7 Common Mistakes Writers Make When Pitching to Editors

It is in your best interest to avoid these errors when you’re building relationships with editors …

Do you have pet peeves about human interactions? What types of behavior absolutely drive you nuts?

You could hate when someone doesn’t say “thank you” when you hold a door open for him or become extremely irritated when someone chews gum too loudly.

Editors are humans with pet peeves, as well, so if you’d like an editor to review — and possibly publish — your writing, there are certain actions you should avoid.

In this 32-minute episode, I discuss:

  • A common grammar mistake I recently made
  • 7 common mistakes writers make when emailing editors (and how to fix each mistake)
  • How to tailor your content for a specific publication
  • How to build relationships with editors
  • A bonus tip for ambitious content creators

The Show Notes

7 Common Mistakes Writers Make When Pitching to Editors

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.

Stefanie Flaxman: Hello there, Editors-in-Chief. I am Stefanie Flaxman, and you are listening to Editor-in-Chief, the weekly audio broadcast that delivers the art of writing, updated for marketing in the digital age, to help you become the Editor-in-Chief of your own online business.

A Common Grammar Mistake I Recently Made

Stefanie Flaxman: You may have noticed right now that I said something a little bit differently than how I normally greet you guys at the beginning of each episode. In the past, I would start every episode, or mostly every episode, saying “Hello, Editor-in-Chiefs. Welcome to the show.” — my whole little greeting there.

But there is a listener to Editor-in-Chief, the podcast, whose name is Daniel, and he actually pointed out to me that, when I’m addressing a group of Editors-in-Chief, I was putting the plural in the wrong part of the phrase. You want to make ‘editors,’ which is the noun plural, not the ‘chiefs’ part. When I’m addressing a group of you, my lovely listeners, you are Editors-in-Chief, not Editor-in-Chiefs.

That’s a really great grammar lesson. Another thing that Daniel pointed out, as an example, it would be ‘passersby,’ instead of ‘passerbys,’ or ‘attorneys general’ instead of ‘attorney generals.’ Again, you are making the noun part of the compound noun — I should have said that with a little more certainty now, and I was asking a question — the other parts of the phrase or compound noun, they’re the modifying parts. That’s more of the adjective. When you’re making the noun plural, it is correct.

From now on, I’m going to be addressing you all as Editors-in-Chief. It sounds a little weird to me. I think that’s why I naturally went to Editor-in-Chiefs. My natural instinct is to put the plural at the end of the word. In writing, I feel like I would’ve corrected it, though, to Editors-in-Chief.

It’s very interesting this dynamic between what works in audio and what works in written content. If I saw Editor-in-Chiefs with the ‘chiefs’ part plural, with the S on the end there. You got my swishing noise in my S, you got a lot of that.

If you want to hear more about that, you can go listen to another episode of Editor-in-Chief called Why a Unique Selling Proposition Contradicts Everyday Life. I talk about my visit to a periodontist and the swishing noise in my mouth when I say the word S sometimes or other words. I don’t know when it happens. It happens when it feels like it.

Yes, I think I would have noticed that in writing because I correct writing. That is part of my job, and that would have popped out of me. In audio, it’s funny. I would say it’s more forgiving, which is a bad example in this episode when it was not forgiving, and someone did notice my grammar error.

In audio, it’s a lot easier to get the context and to understand what the person is saying even if everything wasn’t grammatically correct. But in writing, you can really lose the reader if your writing is unclear. See, still I was making mistakes there, but I think you still got what I was saying.

If your writing has a lot of grammar errors that make your point and your message unclear, it will trip up the reader and confuse the reader. Obviously, you want to avoid that. Thanks again to Daniel for pointing that out, so I can say Editors-in-Chief from now on, even though it sounds a little weird.

This is a really good lesson that there’s no substitute for expressing yourself in a public forum. Then people will point out when you are wrong and when you make mistakes. You got lots of lesson out of them. You don’t get the lessons, you don’t get the learning experiences, and you don’t get the value unless you put yourself out there.

