My inbox (as editor at a popular science magazine) is full of pitches, and I say no to the vast majority. Here’s why, if anyone was wondering, ranked from the least to most common reasons:
10. Somebody warned me not to work with you.
Ouch, sorry. This is a very short list, and almost never comes up. But there are a few writers in the biz who have earned a reputation for having great pitches, but terrible stories (or are terrible to work with). Will I ever give you another chance? Maybe, but you’d better have a downright irresistible pitch.
9. We’ve had a story on this same general topic in recent memory.
Sometimes an idea is so good, it’s too good, and we already wrote it. But this also tells me you didn’t take the time to Google your idea to see if we’ve written about it lately. Oops!
My tip: don’t even use in-site search bars, which can suck (or be absent.) Before pitching any story to any outlet, go to Google.com and enter “keyword keyword site:favoritesciencemagazine.com” and go to the “news” tab. Bingo bongo!
8. It’s just not that interesting (for readers).
I looove science and especially weird fringe ecology stuff, but unfortunately, we need, like, a lot of people to want to read each article. So just because you and I think an idea is cool, doesn’t mean it’s worth a story on FavoriteScienceMagazine.com. Think about your average reader (who is not as interested in science as you) and whether they will 1. Read the story if they see it making the rounds on social media, 2. Google something that will bring them to this story, 3. Share the story after they’ve read it with their friends, and so on. If any or all of these seem fairly unlikely, we’re not going to bite on the pitch.
7. The wording of your pitch makes it seem like you’re not going to nail the conversational tone of our magazine.
Pitch filled with jargon that we’d never publish in a story? We’ll pass. It’s actually easier to add more science to an overly-conversational idea than it is to mold a jargon-dependent writer into someone who can actually explain science, in plain English, for the masses.
6. We’re booked.
Sometimes, we’re just full. We can only commission so many stories every week, month, or year to stay within our budgetary and time capacities. Unless your pitch is truly exceptional, sometimes the timing can just be unlucky.
5. There’s not enough science research in your pitch.
A lot of pitchers seem think that any story that has some iota of science in it will work for Favorite Science Magazine. That’s not the case. This will vary by publication, of course, so do your research before applying this one broadly. But as a general rule, I want to see recent (within the past few years, and preferably from the current year) studies in a pitch. And more than one: We don’t do single-study news stories these days.
(To be honest, if a pitch and writer seem otherwise good, I will follow up on a pitch like this and ask what studies you’re planning to report on.) (Unless it's more of a case of #1, see below...)
4. Your pitch is hard to follow.
I get a lot of pitches that are just … confusing. If I don’t understand your pitch, I’m not confident you’re going to deliver a story that I (or the reader) can understand. I’ve found this confusing-ness is often correlated with pitch length, as ramblers like to frequent my inbox. These pitches are the easiest to insta-reject. If I read through once and go “huh?” — it’s not worth my time.
3. You’re not a writer.
Or in more tangible terms, you don’t have clips that show you can write. Having Brand Name Magazine™ clips is nice, especially more than one at the same place (because it shows that they hired you a second time after your first attempt at a story.) But even without showy clips (I get it, you gotta start somewhere), I’ve gotten a surprising amount of pitches from people with no clips. Or clips that, even after being presumably edited and published, are just not good.
This one is hard. Depending on how much time I have in a given moment, I like to tell a writer why I’m rejecting their pitch. But what do I say to someone whose writing is just bad?
2. You’re not a science writer.
Or in more tangible terms, you don’t have clips that show you can handle the science. This is very very common, but, unfortunately for the writers-who-aren't-science-writers in my inbox, science writing does require a certain skill set beyond regular ol’ journalism. As a Very Busy Editor, I need to know that a writer is going to know how to report on science. That means: How to find studies, how to tell good studies from bad, how to get their hands on papers (and not just read the abstracts), how to read papers and understand them, how to talk to scientists and understand their jargon, and how to translate it all accurately for mass consumption. I have to be able to fully trust you to get the details right, and if you don’t have any science writing experience, I just can’t risk it.
And the #1 most common reason I turn down a pitch is…
OK, seriously guys? Are y’all just pitching the same story idea to every outlet, with no regard for what that outlet covers?! Do some research. Read some stories on FavoriteScienceMagazine.com. Read the pitch guide (many outlets have these online, these days!) We cover new science research and that’s seriously it. People love to pitch me stories like:
A good rule of thumb is: Are your main sources scientists, and are you going to ask them about new research they (or someone else) recently published? And is said research is the main point of the story? If no, you’re in the wrong place.
Hope this helps!
Musings on science writing, from a scientist turned writer.