From Aliya S. King’s Blog, Pitch Me (2009)
I’d like you all to meet Alisha N. Tillery.
Alisha’s a freelance writer from Memphis. She recently submitted a pitch to Essence. The pitch was turned down. Let’s see if we can help Alisha tighten up this pitch. Here’s what she submitted.
Turning 30: Dispelling the Myths and Embracing the Milestone
In 2004, rap artist, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter declared in his hit single, “Thirty Something” that “Thirty is the new 20.” Maybe it is for men, but for women, age 30 is viewed as rites of passage. We are taught that we should leave behind the immaturity and mistakes of our fancy-free twenties and embrace stability and longevity. For many women, however, it represents the lack thereof. How does the woman who has no stable career, husband, children or even a long-term partner feel? Conversely, should a woman suddenly stop partying and cut the girlfriend getaways because she is “too old” at 30? Does life end or does it begin at the “Dirty 30”?
I am offering a 1,200-word article, which will discuss the expectations of women as they turn age 30, when turning 30, what it means to them, risks they have since taken or changes they have made in relationships, careers, physical health or spirituality. The article will also include words of wisdom from older women or a list of things to do or consider by age 30. Sources to be featured include psychotherapist and life coach, Pam Codgal, Ph.D. and Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin, authors of Midlife Crisis at 30.
The purpose of this article is to dissipate the idea that age 30 is the end of the road, while inspiring women to begin or continue to set and achieve goals to acquire what they want in their lives. This article is vital to your readers, as women ages 18-34 make up 43 percent of Essence’s readership. The phenomenon of the Quarterlife Crisis has sparked an overwhelming interest in young women. This article will discuss what is next after that crisis. Lastly, as a 27-year-old woman approaching age 30, I have a strong personal interest in researching and writing this story.
My work has been published in Honey Magazine Online, N’Digo Magazine, Vibe Vixen Online and Clutch Magazine. I also author a personal blog, Quarterlife Mocha Girl. You may view samples of my work at www.myspace.com/alishatillery.
Thank you for your consideration of my query. I can be contacted at REDACTED or by email at REDACTED. I look forward to your feedback.
Alisha heard back from the editor. (Which is always good. ANY response is a good response.) She said she might be interested but needed to give it some thought. Ultimately, the pitch was turned down. Let’s see how Alisha could have made this pitch tighter.
I have many thoughts on this pitch. But after reading what my team of editors came up with, I’ve decided to just turn it over to them and just moderate their comments. I’ll add my two cents when necessary. Let’s meet our editors:
This is Clover Hope. Clover is the News Editor of a national entertainment magazine.
Sidebar on Clover: she’s dope. Like, real dope. I read this story she wrote in the Village Voice and I was hating on her hard. (Any writer who tells you they don’t alternately love and hate on a good writer is lying.) Clover makes me want to step up my game. Even TheHusband is always shouting her out. “Hey, look at this story Clover wrote. She’s dope. Blah blah blah.” Which makes me insanely jealous. Because I have to BEG him to read my stories. Even the good ones! And he’s never said I’m a dope writer. Wah! And would you all believe this fool has never read the Faith book? Not ever! And I once read him a draft of the Best Story I Ever Wrote and he fell asleep while I was reading! Fell asleep!
Oh my. I digress.
Here’s what Clover had to say about Alisha’s pitch.
The positive: Good thinking having a title for the pitch. That immediately gives the editor the gist of what Alisha is pitching. Posing questions is also a great move, it shows the different points she wants to address. In general, this is a well-written pitch letter aside from a few minor grammatical errors. I think the problem is the topic. The discussion of “women hitting 30” is a common subject that I wouldn’t be surprised if Essence has covered a number of times already in different fashions, including the ideas in the pitch: advice from older women and things to do before you hit 30. I mean, doesn’t Oprah do a couple shows like this every year? I could be wrong, since I don’t work at Essence, but this seems like a pretty obvious idea. Nothing unique that would make the editor say, wow I’ve never thought of that. I’m sure Essence gets pitches like this all the time. Why not hone in on something more specific about women in their 30s?
