Before I get to today’s post, read this interview with Dan Baum, former staffer for The New Yorker, now a freelancer. I agree with everything he says, which is how I know he’s brilliant. Pay particular attention to how he crafts every story pitch with a particular market in mind. I have been trying to teach this concept to my magazine writer coaching clients for many years, not always with success. If your story pitch is so generic it could be published in any of fifty-two different magazines, why would any of them snap it up? This does not mean you can’t reslant or tweak story ideas to fit different magazines. Especially with service pieces, that’s a fairly standard approach. But you have to consider what an editor needs and is looking for, including style and voice as well as content. This is not that hard to find out. Open a couple of past issues of the magazine . . . . But that’s another story for another time.
On to today’s topic . . . .
Writers have many reasons to obsess and many things to obsess over. One of these things is timing. Once writers have moved beyond the “Should I even submit?” stage to the point where they’re regularly pitching/submitting, they start to think of all the factors that go into an editor’s acceptance or rejection of an idea (or book, or whatever). And they hear other writers talk about their success: “It was the right editor at the right time.” Or, “It was the right idea at the right time.”
And timing is important: I just pitched a book idea to an editor who loved it but found out that another editor at her company had just acquired a title that was too similar to mine. If I’d been a month or two earlier with my idea, I’d probably have that contract. My failure to get the deal had nothing to do with what (my proposed project) and everything to do with when.
So, we know that kind of thing happens and it makes us focus on the timing of submitting our work. We can’t know what all editors and other writers are up to, but we can be aware of various events that might impact our timing. We start to think, “Well, next week is BEA [or some other industry conference or some bank holiday. Or it’s August or December and nobody buys books in August or December]. I’ll bet my editor will be swamped, so I’d better get my idea in early. Or wait until she’s back. Or . . . .”
Not long ago, I watched an online debate over which day of the week was the best day to submit a pitch. The conversation went something like this: Isn’t everybody swamped at work on Monday? So Monday is out; your pitch will just got lost. And Friday, everyone’s just trying to clear their desks for the weekend, so Friday is out. And of course you can’t pitch on a weekend because your email will get buried under Monday’s deluge. Tuesday it seems like everyone is trying to catch up from Monday, so that’s probably not the best day, but isn’t Wednesday a huge day for meetings? Who has time to respond to pitches on Wednesday? And Thursday, that’s over the hump and everyone is trying to wrap things up, so they won’t give your pitch much attention.
How about never? Is never good for you?
The thing is, even if you avoided submitting on Mondays and Fridays (and weekends) and holidays, and important conference weeks, and August and December, you’d still be up against things you couldn’t possibly predict: the editor has a bad cold and everything, including your pitch, sucks hard. The editor’s husband just walked out on her and she’s using your pitch on Ten Tips to Make Your Marriage Last to kindle the fire she’s using to burn all his pictures. And so on.
All you can do — and all you should do — is pitch when you’re ready, and not worry about the rest.