Written by Elaine Kapogines
Everyone makes mistakes when they’re first starting out. Here are 5 mistakes that people often make when pitching a story idea to the media through email, and helpful tips on how you can avoid them.
Not Double Checking Spelling and Grammar
We’ve all done it at some point, but if there’s ever a time you want to double and triple check these things, it’s when you’re sending a pitch to the media. Journalists and editors are nothing if not language experts (i.e. grammar nerds), so most will have zero tolerance for obvious mistakes. If you’re an author, this almost makes it worse, because the expectation is even higher that you can manage basic spelling and grammar.
If you’re not confident in your ability to edit your own emails (which is totally normal!), simply recruit the help of a grammatically inclined friend to give your pitches a quick proofread, or enlist the help of an online tool like Grammarly before your hit send.
Forgetting to Include Your Contact Information
Yes, obviously the recipient of the email can hit “reply.” But don’t leave anything up to chance. Take a moment to ensure that your contact information is clearly spelled out somewhere in the email — your sign-off or email signature would be the obvious choice.
Also, anticipate how the reporter might choose to respond to your pitch. Definitely include your email address, but you will probably also want to include a phone number (yes, calling people is still a thing). Reporters are super busy and may need a ridiculously fast turnaround on a particular story, so being available for a quick phone call may just be the ticket to securing the interview.
Misspelling The Journalist’s Name
This one is bad. As a seasoned writer and editor myself with a fairly uncommon first (and last) name, I can’t tell you the number of pitches I receive with my name misspelt. Which actually super sucks, because my first name is right in my email address! It literally takes 2 seconds to double check how someone spells their name. I promise those 2 seconds will be worth it!
This becomes even more important if you’re copying and pasting from another pitch or from a pitch template. Using an older pitch as a guideline for a new pitch is totally acceptable as long as you’re following good pitch etiquette, but never ever forget to change the name of the new contact! I have myself forgotten and it feels awful.
Writing A Subject Line That’s Too Short or Too Long
Email subject lines are a whole conversation on their own! In fact, I have a training video for Pitch Lounge members on how to write a subject line that will get you noticed because it’s such an important topic. A huge mistake I see a lot is making your subject line too short or too long. I see lots of one or two word subject lines: “Pitch” “Article Idea” “Interview opp” “Story”. As an editor, I have no motivation to open those emails, but on the flip side, writing a subject line with your entire life story is also very likely to end up on the editor’s trash bin.
Generally speaking, you want to aim for 6-10 words. Make it catchy, not cutesy. Pique their curiosity. The only goal of a subject line is to get the recipient to open the email, because if you can’t get them to do that, your pitch is dead in the water.
Not Including a Call To Action
You always want to make your pitch easy to say “yes” to — and a good way to do that is to finish your pitch with a direct call to action. What is it that you want to happen next? A good call to action will make your intentions clear. The keyword here is action. Are you asking for a book review? Do you want to be interviewed? Do you want to contribute an article?
As an author, the call to action can be very simple, such as ”Where can I send you a copy of my book?” You’re not asking “if” you can send it — asking “where” can help mitigate the back-and-forth that sometimes can happen with email communication. Other specific calls to action could be to offer high resolution images (i.e. your book cover), or statements like “Looking forward to working with you on this story” and “Let me know when would be a good time to connect.”
Elaine Kapogines had over 15 years of experience working in Canadian print media in senior editorial and management positions, as well as owning two independent print magazines. In 2019, she made the shift from journalist to PR strategist and media educator, where she now helps self-published authors sell more book through proven PR and content marketing strategies. As the creator of Pitch Class and Pitch Class for Publishing, Elaine has reached hundreds of authors and entrepreneurs with her message that the media is accessible to everyone who wants to share their voice.