Monday, 29 March 2010

Book Review: No Contacts? No Problem!

I've just finished reading a book entitled,

No Contacts? No Problem! How to Pitch and Sell Your Freelance Feature Writing (Professional Media Practice)

by Catherine Quinn. (ISBN: 9781408123560)

In it, Catherine advises how to go about selling an idea to an editor before you've actually written the article (which those of you who have tackled assignment 5 of the Comprehensive Writing Course will know all about.)

For those of you who don't know, when you're earning a living from writing, writing a complete article in full first and then trying to sell it is time consuming. And as any businessman will tell you, time is money. So, to save yourself some time, freelance writers send 'pitches' to editors, whereby they sell the idea and if the editor likes it, they'll then ask the writer to write it. This saves time and enables you as the writer to slant the feature squarely at the editor's readers.

However, many novice writers feel they can't do this because they don't have a track record. They wrongly assume that the pitch needs to list their writing experience and that editors will only take interest if they've been published in Cosmopolitan, Vogue, The Sunday Times Magazine or Esquire, for example. In most cases you don't, you simply need a good idea - that's what an editor is really interested in.

Catherine Quinn's book works well at explaining the pitching process in detail and shows you how to word your pitches positively. There are a couple of things in her book that I disagree with - for example, she says that a writer should never offer an editor pictures. Her attitude is, a writer's specialty is words, a photographer's specialty is pictures so don't do a photographer out of a job. I disagree with that, knowing full well that on many occasions, my words have only been accepted by editors purely because I've sourced the pictures myself. And anyway - who says a writer can't be good at taking pictures? There's no law against it! I would agree that there are occasions when a writer can't produce the right sort of images. For example, if reporting from a war zone for a national newspaper, the writer needs to be engaged in writing what they see, (and staying alive), therefore a professional photographer would be better at capturing these pictures.

Quinn also goes onto provide a four week plan with a section at the end of each chapter on how to get started and demonstrates the need for keeping track of which ideas you have submitted to which publications.

Over all, it is a good grounding in the production of pitches, (particularly for the newspaper market), and how to make them grab the editor's attention. Her advice clearly works, because her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent, The Times, The Mirror and Time Out.

If you don't want friends and family getting you chocolate for Easter this year, suggesting this title instead as a present could be a great move!

Good luck!

12 comments:

  1. That sounds like a fantastic book. I may well add it to my list. Thanks for the informative review.

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  2. Simon - I agree with you - submitting photos with your articles can get you more acceptances. But obviously there is certain criteria associated with them.

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  3. It sounds a good book - will have to get it now! I think that increasingly many editors will insist on a words and images package from writers - it's been the case for me. I love taking photos and will be taking a photography course and getting better camera equipment as soon as I can. It saves the editor time and money in sourcing their own photos for your article - so I agree, editors are more likely to take your articles if you can supply the photos too.

    As you know ,Simon, I had an editor who wouldn't even see my written words because they insisted on me sending my photos in first and because they didn't like the photos they rejected the article on the basis of the photos alone! The piece was accepted by another magazine in the end.

    Julie xx

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  4. Many editors now seem to look upon words and pictues as a package. Rarely get offered a separate fee for the pictures I provide. Certainly pitched ideas and been asked for sample pictures before being asked for any text so priorities seem to be changing, especially in picture-lead publications such as county magazines.

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  5. Thank you Simon, at long last something to answer my difficulties with the pitch. I'll be getting this as soon as possible. Pitching has held me back on the course simply because I've been bothered about 'credentials'which so far I don't have. That seems to answer that question.

    Now...is there one on confidence? (just kidding).

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  6. Simon, thanks for this review. I'll have to get this book. I'm on Assignment 5 and so far have made all the mistakes - writing the article first, assuming I will be rejected because I have no portfolio, etc. We tend to put editors on a pedestal and don't stop to ask what they really want. But Teresa's point above about confidence is also important. Rejections and/or deafening silences don't do much for it.

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  7. Eek! Gave wrong URL for my site in comment above - shows what a state I'm in today.

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  8. As always, Simon, you're generous with help and advice.

    Thanks,
    Mike

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  9. Hi everyone

    Yes, I think the words and pictures package is essential for magazines, but perhaps less so for newspapers.

    As for advice on confidence, Teresa and Vanessa, Catherine does touch on it in her book. I would also argue that writers should try to divorce rejection and confidence. If an editor has just accepted a similar idea to the one you are pitching, that has nothing to do with your writing skills and abilities. Therefore, logically, there is no reason for it to knock our confidence. The trouble is it does. What we have to learn is that it isn't the editor knocking our confidence but us, by thinking like that!

    Good luck!

    Simon

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  10. Glynis Scrivens2 April 2010 at 06:43

    An interesting review, Simon. I've had editors tell me that articles were accepted because they loved the photos I provided.
    And why not? We have to eat too : - )
    Re confidence, I once read that newspapers are what we wrap fish and chips up in the next day. That's helped me send things out when normally I'd have hesitated

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  11. Ah, how interesting! Just ordered a review copy of this for my own blog so hope to also get stuck in with it shortly.
    Just as an alternative view for balance, I've only ever supplied photographs twice, I think, in my decade plus in magazine journalism - and they were travel features. My bread and butter is health, though, and I can't think of a time when I was asked to supply images with a health or nutrition feature. If you're not a 'tog' - you can still do other forms of magazine writing.
    I think it's a good idea, though, to give the eds/designers some idea of where good photos can be sourced from, if you can. Even just a publicist's contact number can save a bit of time for staff in a frazzled editorial department.

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  12. Have awarded you a Beautiful Blogger Award, Simon! See my blog for details!

    Julie xx

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