This needs a fresh angle and/or new research to peg her idea on.
Another thing. 1200 words is too long if she’s never written for Essence before. If she’s not an established writer, chances are she won’t be given that type of assignment off the bat. I would aim for a shorter word count, especially if pitching a front-of-the-book editor. Writers mess up by pitching long features when they should instead start small.
The last point Clover made here is incredibly important. I can’t stress this enough. If you are a pitching a magazine for the first time and you are a new writer, do NOT pitch long features. It’s just not happening. As an editor, I’m turned off if I even see 1200 words in your pitch. It makes me think you’re not ready if you don’t know that you need to be pitching a 250-word story in the front-of-the-book. The front of the book is the friend of the new writer. That’s where you live. That’s all you right there. My first piece in Essence? 200 words. And my next piece? 200 words. Both in the front of the book.
Let’s hear from our next editor.
His name is Anslem Samuel. The blog you’re reading right now exists because of Anslem. (Or “Ants” as I call him). Ants started blogging and I liked what he was doing over there in his community. But I couldn’t be a part of the community because it was so racy! So much sex talk! Oh my! So I said, well what do I want to talk about? And here we are. I do go over there and peek at what he’s got going on. But um, look at today’s topic. (Mommy and Aunt Janet, do not click that link!) Anyway, Anslem has been editing for ten years. And he recently embarked on a freelance writing career. Here’s what he had to say about Alisha’s pitch.
1. The first line of the pitch referenced a four year old song. That right there made me feel like the hook for the piece was dated. The very first word in the pitch was 2004. Not saying it’s not a good example, just made me feel dated. Some sort of current 2009 tie in would have been better/stronger.
2. Writer set her own word count? Best to leave that to the editor. Even the tone could be perceived like I’m doing you a favor by “offering” my 1,200 words. Maybe I’m exaggerating but better to let the editor decide what the count will be, cause as we know word counts equal dollar amounts (well they did) so it’s the same as saying, hey give me $1,200 and I’ll write this story for you. Also, I know Essence’s romance & relationship section, not sure they run pieces that big. I could be wrong though.
3. POSITIVE: The list of potential sources, including a author, which I’ll assume the writer already has contacts for is a plus. Shows forward thinking and willingness to move on piece right away.
4. POSITIVE: Knowing the magazine’s age range and percentage was good. I actually thought Essence skewed older so I was thinking this piece was rejected because it was too “young” but if those numbers are true then I was wrong in my assumption. But if wrong, then perhaps that “too young” feel may be part of rejection of pitch.
5. Magazine vs. Web. I know as a magazine editor I look at online writing with a bit of a side eye, because traditionally the writing/editing isn’t as sharp as print. No copy editors, fact checkers etc, so I sometimes put online writers through more of a wringer. Just being honest. However, the sites hold weight (Honey, Vibe Vixen) so it helps, although Vixen has folded and Honey is about to relaunch (not sure everyone knows). [Note from Aliya: Vixen is also relaunching.] But the major error is referring clip viewing to MySpace. No, no, no, I can’t take that serious. MySpace is viewed as very juvenile. If you can’t set up a site of your own for clips than provide links or say you can furnish clips upon request, or make a section on your blog specifically for clip viewing. But the MySpace link seems low brow. If I bothered to look, I would be biased to say the least.
Aside from that it seemed fine, I think main thing would be to work in a “why now” angle. Just because the writer is approaching 30 doesn’t mean everyone is as well. There needs to be some reason why an editor would jump on your pitch now as opposed to just letting it sit in evergreen limbo.
I also checked in with this woman. An editor who has asked to remain anonymous.
This editor and author has freelanced for a wide range of publications, including Essence, Glamour, and Redbook.
Now Alisha, I want you to sit down and take a deep breath before you read her comments. I know this woman very well and she can be very…no-holds-barred. But she knows women’s magazines inside and out and she knows the finer points of how to crack into that market. I’m doing this because I care. The editor’s comments are within the pitch and in ALL CAPS. (Which makes it feel like she’s yelling. Which actually, she is.)
