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.
My chest feels like it’s full of acid and my heart rate increases. I try to relax my shoulders, but it’s futile. “Am I doing the right thing?” Everything feels wrong, but I push on, determined to finish my work.
After minutes or hours (it’s hard to tell when you’re going through such torture), I complete my task and do the bravest thing of all — hit send. It is done. I’ve sent my first pitch to the New York Times.
I wait. A parade of dancers clad in “Hooray for Amber! The Best Writer” sashes or a bag full of flaming poop with “don’t ever write again” written in Sharpie seem like equally plausible outcomes.
But alas! I get an email right away!
“The editor is out of office for a week.”
This auto-responder email snaps me back to reality. I didn’t go through some tortuous ordeal that requires acclaim or disdain. I just sent a pitch.
Though this intro is melodramatic, that’s how I felt. Now, I’ve sent pitches before (you can see my previous NYT attempts here). In fact, I teach classes about pitching and help students get through all the doubts and fears that come with reaching out. Yet here I was, freaked out to send a simple email.
Here are all the details of my first week of pitching the New York Times.
Take the Easy Way
I knew I’d be nervous for my pitch because it’s my first in a long time. And it’s something I want. If I didn’t care about the Times, this would be easy. Sadly, my caring gets in the way, so I knew I needed to make this first pitch as easy as possible to make sure I got it done.
Instead of pouring over every article, looking for a range of ideas I could try, I went with the first thing that came to mind: the Comfort Viewing column. In this column, people recommend TV shows they like. They’ve featured everything from Columbo to Courage the Cowardly Dog. So, I picked out a show I love, double checked to make sure they hadn’t written about it, and started writing my pitch.
Note: Once I get an answer from the Times, I’ll show you my whole pitch. But for now, I’ll keep it to myself in case I want to pitch it elsewhere.
It’s Not A Big Deal
As I started writing, I was going back and erasing every word. “This is all so IMPORTANT!!!” my brain screamed. After 5 minutes of sweating and trying to get past “I’d like to pitch an article” I finally reminded myself that this is not a big deal.
When you pitch, it’s easy to think that these couple of paragraphs need to show all your tricks and prove why you’re such a great writer. In reality, you just need to clearly convey your idea in a way that shows a bit of personality. When I’d worry that each sentence wasn’t a thrill a minute ride, I’d remind myself that clarity was more important than cleverness. And to just write the damn thing.
In the end, my pitch was a tad long, but I made sure that the information was important to my idea and gave the editor a clear sense of how it would fit into their column. Did I do the right thing? I don’t know! I can’t know until I try. Periodically reminding myself of that fact helped me get the pitch done in less than a million hours.
All in all, this pitch probably took me 45–55 minutes to write. That’s definitely slower than normal, but so it goes.
Since I’m not sure who edits that particular column, I had to make my best guess. I found the email address of the TV editor of the Times and sent it his way. After I got the Out of Office response, I sent it along to the Assistant TV editor.
Did I need to send it to the Assistant? Maybe not. If I knew for a fact that the TV editor was the right person, I would have let it be and sent a reminder email to him in about a week and a half. But since the assistant might be the person to make the decision, I figured I’d send it along.
Generally, it’s not ideal to send the same pitch to two editors at the same publication at the same time. But this time, I felt like trying it. What do I have to lose?
The Good Things
Though I freaked myself out about it, I felt good once the pitch was done. Then, since I was already in outreach mode, I whipped up a pitch to speak at a conference. Even better, it felt easy since my daily allotment of getting freaked out about emails was already used up. Two pitches for the price of one!
Other than the auto-response, I haven’t heard back from the Times. But it’s been two days, so…come on. That would be a shockingly fast response.
I did hear back from my other pitch. It was a very polite no! And despite the no, I felt so much better having tried (and I got invited to pitch myself again for their next conference).
This first pitch was far more fraught and emotional than I expected. But it turned out good! Plus, it’s just one pitch. I’ll do lots more. And one of them, eventually, will get picked up by the New York Times.
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.