More encouragement to be fearless and express yourself and do what you want to do. It’s okay if you do something wrong. It’s okay if someone points out that you did something wrong. You have an opportunity to go into different direction or to correct your actions going forward. It is all okay.

7 Common Mistakes Writers Make When Emailing Editors (and How to Fix Each Mistake)

Stefanie Flaxman: That mistake of mine is related to this episode because now I got to jump right in because I have a lot of stuff to talk about it. I’m going to talk about, today, mistakes that writers make when pitching to editors when they want to write for a different website.

Say you’ve been writing on your own site for a while. You have your own content. But you want to write elsewhere, and you have to talk to the site owner or editor. I’m just going to use the term ‘editor’ for the purpose of this episode and this exercise. That person might have a different technical role or different title for what they do. I’m just going to say ‘editor’ in terms of the gatekeeper that a writer needs to talk to if they want to write an article for a publication, website, or some outlet that the writer is not the owner of. That’s what I’m going to go over.

Also for the sake of these examples, I’m going to be assuming that the writer is pitching an idea, not that a full article has been written. Really, just like pitching a topic to someone who you don’t know is the scenario that is to be going on in these mistakes. Hopefully, you can learn something from them the next time you approach an editor.

This is not a formula. Avoiding these mistakes does not guarantee anything, but in very simple terms, you can think of three levels: subpar, good, and great. If all of your pitches to different editors are on the subpar level, with practice and over time, they’ll get to good. It will take even longer for them to get to great.

If you can maximize your chances of having pitches that are around the good level to start off, you’ll get to great that much sooner. You’ll start seeing all the pieces of all your effort come together and getting the results that you want — which is having your writing published in a lot of different places.

#1: How to Tailor Your Content for a Specific Publication

Stefanie Flaxman: All right, folks. Let’s get into that right now. The first mistake that you would want to avoid when pitching to editors is not doing enough research on your topic and, in conjunction with that, the publication that you’re pitching to. A lot of people have ideas of sites that are really big, sites that they really like, and they just blindly want to write for these sites. There might be a really good reason why you would want to write for that site.

A lot of times, if they’re just popular, if you’re writing would be exposed to a much wider audience because this site has a really big following — all these things blind your actual work in a sense because you’re just so distracted by, “Oh, if I could just write there, things are going to change for me. My career is really going to take off.” Most of the time, that is not the case, especially not after just one article, too. There’s a lot of work that you have to put in over time for anything to work out.

Okay. There are different types of research. The first that you would, I’d say, do incorrectly — lazy research is when you pitch something to an editor of the site and the content is just so similar to what the site writes about all the time. You think, “Oh, that’s what that site writes about. I’m going to write about that, too.” You overlook the fact that you’re not adding any value by just pitching something that’s exactly like what the site talks about all the time in their articles.

I’m going to front-load you with a lot of information, and the rest of the mistakes are going to trickle from that. This is probably the longest one because it provides the foundation for the other mistakes.

The example I’m going to use throughout this episode is about a blog about car paint. The site writes about all different types of paint for cars. You aren’t really a car paint expert, but you love the site. You love that they have a big audience. You just really want to get your writing in front of the audience. You pitch something about car paint. Something very similar to what they publish day in and day out.

That’s not going to add a lot of value. Because you’re not an expert on car paint and this is ‘the’ site about car paint, because you’re not an authority of car paint, there’s really no reason why an editor would want to go to you to write an article for this big authoritative site on car paint. They’d probably go with an expert who has a lot of experience with car paint.

There might be some sites that are a better fit for your level of expertise in car paint. It’s not a match if you’re going straight into this site thinking that. It really doesn’t matter about what you could do research on. You’re not a good candidate to start off with.

The opposite end of that is if you want to write for the car paint blog because you have a lot of experience writing about car engines. You think, “Wow! The car paint blog never writes about car engines, and I do have a lot of background. I know a lot about car engines. That would be really something that I could contribute.”

You’re being a bit lazy there, too — ‘lazy’ I don’t think is quite the right word. You’re being a little bit blind to the content of the site. Maybe that site doesn’t need anything about car engines. It’s a blog about car paint. You’ve kind of gone into a different extreme where you want to contribute something that you have some expertise on that’s related, but you’re overlooking that the site probably isn’t interested in that. It’s not what they write about. It’s not what the audience would be that interested in. It’s kind of related, but there’s still too much of a disconnect.