Turning 30: Dispelling the Myths and Embracing the Milestone
In 2004, IT’S 2009. SHE’S TALKING ABOUT FIVE YEARS AGO. rap artist, ESSENCE DOESN’T FUCK WITH “RAPPERS.” THEY LIKE CELEBRITIES WHO HAPPEN TO RAP, BUT RAPPERS NEED ANOTHER STAMP TO BE RESPECTED. THE OTHER ISSUE WITH THIS: THIS EDITOR KNOWS WHO JAY IS. SOMEONE SHE’S NEVER MET SAYING “RAPPER SHAWN “JAY-Z” CARTER” MAKES THIS CHICK SOUND LIKE A SQUARE. TOO SQUARE EVEN FOR ESSENCE. Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter declared in his hit single, “THIRTYSOMETHING” WASN’T A SINGLE. IT WAS AN ALBUM CUT. “Thirty Something” that “Thirty is the new 20.” Maybe it is for men, but for women, age 30 is viewed as rites of passage. THIS IS POOR GRAMMAR. “AGE 30” IS SINGULAR. “RITES OF PASSAGE” IS PLURAL. We are taught that we should leave behind the immaturity and mistakes of our fancy-free twenties SHE SHOULD USE THE STYLE OF ESSENCE. “TWENTIES” DOES NOT APPEAR IN MAGAZINES. “20S” APPEARS IN MAGAZINES. and embrace stability and longevity. For many women, however, it represents the lack thereof. SHE’S NOT GETTING TO HER PT. QUICKLY ENOUGH. How does the woman who has no stable career, husband, children or even a long-term partner feel? ESSENCE AND ANY OTHER WOMEN’S MAGAZINE TRAFFICKS IN THE ASPIRATIONAL. THE ASSUMPTION IS THAT THEIR READER IS A WOMAN WHO HAS NO STABLE CAREER, HUSBAND, CHILDREN OR EVEN LONG-TERM PARTNER. EDITORS ASSUME THAT THEIR READERS WANT TO LEARN FROM AND FEEL INSPIRED AND EMPOWERED BY THE COPY IN THE MAG. THE FEELINGS OF SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T HAVE MUCH GOING FOR THEM ISN’T THAT SEXY. Conversely, should a woman suddenly stop partying and cut the girlfriend getaways because she is “too old” at 30? Does life end or does it begin at the “Dirty 30”? THIS IS AN INTERESTING PREMISE. BUT SHE’S NOT PRESENTING IT IN A MARKETABLE WAY. TO WORK, THIS WOULD NEED TO BE A FUNNY, IRREVERENT, IMPECCABLY WRITTEN PERSONAL ESSAY. BUT ESSENCE DOESN’T USUALLY RUN THOSE BECAUSE IT’S TOO EARNEST. ANOTHER PERMUTATION: A TREND PIECE. BUT SHE’S USED A FOUR-YEAR-OLD ALBUM CUT TO ILLUSTRATE THE TREND. IF SHE HAD INTERVIEWED, SAY, 10 OF HER GIRLFRIENDS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY WHO HAD HILARIOUS /BITTERSWEET QUOTES ABOUT HER TOPIC, THIS MIGHT WORK. BUT AS PITCHED, THE EDITOR WOULD NEED TO RELATE TO THIS PHENOMENON—AND HAVE ENOUGH INTEGRITY NOT TO JUST DO IT HERSELF.
