An Example Successful Personal Essay Pitch
And some thoughts on pitching essay
Last month I asked about what kind of successful pitches you would want to see and an essay was the winner, so I am kicking off the new year with this bonus newsletter post that contains an example personal essay pitch of mine that was accepted.
Before we get to the pitch, I am going to add the disclaimer that I don’t often pitch essays. I more often write the full essay and submit it. For certain types of essays (e.g. literary), you should typically submit the full piece vs. a pitch, but for short personal essays that run in popular press markets, you can often pitch them instead. Some pubs (like Huff Post, I have heard) will look at a pitch to see if the idea is a fit but then still want to see a full draft before they can accept it, but other pubs will buy an essay only on a pitch.
If you are aiming for a market that is open to an essay pitch, I think it depends on different factors whether you pitch or submit the full piece. If you are new to publishing essays and don’t have existing clips to show that you can do what you say you are going to do, you may have more success just submitting the full piece. Once you have published more, you might opt to pitch more so you don’t get into the business of writing a piece that you can’t find a home for.
I typically still write a draft of a short essay before I submit it partially because of a lack of time—sometimes a pitch will get accepted and they want a quick turnaround just as I have a million papers to grade and one of my kids gets sick and has to stay home from school and so writing it becomes more stressful. But some people thrive on a deadline or have different situations so they make different choices.
However, there are times when a publication specifically says they want a pitch and not a full piece and in those cases, I send a pitch (although I sometimes still have at least a rough draft of the essay written, thus making the pitch easier to write).
In any event, here is a recent(ish) pitch of mine:
I am writing to pitch an essay about why I don't love the "cherish every moment" comment that many new parents get. I get where the sentiment comes from. People (typically with older kids) look wistfully at people with younger kids and think about all the good times they had and then proceed to tell a new parent that they should enjoy every moment. The problem is that the new parent is not cherishing every moment because no one enjoys every single moment of their life and because a lot of parenting moments are rage-inducing and/or not enjoyable. That time your toddler bit her baby sister while you were trying to survive the Target checkout line? Okay to put on the “things to not cherish” list.
Now that my kids are school-aged, I’ve come to realize that parenting is a mix of emotions and also involves sometimes feeling the same opposing feelings at the same time. I'm proposing a 700-word essay on the topic.
I’ve written parenting essays for Today’s Parent, The Washington Post, and Mom.com. You can read more of my clips at julievick.com.
Thanks for considering this one,
This piece follows a fairly basic format for pitches that I try to use:
Salutation: If I have an editor’s name, I typically write “Dear Firstname.” I sometimes see (surprisingly heated) debates about whether you should be more formal and use Dear Ms./Mr. Soandso with something like this but I typically just use first names and so far it has worked fine (although I guess I would not really know if any editors secretly hate me). But I generally think it’s pretty standard these days to just use a first name. If I’m sending to a general email inbox and don’t know the editor’s name then I just go with the standard “Hello,”
In the opening paragraph, I typically jump pretty quickly into the pitch as I did here. If there is some previous connection I have or I saw a call for pitches somewhere then I mention that quickly — e.g. “I saw your call for pitches on Twitter and am writing to pitch…” or “I wrote a piece for you last year and am writing to pitch a new idea…” In the first 1-2 paragraph of a pitch, I sometimes try to just write what is essentially the intro to the piece so that sometimes means opening with an anecdote.
Somewhere in the pitch (often in the second paragraph like I did here), I also try to mention what the realization or takeaway is and then specify exactly what the piece would be (e.g. essay instead of reported article or list or poem, that’s a joke, don’t pitch a poem), and the word count I envision. I think it’s also helpful to give a sense of what your voice in the piece will be, particularly for an essay. So if you are intending for it to be funny, get a joke into the pitch.
In the final paragraph, I give a brief overview of my qualifications. Since this was a new-to-me publication, I mentioned where I’ve written similar pieces. Also, at a writing conference, I once heard an editor say she prefers when you link to a specific piece that is like what you intend to write rather than just one general portfolio link, so that is what I tried to do in the hyperlinks in this pitch — link to other essays and then just my general portfolio. If you don’t have specific pieces like the ones you’ve written I think you can just link to writing that shows some examples of what you will do. If you don’t have any clips/examples, then refer back to my opening manifesto about maybe just submitting a full piece.
The piece was accepted and this is the final version of it.
For some essays, I also try to come up with a title that seems to fit with other titles for the publication and then include one or more potential titles in the pitch (and use one of them as the subject line). Looking back at the email I sent for this pitch, this was the subject line: “Essay pitch: No, I’m not cherishing every moment of parenthood”
In the subject line, I try to use some version of “Writer pitch:” or “Essay pitch:” followed by a potential title for the piece. I’ve heard that editor inboxes are overflowing so I think the right subject line can be really helpful.
So, those are the basics. I know opinions about and structures for pitches can vary but this is one approach. Let me know if you have questions!
And on a related note, if you’re looking for places to submit parenting essays, I’ve got a list of some options here.
Thanks for reading Humor Me! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
this was very helpful, thank you! any advice on cutting through the slush pile?
Love this piece, Julie! Loved seeing your informal pitching style and your economy.