How to Pitch Major Publications and Make Money In the Expert Industry
Ever wondered how to pitch (and land) major publications?
If you’re one of the three million people trying to make money in the ‘expert economy’—where you get paid big bucks to consult or teach—then you’ve probably wondered this exact question. Maybe you’ve even tried to pitch a few yourself.
Or maybe you’ve been too intimidated to even try…
But intimidating or not, these publications are the key to growing your expert status and landing high-paying clients. So if you’re dead-set on making money as an expert, big pubs aren’t optional!
Don’t worry—the interview tips below will make the pitching process super simple and anxiety-free for you. We’ve even included a sample pitch approved by an editor for major publications!
Once you get your ideas out on authority websites, you start solving people’s problems and making life better for them. Some of these people will reach out to you directly for coaching and consulting, which is very lucrative; some of them will invite you on to their podcasts and radio shows to share your expertise with a broader audience. And others will pay you for your writing (up to a dollar and up per word!).
I’m fortunate to have benefited from all three of these incredible results of landing major publications, including Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Greatist, MindBodyGreen, Fitbit, Elite Daily, and Relevant Magazine–enough to where I’ve made a career in the expert industry. But among the greatest benefits are the connections I’ve made and the industry knowledge I’ve gained.
I was just chatting with my friend and former editor at FastCo, Rich Bellis—who’s currently a studmuffin at the Wall Street Journal—and I told him that I had a ton of readers here at Millennial Success who were interested in getting published on large sites. He didn’t hesitate to hop on a call with me to share exactly what major-pub editors are looking for.
Enjoy this value-packed interview with a man who has accepted and rejected thousands of pitches!
Key pitching points:
• Keep your pitch short—shoot for two or three concise paragraphs
• Skip the small talk: editors want you to get right into the meat of your pitch.
• Make sure your pitch is about something the editor hasn’t heard of and is interesting.
• Spell out exactly why your article is meaningful in one sentence. (The formula is included in the interview!)
• You don’t need a list of major publications if your pitch is good enough.
• When you do list your publishing creds, only do so at the bottom of your pitch, and limit yourself to three links.
Interview with Rich Bellis, Former Leadership Editor at Fast Company
DD—What are some tweaks to an email that will increase a person’s chances of landing his or her pitch?
RB—Every editor is different and I only speak for myself, but the shorter the better.
Your pitch shouldn’t be more than two short paragraphs plus your introduction (Hi, yadda yadda—I’m blah blah). If I see a third graph, I think it’s unnecessarily long. And if I see a fourth…I’m just going to ignore the pitch because that’s not how I’m going to be spending my time.
(Note from Daniel: Later in our conversation, Rich mentioned that lots of writing isn’t a sign that you’re an expert on your topic, but that you haven’t sharpened your angle enough to write about it clearly and concisely. So when he sees paragraph upon graph in your pitch, it’s an indication to him that you really don’t know your topic well enough to articulate it in a shorter time frame. Which is a fast track to rejection.)
DD—I’m so guilty, here! This explains 90% of my rejections in the first few years, and the first six times you rejected me…
RB—At least you learned.
RB—The second thing I recommend (and again, this is purely subjective; other editors might say I’m an idiot) is to skip the small talk and chumminess.
This is a professional interaction. I’m not your friend; you’re not going to sweet talk your way into a yes. Trying to show me that you’re a voice-y writer with personality and that you get the tone of the publication, that comes from a good place.—And you can definitely incorporate the publication’s sense of style into the pitch. But most pitches kinda slide into this cheerful enthusiasm, and it’s mostly from non-writers: marketers, PR, etc. It just doesn’t fly.
So just cut to the facts.
The editor is looking for new information that’s useful to their audience and that’s it. The fact that you have a personality is great, but it’s not even close to the deciding factor for whether I accept your pitch or not.
DD—Soooo…what is the deciding factor?
RB—The pitch that catches my eye will always be something new, something I haven’t thought of, and something specific. I’m also constantly hoping to be surprised and informed. Because if it surprises and interests me, it’s probably going to surprise and interest the readers too.
