The Path to Publication: Writing your Pitch
My first post in The Path to Publication series introduced a variety of venues in which high school students might want to publish. This second post will help you introduce yourself and your ideas to a venue. For now, we’ll focus on the process of “pitching” to venues that publish short essays (1000-2500 words) for a “general” audience.
Why begin with short essays? Simply put, the French “essais,” a term that Montaigne took up in the late sixteenth century, means “attempts” or “tests.” To publish a short essay, you do not need highly specialized knowledge or formal literary training. You only need the courage to publicly test out your perspective on a topic of your interest. Well, that, plus a basic understanding of how to get a venue to take you and your ideas seriously—which brings us back to the “pitch.”
Your “pitch” will introduce:
Who you are
What your topic of interest is
Why you are qualified to write about it
What you’d like to say about it
And why you wish to publish in the venue that you are contacting.
Let’s break that down. Most venues will allow you to submit a pitch roughly two paragraphs long. The first three items on the list above should go into the first paragraph, which you can think of as a kind of elevator pitch for your identity as an intellectual. The last two items on my list belong in your second paragraph, which will offer a preview of your essay.
When you introduce yourself in paragraph one, begin with some basic professional information. Where do you go to school and/or work? Are you contributing to a research project, internship, initiative, or club related to your topic? Next, clearly state what you’d like to write about: in one sentence, with no academic jargon. To wrap up your paragraph, briefly explain why you have a unique perspective on your topic. Have you been on the frontlines of research? Does your identity shape how you understand a book, show, news event, cultural movement, etc? Is your workplace, school, or club grappling with a problem–or solution–that has given you a fresh take on your topic?
Your second paragraph is your chance to debut your perspective and voice as a writer. In three to four sentences, outline your essay idea. What question are you trying to answer or ask? Are you making a point or argument? What do you want your reader to get out of your essay? Finally, tell your venue why you want to discuss your topic with their readers. What might readers of The LA Review of Books get out of an article that readers of Vanity Fair or National Geographic may not? You should not mention any other venues in your pitch, but you can compare them in your imagination, to clarify your own stance on why you are pitching to a particular venue.
Of course, you will likely pitch your essay to many venues, and you can edit and recycle your pitch, just as you revamp your college essays to fit similar prompts. Some venues will have an online submission portal with a word limit, requiring you to condense your pitch. For other venues, you can try to identify specific section editors and email them your pitch directly. If you’re working with a CRI tutor with a publication record, they may be able to help connect you with an editor.
Once you have submitted your pitch, the waiting begins. Some venues may never reply, but many will! Watch your inbox closely and be sure to respond to both acceptances and rejections in a timely manner.
Coming up, look out for our next few topics in The Path to Publication: “How to reply to and Learn from Acceptances and Rejections” and “Academic Papers.”