I am offering a 1,200-word article, which will BAD GRAMMAR discuss the expectations of women PASSIVE VOICE. as they turn age 30, STILTED and whether or not those expectations are realistic. It will include interviews from 30-year-old REPETITIVE women to explore how they felt SHE’S DATING THE PIECE BEFORE SHE EVEN WRITES IT BY PUTTING THIS IN THE PAST TENSE when turning 30, REPETITIVE what it means to them, risks they have since taken or changes they have made in relationships, careers, physical health or spirituality. THAT’S NOT NEWS TO A WOMAN READING A WOMEN’S MAG. THEY’VE ALREADY TALKED ABOUT ALL OF THIS IN THEIR SISTER CIRCLES, ON THE PHONE, ON FACEBOOK, AT CHURCH, ON FACEBOOK, ETC. The article will also include words of wisdom from older women or a list of things to do or consider by age 30. Sources to be featured include psychotherapist and life coach, Pam Codgal, Ph.D. and Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin, authors of Midlife Crisis at 30. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? THIS DOESN’T EVEN NEED TO BE HERE: The purpose of this article is to dissipate the idea that age 30 is the end of the road, while inspiring women to begin or continue to set and achieve goals to acquire what they want in their lives. This article is vital to your readers, as women ages 18-34 make up 43 percent of Essence’s readership. The phenomenon of the Quarterlife Crisis has sparked an overwhelming interest in young women. This article will discuss what is next after that crisis. Lastly, as a 27-year-old woman approaching age 30, I have a strong personal interest in researching and writing this story.
My work has been published in Honey Magazine Online, N’Digo Magazine, Vibe Vixen Online and Clutch Magazine. I also author a personal blog, Quarterlife Mocha Girl. You may view samples of my work at http://www.myspace.com/alishatillery.
BLOGGERS ARE NOT “AUTHORS.” THEY’RE WRITERS. AND A MYSPACE PG. DOES NOT BELONG IN A NATIONAL MAG QUERY!
Thank you for your consideration of my query. WORDY. I can be contacted at WORDY. IN PASSIVE VOICE. REDACTED or by email at REDACTED. I look forward to your feedback.
I almost edited down this editor’s harshness here. But you know what? Alisha is taking this one for ALL the newbie writers who are trying to get on. This editor sounds hardcore. Because she IS. And she’s someone you will be sending pitches to. And this is what she will be thinking when she reads it.
Maybe you’ll get an editor who is not as hardcore as this one. Clover and Ants didn’t go this hard.. Then again, Clover and Ants opted to go on-the-record.
Honestly, *I* didn’t catch all the flaws that this editor found. She called out mistakes that I’ve made. Recently. I suggest we ALL read Ms. Harsh Editor Lady’s comments thoroughly.
And finally, I checked in with the Secret Superhero Society…
Here’s what the fashion executive at a luxury women’s apparel company had to say.
i kinda feel like this has been done…i mean, i know life doesn’t end at 30. Do women these days really think that? i’m no journalist…but i’m not interested in this pitch.
And this, from the editor of a business magazine…
Agreed. Flawed premise. Even if readers were interested in this kind of navel-gazing six months ago, shit is *real* now. People are out there losing homes, jobs, their assets are dwindling in value. Give me some stories that speak to *real*, pressing concerns, not this trite stuff. Given the times, there’s no way a story like this can come off NOT sounding whiny and immature.
And finally, from a tech editor at a consumer magazine..
There was nothing wrong with this pitch…but there was nothing right about it either. She doesn’t propose to tell us anything that we don’t already know, through people we haven’t already met. Find the women who are getting artificially inseminated; who have sworn off men; who have gone Mormon or Muslim; who have moved into a commune; something, anything that adds a new wrinkle to a story that seems painfully familiar.
Alisha? Are you still there? Don’t be upset! I know this was harsh. But it was for the best. I do believe Alisha can and will make the transition from online to print media outlets, if she so chooses. I think she will have to do more research on her stories and think twice about the outlets she’s pitching.
Oh. And about the myspace thing. I just checked out her page. And it’s not that bad. It’s got a clean design. It’s not my-space-y. Though I could do without the music playing in the background. If she disabled the wall and everything personal, I think it could work. Although some editors would be turned off by the words myspace.
Considering the majority of her clips are online, I think it would be much simpler and more professional to register alishatillery.com with wordpress and have a page with links. She could have that up and running for 15 bucks in the time it takes to read this post.
Good luck Alisha. And on behalf of all the up and coming writers who will read this, I thank you so much for being brave enough to submit to this incredibly tough learning session.