Article and book pitches — both successful and unsuccessful — can give you a small insight into an editor’s selection process and the sales-side of a writer’s mind, as well as help you learn to write more effectively. As such I’ve started to collect sites featuring proposals and pitches.
A recent addition to this list is the pitch database from The Open Notebook; a collection of writer-submitted pitches for science articles that have been accepted for publishing in many of my favourite places, such as Ars Technica, Atlantic, Lapham’s Quarterly, This American Life and Wired.
Of particular note is a pitch from David Dobbs, writer of theÂ Neuron CultureÂ blog. Pitching AtlanticÂ editor Don Peck, Dobbs wrote anÂ extensive pitch for The Orchid ChildrenÂ thatÂ led to the publication of a fantastic article,Â The Science of Success. Those who follow Dobbs’ blog will know that this in turn led to a book deal for The Orchid and the Dandelion, Dobbs’ forthcoming book.
As a way to increase the quality of the many submissions theyÂ receive, This American Life staff offer some excellent tips on writing pitches. They go further, presenting four pitches that made it on air, describing why they succeeded:
- Each of these stories is a story in the most traditional sense: there are characters in some situation, and a conflict.
- These pitchers are clear about who the characters are and what the conflict is.
- Each of these stories raises some bigger question or issue, some universal thing to think about.
- Finally, they’re brief.
On that last one (brevity), they offer further advice. This time I find the advice goes much further than just radio or TV pitches, but pitches of any type:
Select a short, self-contained section that might make a nice [â€¦] story and send us a couple paragraphs describing that section. [â€¦] Assume anything over 12 pages will not be read. If you have a hard time choosing an excerpt, then spend a page or two explaining what your book or documentary is about, and telling us a few of your favorite moments. If you have some ongoing project on your website or blog that you think might be interesting on the show, don’t just send us a link to your archives – paste a few choice excerpts into your pitch. Help us love you! Help us find your best, most radio-friendly material!
I could/should have included this in my previous post on Baum, but I believe these merit separate mention:
As Jason points out, New Yorker editor John Bennet called Baum’s proposal for a story about a Mexican government officialÂ (pdf) “the best proposal he’d ever read”. Some facts from that story:
One Mexican in ten lives in the United States, about half illegally. The wages they send home are Mexico’s third-biggest source of income after tourism and oil. In the demographic undertow of that tidal wave are 90 Mexican microregions that have been drained of men. Migration to the U.S. is as central to Mexico’s culture as it is to its economy.
Update: Dan Baum now offers a proposal-writing service and as such his collection of proposals have been removed. A real loss. Luckily for us, the proposal above (for a story about a Mexican government official) is still available.