I know I'm not alone in my fear of pitching. Many of you mentioned it in your survey responses. (Click here
if you haven't filled out the survey yet.)
So I figured I'd spend this newsletter going over some of the do's and don'ts of pitching.Do...pitch a story that only you can produce.
Accepting a pitch from a new-to-me freelancer was always a gamble.
I've commissioned stories based on the strength of the narrative arc, only to have the reporter virtually ignore that narrative arc (or any narrative arc) in their first draft.
I've prepared a list of interview questions for a reporter who didn't know what to ask, only to have that reporter ignore those questions during the interview.
I've gone through long, painful edits with reporters, only to discover that they weren't writing down any of my suggestions.
Frankly, sometimes it would have been easier to do the story myself.
But you know which stories I can't do myself?
The one about how your grandmother and your sister traded poems about Duke basketball
The one about confronting your high school bully
, only to discover he wasn't such a bad guy after all.
The one about running a race to raise money for juvenile diabetes
, because you were diagnosed with the disease at the age of 11.
None of these stories would have even been stories if they were reported by anyone else. It's the personal connection that made them work.
So if you have a personal connection to a story, lean into it.
Don't...pitch a story that's too easy to find.
Look, I read the news, too. I don't need you to tell me about the story that's gone viral. (Unless the subject of that story is your second cousin's next door neighbor who is fearful of the media and will talk to no one but you. If that's the case, pitch away!)
In my mind, there's a sliding scale. The easier a story is to find, the better the story needs to be.Let me explain.
If you're going to pitch an interview with the author of a new book, it better be the best story I've ever heard. We're talking diving inside of an iceberg
That's because the book author is going to be on a book tour. She's going to be interviewed by everyone and their mother. Why should I hire you, dear freelancer, when the author's publicist is already calling me?
On the other hand, if you want to talk to an author
whose book I've never heard of, because it was published more than a decade ago and was largely ignored because no one wanted to believe young gymnasts were being abused by people in power in their sport, an now everyone knows gymnasts were being abused by people in power in their sport...you might just have something.
No matter how much -- or how little -- experience you have, the main thing that's being evaluated isn't YOU.
It's your IDEA.
So make sure you're bringing an idea that's going to surprise the person you're pitching.Don't...pitch a topic to a storytelling show.
Look, it's great that you're interested in the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow
. But that's not a story.That's a topic.
How do you turn a topic into a story?
Here's a good example.
Not so long ago, I needed to find a story about sports and Hollywood. So I started just by thinking about all the ways that sports and moviemaking collide.
The first name to pop into my mind was Esther Williams, a swimmer-turned-actress who starred in dozens of "aquamusicals" in the 1940s and '50s.
(If this is sounding familiar, it's because I mentioned this story in a previous newsletter
I'm fascinated by Esther Williams, and I probably could have made a story about her life, her rise to fame and the indignities she faced in Hollywood.
But in one of my Google searches, I stumbled upon something called the Esther Williams Trophy. Simply put, the trophy was a photo of Esther from one of her earliest films. And the Allied Navies fought over this photo, in a weird game of capture the flag, for more than 70 years.
But I still didn't have a story. I had something I've heard described as "a really interesting fact
So I took that fact -- that little piece of trivia -- and I figured out its origin story. I spoke to some of the men who had witnessed and participated in "raids" for the trophy. I found logs from the ship-to-ship communication between the winners and the losers. I talked to people who could explain how and why it came to an end. Eventually, I had assembled enough plot points to craft an arc
Speaking of which…Do...center your pitch around plot.
Look, the best news peg in the world isn't going to convince a storytelling show to take your story.
The quirkiest character won't convince them to take a chance on you.
But the best/most unexpected/most tension-filled sequence of events just might.So lead with that…
And also character.
I know, I know, I just said that character alone ain't gonna do it. And I stick by that sentence! (Otherwise, I'm gonna get stuck in endless re-writes and never get around to writing that pitch!)
In my experience, it's easier to find a character to carry a plot than it is to find a plot to carry a character. So start with a really great plot and then look for ways to bring compelling characters to that story.
But when pitching a narrative/storytelling show, don't worry too much about a news peg. Pegs can be a bonus, but often don't play too big of a role in the showrunner's decision.Don't...write a book.
If you're pitching a 10 minute story and your pitch takes me 15 minutes to read, we've got a problem.
For one, it indicates that you haven't reallly figured out what your story is about.
But more than that, I simply don't have 15 minutes to spend on your pitch. I've got maybe 60 seconds to decide whether it's worth my time to click on your links and see if you've got the chops to do a story for me.Okay, so what would a "good" pitch look like?
Let's take our silly "airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow" example.