Monday, 9 March 2015

A Detailed Brief

My two latest commissions have been a joy (Country Walking and Discover Britain). Why? Because the brief I was given from both was detailed. I knew exactly what was required and what was being offered.

The commission from Discover Britain came after a pitch I’d made several months ago (and had chased up a couple of times … so it pays to be persistent). The editor was lovely (and I’m not just saying that because she’d commissioned me!). Her email, formally commissioning me, stated exactly what she wanted:

- main article length, and what it was to cover,
- fact file length, and what it needed to cover,
- photographic requirements,
- rights required in the article,
- fee for the job, and when it would be paid,
- deadline.

Country Walking magazine got in touch because they wanted me to help them with a new section they’d recently launched. Because it was new (there’d only been one published so far in the series), the deputy editor provided me with a detailed brief of the different sections the piece needed, what they were to cover and how many words were required for each section. Some sections could run to as many as 90 words, whereas with others I had a whole 30 words to play with! Although it could be seen as restrictive, this level of detail is quite comforting, because you know exactly what it is you need to provide.

Of course, not every commission is as detailed as this, and not every writer has editors commissioning them at this level of detail. But one way of improving the the detail is to be just as specific in your own pitches to a magazine. When you pitch an idea to an editor, tell them:

- the specific angle of your idea and why it will appeal to their readers,
- which section of the magazine you envisage it working best for,
- how many words you’re offering for each part of the article (main body, plus additional fact files)
- whether you can offer photos,
- what rights you’re offering,
- when you can deliver the piece, if they commission the idea.

By being this specific in your pitches, not only will the editor see that you’ve done your homework (because you wouldn’t dream of pitching a 1200-word piece for a slot that only uses 800-words, would you?), but if they want to change anything, they’ll let you know.

If we’d like editors to be more specific with us, perhaps we should start by being more specific with them.

Good luck!


  1. Ha, this is great - an organised editor. That said, I can't help quite liking it when an editor drops me an email and says "Knock me up 1,200 words on widgets would you?" - and leaves it at that ....

    1. I know what you mean, Alex! It was lovely to get such detailed briefs, though, for a change.


  2. Yes this is so much more helpful than being told to write a travel article including 14 sites in 800 words plus of course introduction and conclusion - and then being told " but it's little more than a list!" Surprise surprise - there isn't room for too much creativity in that word count.
    You got a dream editor there Simon.

    1. I know where you're coming from there, Ann!

  3. Writing Magazine came back to me on a pitch giving really good instructions as to how they'd like the article worded - really helpful.

    1. It does make a difference, doesn't it, Wendy? The editor is more likely to get what they were looking for then!