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Pitch Your Article Idea to a Living, Breathing Editor

It’s time to contact a living breathing, acquisitions editor. The only question is, what is his or her name? Finding the answer is easy. Simply look at the masthead and notice the myriad of listings for:

• Editor
• Deputy editor
• Executive editor
• Senior editor
• Associate editor
• Managing editor
• Technology editor

So which one should you contact, the executive editor? Yes, sometimes. Or, the managing editor? Sometimes. Though usually this is the man or woman responsible for copy editing and laying out the pages and fotos for printing.

You’re also likely to see a list of contributing editors. Ignore them, no disrespect intended. Typically they are non-staff contributors who write at least one article a month for the magazine. In other words, contributing editors are freelancer writers with a steady gig. Ultimately it should be one of your goals to one day become a contributing editor. Think steady income.

For the moment though, your immediate goal is to find out exactly which editor or editors buy stories. To quickly get your answer, call the magazine. The main number is usually listed on the masthead. When the receptionist answers, ask for the editorial department. She may be a call screener and attempt to obstruct your attempt. So if you sense any resistance, fess up and tell her you are a writer (not an aspiring writer)  and would like to pitch a story idea. Ask whom would she suggest you talk with.

But before you ever a pick up the phone, it’s not a bad idea to first practice your script over and over again until you can deliver your pitch with confidence and clarity. And don't make the mistake of pitching too many ideas. Pitch your best idea first. If that one is turned down on have one alternate story idea ready to go. If you make the mistake of pitching a dozen stories you will simply overwhelm the hard working editor.

Worried you might make a bad first impression and burn the bridges at a magazine? That's not really a problem. Experiment with a magazine you don’t really care about, perhaps one that covers a special interest you have no real personal interest in. Because this is a learning process, do all the research recommended previously in this special report. Really try hard to sell an article to the magazine. Get over your stage fright. Become comfortable selling your ideas to a total stranger. And should you be successful and sell an article, that's great!

With a little practice you will have built confidence. Then and only then make a good faith phone call to the editor of choice and make your best pitch. Then when you sell the story, write it. Send it in right away. Editors love punctuality. Writer's who make deadlines thrive.

On the other hand, if you flub the pitch, no harm done. Don't think of the failed sales call as a burned bridge. Wait a month, call the same editor and make another pitch.

Be advised some editors are famous for giving out assignments like Halloween candy. In retrospect you may think it was too easy to sell them on the idea you pitched. Some editors do this because in their long careers experience has taught them the hard lesson that when you give an aspiring writer an assignment you’re unlikely to ever hear from them again. In other words, giving them an assignment is a good way to get rid of them. Don't misunderstand, if you do turn in a good story and on time you will be paid, and it might just be the beginning of a long term relationship.

Perhaps you're wondering how it can be that a writer given an assignment disappears into the night never to be heard from again instead of writing the article and getting paid. Incredible as it may sound, many aspiring writers fantasize about being a working writer but can’t cross-over to the other side. You’ll learn more about how to make that psychological transition later on in this special report’s section on self-talk.

There's an old anecdote on the topic worth repeating. An aspiring violinist named Steve dreamed of becoming a virtuoso. But Steve was dreadfully worried that all his hard work and the substantial sum he was paying for lessons would come to naught. Steve decided that for better or worse he absolutely had to know whether or not he had sufficient talent enough to become a famous violinist.

So one night after a concert he forced his way into the dressing room of a famous concert violinist, the great Porcini! Steve demanded that Porcini listen to him. The great violinist did so, and quite patiently at that.

Then, when Steve was done playing, Porcini gave him the news. That Steve was horrible and that he ought to sell his violin and consider learning how to play another, less challenging musical instrument.

Steve was shattered. He stalked out of the concert hall, angrily smashing his violin against a brick wall in the alley.

Years passed. Steve went into banking and became wealthy. As fate would have it, he met Porcini, now an old man, at a cocktail party in Paris, France. Steve asked if the violinist remembered him.

Porcinci confessedd that he did not.

Steve reminded the man how he had forced his way into dressing room, played his violin for him and Porcini had told him he was terrible. Now did he remember?

 Porcini said, no, that over the years many aspiring concert violinist had done the same thing, and he had told them all that they were bad no matter what their level of talent. He confided to Steve that he told them they were bad even if their playing held great promise.

Steve was stunned, and in a strained voice asked how he could do that to someone, to him, that he had quite playing the violin on his word and that perhaps he would have become a great, as great as Porcinci himself.

Porcini chuckled and told him that, no, he wouldn't have, because no matter how great or poor his talent for playing the violin, he obviously did not have the fire in his soul.

A quick word about writer’s marketplaces and directories. If a publication’s listing dictates: no phone calls, then rub your hands together in glee. Immediately phone the editor because no one else has for years. Know that in the real world phone calls are the way business is transacted. The No Phone-Calls admonition is meant to chase away the posers, the dilettantes. You are a pro, so pick up that phone!

That said, there will always be exceptions to the rule. Once, Warren Billy Smith, the one-time king of trade journal writers phoned a New York magazine (which shall remain nameless) and asked the receptionist if he could speak to the editor.

The elitist receptionist replied in a condescending tone,

"One does not speak to editors at this magazine."

Smith said drily,

“If editors don’t talk to writers, then how do they find articles to publish?”

The woman slammed down the phone.

Smith had a good laugh. An experienced pro, he knew not to take the rejection personally. Neither should you. - next -