Whatever bit of newness that you present, it doesn’t have to be new information. It can be a new angle, a new argument. Just surprise me with something interesting I haven’t heard.
DD—So, when someone says, “I have three leadership lessons that I learned from an oddball beach volleyball tournament I participated in,’ you think: “Ahh, I’ll listen now!” (That was my first winning pitch with Rich, bee-tee-dubs.)
RB—Yeah! That’s the sort of thing where it sounds like an interesting connection. And I’m glad you mentioned that, because that’s the kind of stuff that catches my eye. It’s the level of interest where I think, “I can imagine a reader being interested to know what those things are.”
But even though your volleyball angle interested me, it’s not what got it accepted. What got the pitch accepted was the content of those lessons. Writers can blow smoke in the pitch, but I’ll find out if the content is actually meaningful or not.
Rich talks about how writers need to spell out what makes their article meaningful and worth pursuing.
Another important thing that I need to see in the pitch ASAP is why the idea you’re presenting to me is meaningful. You might say that industrial refrigerators are skyrocketing in price, and this is a totally made up scenario, but what does that mean to me? If there’s some conspiracy behind it that traces back to government corruption or some kind of abuse of power, now that’s going to be meaningful.
It’s an editor’s job to decide if something is meaningful and worth pursuing. But the writer should definitely attempt to spell out to the editor why they think their piece is meaningful.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from an editor (while I was still freelancing) was to boil the pitch down to a single sentence with a noun and a verb and the word ‘because.’ And what comes after the word ‘because’ is what editors are really looking for—whether your piece is going to be interesting enough or relevant enough or appealing enough.
So give me a thesis. And give me a reason.
Here’s an example of what this thesis looks like, based on Rich’s formula:
While global veganism is offered as a solution to climate change, some scientists and agricultural leaders are pointing towards even more animal consumption because of a new ranching technique that’s proven to restore grasslands and reduce atmospheric carbon.
(This is actually the beginning of the sample pitch included at the end of the article. Read on to see the whole thing!)
DD—This interview has been pretty validating for me. Over the past year I’ve stumbled upon many of the pitching principles you’ve mentioned just through trial and error, and have been more successful because of it.
RB—Well the more you pitch, the more you get a feel of what certain editors are looking for. It’s not that all winning pitches have defining characteristics, you just get to know what works and what doesn’t. Your pitches to me in the latter part of our working together, for instance—they weren’t successful because you were abiding by everything I’ve mentioned in this interview. You just had more practice and familiarity.
So if you’re looking to land more pitches, definitely go off of formulas that work. But really nothing substitutes for practice. Just keep pitching, and you’ll learn more about the editors and you’ll sort of internalize the pitch process.
(Dan’s note: If this hasn’t been made clear yet…Keep pitching! The firsthand experience you gain from making mistakes is more valuable than any knowledge you can read in an article.)
DD—Can you talk a little more about editors, and guidelines for interacting with them?
RB—Be very judicious about asking for feedback when you’re rejected. A rejection is not an invitation to try pitching your idea again—it was rejected. If the editor thought it could work by doing a b or c differently, they would tell you. They’ll come back to you. Otherwise it’s just a no, for reasons that would take too long to spell out.
DD—So if writers come back pretending that the rejection is an invitation to connect, the editor will get annoyed, and it’ll hurt your chances of future success?
RB—Yeah. It’s not an editor’s job to coach you to become a better freelance pitcher. I’m getting paid to publish stories that are relevant and entertaining to my readers. I’m not saying don’t ever ask what was wrong with the pitch, but don’t do that a lot. If you really felt it was a great pitch, you can venture to ask. But you likely won’t get a response because it’s not their job to tell you, and they’re busy.
On the other hand, if an editor is volunteering feedback, then they’re doing so very deliberately—even if it was a hard rejection. Take that and run with it. That editor is opening up a crack for you to get a foot in the door.
DD—So if you get any feedback—“Hey, I like the seed of this, but it’s not going to work,”—take that as a ray of hope for a relationship.