A better fit would be, or more of a right match between the writer and editor, is if you pitch them a story about paint brushes. Maybe they write about this car paint all the time and people go to them about finding about the best type of paint for your car, but they don’t have a lot about paint brushes. If their readers knew everything that you knew about paint brushes, they’d be way more informed and they would just love the site even more. You would want to look for that type of article where it complements what the site talks about.

You connect the dots. That’s really what you’re doing. You’re saying, “This is what they write about. If I go in this direction, it’s too similar. If I go on that direction, it’s too different. Where can I really connect the dots and find something where the audience is going to benefit? I have some area of expertise in this topic. It would really serve those readers in a way that the current writers for the site haven’t provided that information on this topic that would really provide value there.” So being blind about how great a site is and not doing enough research on what the right topic would be is the first mistake.

#2: Why You Shouldn’t Blindly Pitch an Editor

Stefanie Flaxman: The second mistake is not doing enough research on the editor who you pitched to.

Really breaking it down, again, basic things that you forget about when you’re just very starry-eyed about wanting to write for a certain site is that you’re connecting with another human being when you pitch to an editor. They’re in a position to reject you, which is scary, but there’s a person behind that email. A person just like you.

What’s great about the Internet, even though it’s also scary, is that you can find a lot about the person that you’re pitching to. You can look at their LinkedIn profile, their Twitter profile, basic information from Googling them. You could find out a lot about their personality and their preferences if you take the time to find out something about them before you even go in to write your email pitch.

For example, there might be an editor who talks about on Twitter all the time that she loves brevity and has no time for jokes or friendly niceties in pitches. She might be offering this information just on social media. Then you wouldn’t want to go to that editor with a big long story of your life and all of your background information. You know that they just want something fast and quick, and they’ll judge you by that.

In the opposite direction, there might be an editor who talks about all the time on social media that she loves jokes in her pitched emails. She loves really long emails. She just really wants to get to know everyone who pitches to her. In that case, you wouldn’t want to write a really short email. Again, it’s getting to know the personality by using the tools at your disposal so that you can tailor your emails to the actual human who you are pitching to.

I always talk about that I love the differences between Jerod Morris and I. Jerod Morris is the VP of Rainmaker.FM, and I always say we’re so different. I love it. Jerod, one of the nicest people. I don’t know who else he’s competing against because he’s so far ahead. He’s just one of the nicest people in the world, and I mean that very, very sincerely.

He loves really getting to know people’s stories. He wants some connection besides what the business topic at hand is — I’ve seen from my experience with him. He really likes diving into who a person is besides the topic at hand that they’re talking about that’s work-related.

I don’t really like that in business communication. I am mean. I like being to the point. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, and I don’t feel like someone’s wasting my time — like I’m so important. I just really like getting directly to the point. My writing style is very terse like that. My speaking style’s a little bit different. I’m a Gemini. These conflicting patterns come up in my life a lot. You’d want to find out if you’re pitching someone like Jerod or if you’re pitching to someone like me. Then make choices accordingly.

#3: How to Avoid Wasting the Editor’s Time

Stefanie Flaxman: The third mistake is not thinking like an editor and wasting the editor’s time, which is a little bit what I touched on before when you want to get to know who you’re pitching to as a human. Another example that is very common in pitches is you might feel like you want to say something in your email like, “I think this topic would really interest your readers.”

That’s a natural thing to want to say because you want to show that you’re thinking of the publication’s readers when you pitch a topic. “Look, I have your readers in mind. I’m thinking of writing this topic for them.” That sentence, “I think this topic would interest your readers,” is very empty. You want to avoid empty sentences that anyone could write.

As a general rule, if anyone can write what you’re writing, you need to rework it and reposition your message, so it’s very unique to you. It’s a great example of showing, not telling. We say that a lot. Instead of saying that this topic would interest the editor’s readers, you want to intrigue the editor you’re pitching to and make him or her think on his own or her own, “Wow! This would really interest our readers.” Like, “Wow! Our readers are going to love this when they hear it.”

