Finding the Right Editor for New York Times Letter of Recommendation

I’m going to write for the New York Times — Chapter 3

This is an ongoing column about my quest to write for the New York Times. If you’d like to know the background behind why I’m doing this, check out the first installment of the series.

Photo by Sarah Shull on Unsplash

Thankfully, my anxiety decided to take a break this week. Instead of freaking out over every word and acting I was crafting The Grapes of Wrath when I was really writing about a British TV show, I started my pitch with ease.

Picking My Pitch — Letter of Recommendation

This week, I aimed for the Letter of Recommendation column. In the column, people recommend odd things that bring them comfort, joy, or understanding. From Arby’s to Semicolons, writers reveal how these strange fixations help them find a place in the world.

Though I wasn’t filled with dread, this pitch still took awhile. Last week, I’d already thought of my idea, I just had to consolidate my thoughts. This week, I had to figure out what to recommend.

I settled on the movie version of Cats and wrote for a bit. Unfortunately, it kept coming out like a snarky takedown of a movie everyone already hates. Plus, Letter of Recommendation doesn’t really seem the place for pure snarkiness. Even though I’m endlessly fascinated with the film Cats (I wrote a book of short stories inspired by Cats, so…I clearly have many thoughts to share), it didn’t feel right.

After I deleted my Cats pitch, old buddy anxiousness wanted to come and play. I wasn’t going to let worry ruin my pitching day, but I kept drawing a blank on good ideas.

Picking the Easiest Idea

This exercise in pitching isn’t about nailing the perfect pitch to the New York Times every time. It’s about doing it every week. If I let myself get freaked out about finding an idea, I knew I’d miss my pitch for the week and be mad about it.

So, I took the easy road.

I looked around my room and noticed the candle burning in the corner. “I love that candle so much. Who knew Cave Troll would be my signature scent?” I thought (my thoughts probably had less alliteration, but you know what I mean). Voila! The candle! My weird candle that smells kind of like rotting flowers seems like a good recommendation.

I didn’t try to think of another idea or wonder if my candle content would be good enough. I picked that idea, wrote the pitch, and sent it out.

Is it great to write about the first thing that comes to mind? Why not! If writing the easy thing means you’ll actually write, then I say take the easy road every time. And if the Times doesn’t like my candle idea, guess what? I’ll have a whole lot more recommendations to send their way.

Finding the Right Editor

Once I’d written the pitch, I looked for the specific editor. If possible, you always want to pitch to the editor of the column, not a general submissions email address. In The Art of the Recommendation from 2018, Willy Staley is listed as the ongoing editor for the column. That was the most recent update I found, so I moved on to finding his email address.

I couldn’t find his exact Times email address, but most emails there are Plugging in his name into that email formula, I sent my pitch!

Immediately, I get a note back:

“Willy Staley is out of office. For Letter of Recommendation pitches, please contact the new editor Ismail Muhammad.”

Sometimes, no matter how much you research, you reach out to the wrong person. Overall, it’s not that big of a deal. Yes, it slows down your pitching process and you want to avoid it when you can, but it’s not like Willy Staley will blackmail me from writing because I sent him an incorrect pitch.

So, I sent it to Ismail Muhammad. Another pitch out into the world. It feels good! I’m glad I didn’t let my Cats misstep stop me and I’m happy I got to write about weird candles even if it was just for a pitch.

Have I Heard Back From the New York Times?

Not yet. It’s only been two weeks and it seems like a lot of editors are on break right now! But I learned there’s a new editor for the New York Times Letter of Recommendation and know my pitch is in the proper inbox. That’s pretty good!

I can’t control if the Times will ever get back to me. But I can keep trying. And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

If you want to find the masthead and pitching guidelines of the New York Times and over 240 other publications, get my free Big Guide To Paying Publications That Take Pitches. You’ll get the guide plus weekly emails about open writing jobs and freelance tips.

Writer for Thrillist, Bustle, Parade, Greatist, MTV, IFC, Snooki’s blog. Want to hear about open writing jobs? Sign up for my free newsletter at

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