RB—Absolutely pitch that person again. Just pitch them again. If they’ve given you some indication that they like it, you have every right to say, “Okay, I’ve caught someone’s eye and they bothered to take the time. So I’m definitely going to reach out to them again.”
DD—What kind of credentials do you want to see as an editor for a major publication? Do you care about their writing history as long the quality of writing is good, or do you want to see a trail of articles at major publications?
RB–I’m not going to necessarily need for them to have that history. A lot of great writers and reporters don’t have a long track record of success. But I do want to make sure they’re not scammy or have vested interests—that they haven’t previously or aren’t currently promoting some company. So everyone’s pitch is going to be vetted, and you will be looked into a bit. But I don’t need to see your Harvard degree.
If someone’s a fluent, capable writer who seems upstanding and like they have something to say (without ulterior motives), then great—I’ll consider the article on its merit.
I think listing a few publications is great, maybe up to three. But don’t itemize six of your past articles, because I’m not going to click all of those links. If I’m interested in the pitch and I’ve never heard of you and you tell me you’ve written for Pitchfork and Nylon, and I’m an entertainment editor, I’ll look you up. But you don’t need a whole CV.
DD—Would you put these reference articles up top, or where do they belong?
RB—No, at the bottom: right before you sign off. Pitch first. If I’m interested in the pitch, I’ll spend a little time looking you up and checking out your writing. But I wouldn’t put that at the top. Always pitch first. Introduce yourself second.
(Dan’s note: from what I’ve gathered, it seems like editors will view the frontloading of your credentials as irrelevant to the pitch and a waste of their time. They first need to be interested in the pitch, because the writing is what they sell to their audience—not the person. So it’s rational to say, “Hey, I want the editor to know that I’m not wasting their time and that I have creds,”—but ultimately, the pitch must come first.)
DD—Last question, Rich. And thanks so much for being so generous with your time for my audience here at Millennial Success. Are there any red flags that will automatically prevent you from reading a pitch?
RB—Anything that feels spammy or scammy—like caps, tons of formatting, colors…anything that feels like it’s screaming for my attention. If it’s unprofessional and shrill, feels marketing-y, makes me feel like I need to be on alert for your agenda, I’m going to pass.
Most writers and journalists are pretty sober minded people. There’s not a lot of salesmanship happening, so the pitch is either going to work on its merits or it isn’t.
Another is length, like I’ve already mentioned. If you’re pitching me a 400-word pitch, I have no confidence that you’ll be able to file a story at word count. You need to write concisely.
One last thing: If you’re freelance pitching, make it clear towards the bottom whether you’re intending this as an unpaid contribution or pitching as a freelancer.
Whew–this is years of professional editing and pitching experience at major publications condensed into a metric ton of actionable advice!!! Study this, guys. If you’re interested in landing big websites and making it in the expert industry, this interview and the advice in it will serve you better than anything I’ve ever read or come across.
Here’s the full pitch that you can use as a template, based on Rich’s advice:
I’m Daniel Dowling.
While global veganism is offered as a solution to climate change, some scientists and agricultural leaders are pointing towards even more animal consumption because of a new ranching technique that’s proven to restore grasslands and reduce atmospheric carbon. It’s called Holistic Management.
Originally developed by Alan Savory to restore African savannas, HM mimics the natural herd patterns of cows and sheep (bunching tightly to ward off predators), which forces high volumes of carbon-rich dung and urine to be trampled into the ground. This increases the soil’s ability to hold water and support more vegetation—which is the opposite of what conventional ranching does. The animals are then rotated at calculated intervals so they don’t overgraze and prevent the trampled earth from growing back as lush and carbon-dense as nature intended.
All this leads to more carbon stored in the ground and in plant matter, and less circulating in the air from exposed soil.
I know this sounds counterintuitive, because cows are branded as Earth’s biggest blighters. (To be fair, CAFOs are technically evil, and a huge part of the problem.) But I think your audience would be interested to see how properly managed cows can be a positive for fighting climate change, especially considering how meat consumption is on the rise.
Here are a couple recent clips of mine:
And I’m looking forward to your response,
Looking for personal instruction and expert guidance on landing your major publications? Contact me today about coaching!