Tips of the trade - PITCHING A FEATURE

Martyn Moore, editor, Classic Cars

The big mistake writers make is they do too much beforehand. I would far rather see a well-articulated idea than a brilliantly-written feature.

If I get one side of A4 we might read it and think “that’s good, we could use that for our November issue”. Or even better, a list, just one-liners. That way, the writer is already selling it to me, because it’s like writing a standfirst, and often the best one-liners become the standfirst. It’s the short, snappy bits that grab my eye.

I hate it when writers phone me with ideas. Sometimes you’re in the middle of something and then you don’t give them the attention they deserve.

Of course, I might be sitting back, chewing the fat, in which case I wouldn’t mind. It’s all down to luck. E-mails are pretty good, though.

We’re always looking for an interesting angle. In particular we like cultural references; cars in movies, cars on TV, even cars of Prime Ministers. We like them to be really obscure. It has to have an angle, a spin.

I do try to get back to a writer with constructive feedback. I’ve even suggested re-writes, then published the feature. It’s not always a smooth process but it sometimes works.

Amy Fleming, features commissioning editor, The Guardian

What impresses me as an editor is a truly original idea, a fast response to a news story, and evidence that we can trust you to do a good job.

We’re very news reactive, and we’re always looking for a new approach to big stories which are thoroughly covered in the news pages.

Bagging the first interview with someone involved in a news story is a valuable commodity. We have a brilliant team of staff writers so you need to offer us something we can’t do in-house. It also needs to instantly grab us.

If the pitch is too long, remotely boring or confusing, we’ll just stop reading it, as we’re very time-poor.

E-mail is most convenient by far, but avoid fiddly attachments which we may not be able to open. It’s also important to demonstrate that you’re easy to deal with. No-one’s going to commission someone they suspect will cause them trouble or let them down.

The writer needs to know exactly what their story is before approaching us, but it’s not necessary to have written the entire piece – although this helps if they’re new to us.

 

Emma Elms, deputy features editor, Marie Claire

It’s really helpful if freelances can keep proposals brief and concise. Ideally include a short biography, including relevant experience, and any particular interest or specialism.

If you’re a new journalist, attach qualifications and details of when you graduated.

Familiarise yourself with the magazine so you’re aware of the ways we approach features. Give a provisional headline and two paragraphs summarising the feature. Always describe the case studies you would interview and whether they’ll be photographed.

Avoid sending a feature ready written, as we prefer to decide on the angle with our editor. Most of our writers do have prior experience, but if a new writer has a fantastic, original idea then they’re in with a good chance. Finally, if your idea isn’t snapped up immediately don’t be disheartened – it may be a great idea, but just overlaps with another feature we’ve already planned.

 

by Cat Rogers

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