As the Senior Features Editor at Bustle, it's part of my job to field what can amount to over 100 pitches each day. Want to know how to make sure your pitch stands out? Let me share some suggestions on how to pitch to Bustle.
But first, the same disclaimer I always give: this is only advice on how to pitch to Bustle. I can't speak to the protocols at other publications or websites, though I imagine that other web editors in my position are similarly strapped for time, flooded with emails, and eager for you to get to the point of your pitch as succinctly as possible. These tips are aimed at helping you make sure you get your message across quickly, clearly, and professionally. They worked for me when I was a freelancer, so please know that when I open each of these emails, I've totally been there.
But look at me, rambling on when I'm telling you to get straight to the point. Here are my main tips on how to pitch to Bustle.
1. Know What We're Looking For In The First Place
Here's what I'm generally looking for: personal essays, think pieces pegged to events in news, pop culture or feminism, editorials, reported pieces, experiments, and really, any other super-strong work you'd like to reach a large audience with. If you are writing a reaction to a current event, be sure to submit it the day of the event or in the 24 hours after —the news cycle moves very quickly, so you'll want to write any reactions as soon as possible. As far as length, 1000-1500 words is your sweet spot, but there's some room on either end.
We only accept pieces that haven't been published elsewhere, and of course, you should be familiar with the site and tone of Bustle. Know that if I haven't worked with you before, I will always need to see a full draft before I commit to running a piece. That said, you can pitch an idea first and get my opinion on whether it's a fit for the site in the first place (more on that in a minute) before writing up a full draft.
2. Make Sure Your Subject Line Doesn't Sound Like PR
You want to be sure your subject line makes it clear you're not a PR rep. The main way to do this is not to get too fancy, vague, or cheesy. Your subject line can read like a sample headline, for example, "SUBMISSION: 6 Reasons Pitch Perfect Is The Ultimate Feminist Film, “PITCH: What I Learned About Love From Losing My Mother (Draft Attached)” NOT “Funky Freelancer Wants To Write About Sex!” or “Hi Bustle!” These days, we are using a system called Submittable to field all pitches and submissions.
3. Keep Your Intro Simple
Keep the body of your email intro short, professional, and clear. Briefly introduce yourself, avoid telling your life story, link to any related articles you’ve published if applicable, then get straight to the pitch. Ideally, the whole intro is one paragraph, max. Remember — I'm trying to get straight to your draft or pitch, and honestly, while it's awesome if you've been published elsewhere or went to J school, I always, always judge 100 percent on the writing itself.
4. Submit Full Drafts Whenever Possible
If you remember one thing, remember this: If you have a full draft, please, for the love of Joan Didion and all else that is holy, submit it! Like I said, all I care about is the writing. That's what you're judged on if you're pitching a story — not your resume or your intro, but the piece itself. Whenever possible, copy and paste an edited draft in the body of the email below your intro. (You will also need to attach your draft when using Submittable). I once had a writer ask me if submitting a draft without having the pitch approved first is "presumptuous." No — it's much appreciated.
5. If You Don't Have A Draft, Keep Your Pitch Really Clear And Brief
If you’re inquiring as to whether an idea is a fit in the first place and only have a pitch, keep it as short and clear as possible, and include your estimated word count and expected format (eg. listicle, personal essay, editorial, reported story). I will likely reply that I'm happy to consider a draft, though if the idea doesn't sound like a fit for Bustle at all, I might reject it.
If you're still stuck on how to sum up your story in a paragraph, you might also want to consider using something like the template below, especially for editorials, think pieces, or personal essays.
Outline For Features
Working Headline: (1 Line)
Thesis (what are you trying to teach/express to the reader?): (1-2 Lines)
Nut Graf (why should the reader care about this? If it's a personal essay, what is the arc of the story?): (1 Graph)
Approximate Word Count: (Generally, features are anywhere between 800-2000 words, but again, 1000-1500 is your sweet spot)
Potential Sources: If it's a reported piece, who would you talk to?
6. If You're Pitching A List, Give Me Sample Headings
If you’re pitching a list and haven’t written it yet, give at least five sample headings (like you see above) that give me a sense of your voice and why this list will be unique. (Eg. Pitch: 7 Reasons Coffee Is The Best Drug” 1. It Contains Caffeine, Which Is My Lifeblood 2. It Tastes Like Comfort and Productivity Wrapped Into One 3. Let’s Be Real, It’s Basically Mother’s Milk For Adults…) It is also a good idea to do a thorough search on the site to make sure your idea hasn't already been done (or if it has been, that your angle is different enough).
7. Proofread Your Pitch And/Or Draft For More Than Typos
Seems obvious, but you'd be surprised. Always assume the editor is skimming and pressed for time — how can you make your pitch or draft as clear, professional, and hassle-free as possible? Are there run-on sentences? Is there any fat you can cut? Does anything not make sense when you show it to another reader? It's always a good idea to show it to another reader before you send it off.
8. Feel Free To Follow Up
Feel free to follow up if you don’t get a response after a few weeks.
9. Don't Get Discouraged — Get Savvy
We have to be very, very selective about our pitches these days because we get so many. If you have several pitches rejected in a row, don't get discouraged — but don't keep trying the same things either. This might be when you want to follow up with me and ask what you could do to improve. Remember, we see it as part of our mission at Bustle to serve as a launching pad for young and/or newer writers, so know that I consider helping you figure things out a vital part of what makes me proud to do this job.
I hope this helps. Good luck, and happy pitching!