you want to write for magazines, try to get your hands on at least the last two issues. Libraries are excellent resources for magazines, as is Barnes & Noble (or your local bookstore). You don’t even have to purchase the magazine if you don’t want to. Simply do your research and read the magazine there, then take photos of the masthead and the sections you want to write for.
(In case you missed that, read the magazine! The biggest gripe editors have about pitches is that writers don’t know the audience or don’t fully grasp the types of content they publish.)
For a print magazine:
Look at the masthead. That’s the section in the front of the magazine that’s usually after the Editor’s Letter. Some magazines have it in the back (a few don’t have one at all).
That’s your starting point. From there, when you look at a byline on an article, see if the person’s name is also on the masthead. The front-of-book (FOB) sections of a magazine are often written by staff, usually editorial assistants, assistant editors, associate editors, and editors. I used to write the FOB health and nutrition pages when I worked at Muscle & Fitness Hers magazine. So if you saw my name next to one article (and then my initials D.K. next to other, smaller pieces on the same page) and noticed that my name was on the masthead, you should assume that that page is and not open to freelancers. As you go through the magazine, note if a writer’s byline is on a page but their name isn’t on the masthead; that likely means that section is one the staff assigns out. If the section is written by a celebrity or a well-known person who’s a regular columnist, that might be a sign it’s not a section to pitch.
Doing this research ultimately saves you time because you’ll be pitching ideas only for sections that editors assign to freelancers.
Pitch a shorter piece. In my experience assigning articles and writing for magazines, I’ve noticed that editors often feel more comfortable assigning someone they’ve never worked with a shorter or more straightforward story. It’s like hiring someone to do a small task for you first. (Think: Hiring a painter to paint one room that’s smaller and less noticeable. If the painter screws up, your risk was low and the damage is minimal compared with giving them the entire house to paint).
It’s highly unlikely that an editor who has never worked with you before and hasn’t seen your work in a national magazine will assign you a long feature article. Why? Because they’re taking a chance on you, and your article is being scheduled into a future issue of a magazine.
If you screw up and don’t meet the deadline or don’t turn in the reporting they wanted, the editor will scramble to fill the space and might get stuck writing the piece (with time they don’t have). If you prove to them that you can write a smaller story and meet a deadline and are an amazing writer to work with, they’ll feel more comfortable giving you a bigger assignment in the future.
For a website:
Look to the masthead if it’s a print magazine’s site. This can be trickier because many websites hire more freelance writers than print magazines do. Magazines are limited by pages, but the Internet has no space limit, only an editorial budget. You should still apply the technique of looking at a masthead in the print magazine, then looking at the names of the digital team members for whom to contact. Under the digital or online section of a masthead, look for a senior editor or the managing editor or digital director (the top of the masthead). I’d recommend contacting a senior online editor and asking if they use freelancers. Many websites rely on junior-level staffers to write a ton of content, and freelance budgets aren’t always consistent. If an editor doesn’t have money in the budget now, they might in a few months if advertising revenue improves.
Dig for the assigning editor. If you’re pitching a website that isn’t associated with a magazine, such as Refinery29, look for a website’s “About” page or “Contact Us” page. Refinery29’s contact page is very general, so I wouldn’t start there with this particular brand. Instead, check LinkedIn and the company page to see if you connections who work there. If I know someone there, I might contact them via LinkedIn (but not everyone checks their LI mail regularly) or see if an editor has an email address on that platform or a Twitter account where they share their email address.
Look for a press release with an email address on it. Continuing with this example, Refinery29 had a press release about a partnership with Turner that contained the PR contact’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Now I have an email format. If I wanted to pitch tech editor Madeline Buxton, whose name I found on LinkedIn, I’d see if email@example.com worked in a Google search. If it does, that’s a great starting point for emailing your pitch. (More on email formats at the bottom of this lesson.)
Keep it professional. I don’t recommend contacting an editor with their personal email address with a pitch because it feels a little strange. I’d rather follow them on Twitter (it’s a good idea anyway to follow the editors and brands you’re writing about) and try to message them there, asking if you can send a pitch to their work email. For many editors, Twitter and LinkedIn are professional; Facebook and Snapchat are more personal.
How to Locate Any Editor’s Email Address
This is a hassle for some people, but as a journalist, I love researching people. It may sound creepy, but it’s also our job.
Researching the names of contacts takes more time than you might think. But it’s worth the effort. I’ve emailed pitches to editors in the past that I felt great about only to have the email bounce back right away because the format was wrong or they’re no longer at the magazine, and now I’m back at square one. Don’t let that happen to you!
Use the magazine’s media kit, usually available online, to learn how names are created into email addresses. Inc. magazine, for example, has a contacts page in its media kit. While that might not have the name on it for the editor you’d like to reach, you can determine their email format. Rich Russey is firstname.lastname@example.org, and Lisa Bentley is email@example.com. (The Inc. team also has a staff page, which makes pitching them a little easier.) Search for the name of an editor you found on the masthead, and Google that (like FirstInitialLastName@inc.com). Hopefully, it will come up somewhere if it’s a valid email address.
Use online search tools to find staff names. I typed “Outside magazine editorial staff” into Google and got this search result with names, but that last updated date was January 2017: https://www.outsideonline.com/contact-us. Editors move around in magazines all the time, so in this case, I’d cross-check an editor’s name on this list with their LinkedIn page and Twitter feed to see if they’re still there.
Here are some additional helpful articles: