So, you fancy yourself a music writer? You have a piece or are working on a piece, saw a show, interviewed a band or want to review a new album, yes? Okay, how do you go from unpublished to published? You must write a pitch letter, also called a query letter or cover letter. I’m going to show you how to do this. But first I must explain some steps preceding the letter. Because one does not simply write a pitch letter.
Firstly, know the publication.
Familiarize yourself with the content. How does your piece fit with the work they do? Does it fit at all? Does it make sense to send an email to The Fader about your super great album review for a rock band you think is great? I promise you it doesn’t, and you’re email will be ignored or flagged as spam. You get one chance to grab an editor’s attention. Don’t blow it.
In your pitch you’ll want to mention how your piece fits with the publication, what section it should go in, what piece(s) it might be similar to, and when you see it running. I recommend finding pieces in the same genre as your own, reading them, and using them as jumping off points for your work and the query/pitch you’re writing. You need to know who the managing editor is. How often they publish, i.e. is it a daily, quarterly, biannual? Read at least part of a piece they’ve published to get a sense of the writing style.
Look for instructions on how to submit.
These can be hard to find. Publications are good at hiding these because, often, they aren’t looking for new writers. They prefer to keep the staffers or freelancers they have because they are known entities. You, as a random person pitching them a piece, are an unknown. You’re like a stray dog: cute, yes, but you may have fleas and they definitely aren’t letting you near the newborn baby.
About half of all publications will have a ‘Want to get involved’ (ANCHR Magazine) or FAQ titled ‘How To Write For us (Substream)’. Half of those will have pitch guidelines that specifically lay out what they are looking for. Some publications are casual and say, “hit us up.” Other times, you’re just looking for the Contact button (It’sAllDead).
Once you’ve identified the magazine, editor’s name, and the types of pieces the mag runs, figure out what you want to write to them. Basically you’re trying to convince them.
1) I have this thing. This is what it’s about and why it’s important.
2) This is why I think your audience will like it and where it fits in with your publication.
2.5) It is similar to a piece you’ve already published called X but is different and better in such and such a way.
3) The piece is already written and can be available for publication upon acceptance and is X words long.
Here’s an example of one of my pitches from 2016 launched about 2 years of regularly paid writing pieces.
“Subject: Vinyl on Tap: Pairing Music with Craft Beer
Dear: ((name removed because they no longer work there))
I have a list-style piece pairing craft beer and vinyl records. Few things go together better than music and beer and this is especially true of the Midwest. I’ve focused the piece on Midwest beers and music, doing 10 pairs from 10 states.
I believe this piece bridges the music and culture aspects of the magazine. The piece is about 700 words and ready upon acceptance. Would Substream Magazine be interested in running this?
My name is Kevin Sterne and I am a writer and journalist based in Chicago. My work has previously been published in The Rumpus, It’s All Dead, Midwest Real, and The Underground.
I look forward to hearing from you.
While these aren’t necessarily the words or presentation I would use today, it adheres to all the criteria I listed out. It’s concise and gives the who, what, why. This was one of the first pitches I wrote, and since I’ve learned a few things.
Read your pitch out loud to yourself.
I learned this while working at a writing center and it stuck with me. It’s a surefire way to make sure you aren’t using the wrong words or missing a word. It’s also a great way to ensure your writing has the right “feel” and “voice”.
Have a friend read your pitch.
There’s nothing better than another set of eyes and another opinion.. Talking about writing is important. I think it’s invaluable, actually. Find a friend you can talk writing with, and keep that friend. Or do what I did and become roommates with that friend.
I’ve spent 1,000 words telling you how to write something that should be 250 words at most. My shortest pitches have been under 100 for sure. Editors of medium sized publications cycle through 50-100 emails daily. They have very little time for you already, and no time at all for a pitch that rambles.
Provide work samples.
Editors want to know you can write, have a history of writing, and can meet deadlines. You are a stray dog; let them know you are house trained.
To be sure, breaking into the music industry as a writer is difficult, and making any money is even harder. But if it’s what you love, then you should pursue it full force. The first step towards publication begins with a well-written, concise pitch. Be sure to lay out what your piece is about, why it’s important, and then give some details about its specifics as well as your background. Always oversell yourself. Do all this, I truly believe you’ll have some success.