You use how you discuss your article topic to achieve that without actually saying it. It’s much more powerful to make the editor think on his own, “This would be such a great fit for our audience,” rather than it being stated by the writer who’s pitching the topic. It’s hard to not to say that because you want the editor to know that you’re thinking of the readers, but there are more creative ways that you can do it.

#4: Pitching at Your Career Level

Stefanie Flaxman: Moving on to the next, the fourth mistake is not pitching at your current career level or pitching without a reason. This kind of goes back to the car example. You want to pitch within your area of expertise. What I mean by that is you need to very succinctly describe to the editor why you’re the perfect person to write this article. Why does this site that you want to write for need this article to be written by you?

It’s really about why you’re the authority that needs to address this topic because there could be lots of other people who could potentially write this article. It’s your job to show why you need to be the writer. It can’t just be because you want to write the article. You can’t underestimate putting in your dues. You might not be the best person to write a certain article.

Again, going back to that first example. There may be some sites that will accept your writing if you don’t necessarily have a lot of experience with the topic. If you’re exploring the topic and you want to share your exploration with readers, there are probably sites that will cater to that level of where you are in your career.

But if you want to write for a site that features lots of different authorities in all of the writers that they feature, it’s probably not the best fit. You’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment if you pitch to one of those sites. It’s about accurately assessing where you are in your career and then finding the publications that are the best fit for you now.

As you grow, the publications that you pitch to and write for will grow as well. But you don’t want to be trying to be an expert on car paint if you’re just not the expert on car paint yet. Your expertise on car engines might not be a fit for that site with the car paint. The balance would be is if you really had a strong background about what the car paint brushes that you could contribute. That might be you’re in there, but you have to think of what that is.

You have to think about, “How can I show this editor that I am the perfect person to write this article because of everything that I have done in my career, and I have all this experience.” You need to show that you are ‘the’ person they’ve been looking. You can do that in your email in a lot of different ways, but just stating a topic that you want to write about isn’t. You need to push it a little bit further.

#5: Keeping It Simple

Stefanie Flaxman: The fifth mistake is pitching too many ideas to the editor when the editor doesn’t know you yet. Once you have a relationship with an editor, your conversations, there will be a lot of back and forth. It will be a lot more casual enough where you could throw out different story ideas. When you want to make a first impression and reach out, you don’t want to overwhelm the editor.

The editor has a lot of other emails to read and a lot of other work to do. It’s your job to make a strong impression with a well-researched topic within your area of expertise where you are the authority. Then, you can demonstrate, in your pitch email, why you are the perfect person to write this article and why this article is a perfect fit for the site you want to write for.

You need to make the process very streamlined rather than giving the editor lots of different options when he or she doesn’t even know you. If it takes too much work to get to know you — even if you have a lot to offer — an editor will probably forget about you or overlook you. It takes too much effort to extract value from your interaction.

To sum that up, you want to make it easy to extract value from your interaction — “Here’s one. The perfect person. Here’s what I have to offer. Do you want it?” That is a way to maximize the punchiness of your email. Make it punchy. Keep it punchy. You don’t want the editor to be overwhelmed or fall asleep. Keep it punchy.

#6: The Right Way to Follow-Up with an Editor

Stefanie Flaxman: The sixth mistake is how you follow-up with the editor. There are lot of different approaches to this. I am going on what has worked for me in the past as a writer who is pitching to editors. When I was freelance writing and editing and I was pitching lots of different things to editors all the time, I did a lot of research on that process, which is maybe a sub tip in here. I did a lot of research on what it takes to maximize your chances of getting an editor to respond to you.

Within that, I came across this two-week rule somewhere. I don’t know where I came across it. It was years ago, but it really stuck with me. That was going to be my follow-up rule. If you haven’t heard back within two weeks, you can follow up and remind the editor that you emailed them. I still really like this time frame. A week in the life of an editor, or anyone, really goes by really quickly. When you have lots of other work to do, lots of other emails to look at, a week is really nothing.

