How to Pitch

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How do you get someone to listen to you in the first place? How do you establish credibility, capture interest, and convey the immediate relevance of your point of view – quickly and decisively? Pitching can happen in lots of ways, but very often it is done by email.

An effective email pitch answers these basic questions:
  • Why now? What’s the news hook? Why is this worth reading at this moment?
  • So what? Why should people care?
  • Why me? Why am I the best one to write this piece?
A pitch should also include:
  • Your idea in a few lines
  • Your credentials – only those that are relevant
  • The finished piece pasted below your pitch
  • Your contact information

Aspects of a successful pitch:
  • Timely
  • Well written
  • Brief and clear
  • Conveys expertise
  • Unexpected point of view

Follow Up: If the editor responds:
  • Thank your editor. Even if they said “no.” Remember that “no” can be the beginning of a conversation that can eventually lead to “yes.”
  • If they published you, thank them not for showcasing you but for giving space to the ideas and issues.

Follow Up: If there is no response:
  • Have a time limit. If your idea has a very short shelf life, you might give an editor a day or less to respond; if it’s evergreen, a week or two or more. Then send a follow-up email to the editor saying that you’d still like to run your piece in their publication, but since the piece is timely, if you don’t hear from them by the end of the day (week, whatever) you will assume they have passed, and you’ll be submitting your op-ed elsewhere.
Note: Most national newspapers will not consider your piece if you submit to more than one paper at the same time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q:  Where should I submit?

A: See a list of contact and submission information for major outlets here. Keep in mind that outlets come in a wide variety of flavors; don’t limit yourself to one or two publications only. Major outlets such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal are obviously very selective when it comes to op-ed pieces, so instead of reaching only for those, take a moment to think about where your ideas will be of greatest contribution and will have the greatest odds of being published. Remember, certain submissions work better for certain outlets, so be sure to research and understand your target publisher before submitting.  If you decide to aim for The Wall Street Journal or New York Times first — great.  It's good to aim high.  But don't stop there.  Have a plan B, C and D ready, in case The Times doesn't bite.  You may have better odds at a smaller or local publication or an industry publication that specializes on your topic.  And creating a track record of success at smaller outlets can eventually increase your odds at larger outlets.

Q: How long should I wait to hear back from an editor? (What do I do if I don't hear back from an editor?)  
A:  If you have plenty of time (that is, if your idea is evergreen or, e.g., pegged to a holiday a month away)  you might give an editor a week or more before you check in.  However, if your idea has a very short shelf life (pegged to breaking news or a news hook that will only be good for a few days) you need to check in fairly quickly — with 48 hours, or perhaps even within 24 hours.  The trick is to be appropriate, not demanding.   You might write a follow up email telling the editor you are checking in on the status of the op-ed you submitted, and hope they are interested in running it; however since the news hook is timely if you don't hear from him/her by the end of the day (week, whatever),  you will assume they have passed and you'll be submitting your op-ed elsewhere.   The key is to be polite and not presumptuous – remember that editors are busy and juggling lots of ideas at once – you are not the center of their universe, but if your idea is timely and good for their readers, they will appreciate you checking in.

Q: Can I submit to multiple outlets at the same time?  
A:  Most national newspapers will not consider your piece if you submit to more than one paper at the same time. 

Q:  Can you help me pitch/submit?  
A:  At The OpEd Project we do everything we can to make it easy for you to succeed – but we don't do it for you.  In fact, we think the lack of women and other under-represented experts submitting on their own is part of the problem.  Check out our tips  under the “Resources (Write It!)” section of our website, as well as our "How to Pitch" page.  More importantly, consider attending one of our core seminars or continuing workshops for in-person guidance and individual feedback.    OpEd Project alums are also eligible to be matched with a high level Mentor-Editor, after they complete a core seminar.  In these cases you may ask your Mentor-Editor for feedback and advice on your pitch.  In some cases Mentor-Editors may, at their discretion, suggest specific editors or outlets they think would be interested in a particular op-ed; but alums should not expect this.

Q.  How often can I submit? 
A: As often as you want.  Many outlets will not publish the same author more than once every few months.   Also remember, for most op-ed pieces there exists a brief but strong window during which editors would be interested in the topic you discuss. Continuously submitting a piece regarding, say, US and Middle Eastern policies across the spectrum of outlets might not be the best idea, especially if you aren't getting responses from editors. Plan submissions carefully pegged to specific news hook.  Listen carefully to the feedback  (including silence from the editors – which can signal something you're submitting is too far off base).

Q. How often can I submit to the same person?
A: As often as you like—provided you have a good, timely idea that would appeal to that editor/outlet.  You don't want to pepper an editor with bad ideas, and thereby earn a reputation as someone who is not useful/generative.   However, if you have had a successful experience with an editor, the best strategy may be to continue your conversation with that editor, try to pitch as many good ideas as possible, learn as much as possible about what s/he is looking for in an op-ed, and see if you can collaborate on additional pieces.

Q.  My piece wasn't accepted.  What  now?"  


A:  First off, relax.   Even the best, most experienced writers receive rejections constantly.   "No" is devastating when you think it is the end of a conversation.  It's no big deal when you realize it can be the beginning of a conversation that leads to "yes."  So:  take rejection as information, and run with it. Consider why your piece wasn’t accepted and focus on improving those areas.  If the editor responded to you personally, thank him/her — and see if you can find out what would have made your piece more valuable, and whether there are other ideas they would be interested in hearing from you on in the future.

Q.  What is the actual submission ratio of men and women?  
A:  One of the best hard data points on this comes from a 5-month tracking done by the Washington Post in 2008, in which they found that 90% of submissions to the op-ed page during that period  came from men, and 88% of their bylines were male. The data was reported in the Post, under late ombudswoman Deborah Howell, in May 2008.  In addition, The OpEd Project has collected estimates from editors/outlets of various sizes.   Most of them report a range of 80-90% submissions by men, with the higher ratios mostly applying to the more prestigious outlets.   At smaller outlets, the ratios seem a bit better.  For example, Josh Burket, Op-Ed Editor at the Christian Science Monitor estimates that women are under 20% of those submitting.   The San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Editorial Page Editor Lois Kazakoff found, in an unscientific survey, that during a weeklong period in June 2008, 8 out of 25 publishable submissions came from women, or 32 percent. However,  she also added that The Chronicle is generally in line with the lower percentages of published pieces by women found in other studies.   NOTE:  Except in the case of the Washington Post survey, we are relying on editors'  impressions.  It would be helpful and probably motivational if outlets/editors did a periodic survey to find out who is submitting, in terms of men, women – and perhaps other things as well.  That would help editors to know if and how much they might want to reach out to different groups of potential under-represented thought leaders.