A student emailed the other day to enquire about when was the best time to pitch their ideas to an editor. It’s not an easy question to answer because there is no set rule that everyone plays by, but there are some general guidelines to consider.
Whenever you write a piece it can be useful to give it a topical hook or link it to a specific time period, if you you can. An article about Christmas needs to be considered for the December issue, whilst one recounting the history of the Notting Hill Carnival will work better in an August issue. But if you’re going to pitch an idea suitable for a magazine’s August issue, when is the best time to approach the editor?
Firstly, it depends how frequently your target publication is printed. Most monthly publications work about three months ahead. So, being January now, many editors of monthly publications are currently putting together their April issues. They’ll be planning out the material they need for each page and making their final commissions. Which means if you have an idea suitable for the April issue then you need to have pitched it before January. And don’t forget, when you’ve pitched an idea, you need to allow time for the editor to think about it, make their decision and get back to you. Then, of course, you also need time to write it! So, it doesn’t do any harm to start thinking about ideas six months before publication.
There are, though, some anniversaries that are popular, Christmas being the biggest. Some monthly publications start planning their Christmas issues in June, which means you need to pitch these ideas before then!
Some publications are happy to receive potential material at any time and put it aside for when they want to consider it. They may be happy to receive Christmas articles in January, and put them to one side for when they’re ready to think about that issue, whenever that may be.
Don’t be frightened about contacting a magazine. Drop the editor a brief email and ask them when they prefer to receive pitches, especially those for big issues like Christmas.
Weekly publications tend to work about six to eight weeks in advance. In the middle of January, these editors are planning the issue due to hit the newsstands around the end of February/beginning of March.
Alex Corlett, features editor at The People’s Friend explained in this interview (http://www.featuresexec.com/bulletin/interview_article.php?id=16516#.UJ4csIXmuWg) about how far in advance they plan: “We certainly do plan a forward features list. We work on issues about six weeks ahead of their 'on sale' date, but we like to get ahead where we can and aim to be at least two months in advance of that in terms of planning. For the big occasions – Easter, Christmas, etc. – we will regularly do a year ahead, writing pieces at events this year for use in a year’s time.”
So there you have it. There’s no hard-and-fast rule but the earlier you begin thinking about ideas the better!