It’s really understandable if someone who doesn’t know you doesn’t write you back within a week. The two-week point, it’s more of a helpful reminder. There’s really a lot of reasoning behind two weeks that makes a lot of sense to me. It really shifts from being like someone nagging you to being like, “Oh, yeah. I got that. I really wanted to look at it, but I haven’t had chance yet. I’m really glad they reminded me.”

There’s a much different mental association after two weeks than if you follow-up in a week or before, I have found. You may be anxious, but I follow the two-week rule. I would recommend it for those reasons and to not let your anxiousness get the best of you and follow-up sooner.

#7: How to Build Relationships with Editors

Stefanie Flaxman: The seventh mistake is arguing if you don’t like what the editor says to you when they respond. Don’t argue. You really need to trust the person who is in charge of running the site who is getting back to you. They don’t owe you an explanation at all. A lot of times you might get a little explanation, but they really don’t owe you one. If you don’t get one, there’s really no point of arguing.

If you get one and you don’t like it, there’s still really no point in arguing. Best way is to keep a relationship with the editor. Be gracious. Thank them for their time, and try to keep an open relationship somehow. Well, maybe I should have said earlier in the episode is that so much has to do with timing in what’s going on at the site at the moment that you pitched, behind-the-scene stuff that you don’t know about.

Instead of getting mad at someone doing their job and making a decision that they had to make, if you keep an open relationship somehow, keep the communication channels flowing, then things might change down the line. If you argue with someone, then you’re making an impression in a bad way.

Someone’s going to remember you like, “Oh, yeah. They didn’t take my response very well.” Because then it also seems like you don’t take criticism that well, rather than just being gracious and wanting to keep a relationship with someone. Because, again, you’re talking to a human not just this gatekeeper to a publication that you want to write for.

A Bonus Tip for Ambitious Content Creators

Stefanie Flaxman: I have one bonus tip that’s a little bit different from the other tips. This is a bonus. It’s a little different because this goes for if you are actually pitching a complete article that you’ve already written. Sometimes that may happen, which is different than just pitching a topic. You may have written an article, and you want to pitch the full article to an editor because it’s already completed.

In this case, the tip is to produce what I call a ‘stand-alone’ article, meaning it’s a complete piece of content on its own. Hyperlinks to other sources to verify information and things like that is very useful. But hyperlinks online are often abused in a way. They’re abused because they become so overused that the result is a confusing, unfocused piece of writing where you have to click all over the place to find out what the writer’s talking about. Editors will probably not view these pieces as favorably as if you just submit a cohesive, stand-alone article.

What I compare this to is if you’re writing for a print magazine. When a print article resonates with the reader, she’ll tear it out of the publication and pin it up to her refrigerator with a magnet so she has it all the time. That’s just an example. She doesn’t need to attach 15 other articles to complete the article. It stands alone.

If you’re pitching a full article, make sure that that’s what it does. That is, that really complete piece of writing for an audience rather than a bunch of things where they have to click to find out more or click to research a study. It should all be within this one contained piece of writing.

Those are the tips, and I’d like to remind you that Editor-in-Chief is brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform, which is the complete website solution for content marketers and online entrepreneurs. You can find out more and take a free 14-day test drive at Rainmaker.FM/Platform.

Go over there if you’d like to find out more about the Rainmaker Platform and how it can help you and your online business. It makes a lot of things that you have to do when you run an online business really easy and streamlined. Streamlined is the theme of this episode. Make everything very one path. Make it easy. Rainmaker Platform does that.

All right. Thank you for staying with me. I hope you liked those tips a lot. I really appreciate you sticking through it as I went through all of them.

If you like Editor-in-Chief — did I say that? I blurred that together a little bit. If you like Editor-in-Chief and all of my mistakes, and the things that I say good or bad on this show, head on over to iTunes please, and leave me a review or a rating over there. I think a rating takes even less time than a review. You can do that if you like, but I would like a review, too. I’d be happy to hear from you, but it is up to you. I appreciate whatever you do.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. I am Stefanie Flaxman. You have been listening to Editor-in-Chief. Now, go become one.