Pitch, Bitch! is an exhortation and a resource. We wanna close the "confidence gap" and the gender disparity in pitching and getting published. Here you will find advice, enthusiasms and conversations about being a female writer.
Female writers: go forth heartened and equipped and encouraged.
The first Wednesday of every month is #pitchbitch day. Use it to work on a pitch, research a pitch, or send a pitch.
We’re stoked to have Kat Muscat donate her wise words to Pitch, Bitch. Kat is an editor, writer, and feminist based in Melbourne. She writes primarily about sex, sexuality, gender and mental health. Her work has been published by Scum, The Lifted Brow and Voiceworks. She was also editor at Voiceworks for a while, so we asked her some questions pertaining to being new to pitching and writing.
What does someone who has never pitched before need to know?
The publication they’re pitching to. When you’re reading a journal or whatever, look for the themes and also silences. Is it a more conversational space or are they going to be after footnotes? If an article has just run on the relationship between body hair and the amount of tea people drink then maybe don’t pitch in that exact vein. Submit either in a style that is cohesive with the publication’s modus operandi, or look for particular gaps you imagine an editor would be keen to fill. Also, editors are incredibly time-poor peeps. So it’s really best to keep your correspondence clear and on point.
Read the submission guidelines and follow them. Please. Generally speaking though, a couple of sentences outlining what your piece is about, reasons it’s a good fit, and why you’re the one to write it, is all you need to start off with. Unless mentioned otherwise, it doesn’t hurt to attach a 300-ish word extract so we can get a feel for your writing style.
What mistakes do first-time pitchers make?
It’s super important to communicate your particular angle or hook. Tired subjects can have new life breathed into them with a fresh perspective. But if we can’t tell how your writing will be giving readers that, your pitch may land in the too-hard basket. As mentioned above, know the publication you’re pitching to. Editors can tell, trust me. This is more than simple egoism on our behalf—really, why would you want to be published in something that’s not worth the effort to read and (hopefully) even buy?
Lastly, while a couple of typos isn’t going to make us dismiss your pitch, it is important to get it as polished as possible before sending it across. An extra pair of eyes is very helpful for this—as is generally just getting used to showing other people your work for critical feedback. The standard of your pitch does signal to us the amount of work you’ve put into it, and by extension, what you’ll be like to work with.
What should you do if you don’t hear back from an editor? And if a pitch isn’t successful, how can you figure out what to change next time without concrete feedback?
Sometimes stuff does just get lost in the inbox, so a follow-up email two or three weeks later doesn’t hurt. This is also dependent on the place, and their procedures, number of staff and all that. Also, avoid sending unsolicited updates to a submitted piece, because if it has already been read, this just translates to more work for the editor. You don’t wanna be the person creating more work. Many publications simply don’t have the capacity to provide feedback. Considering this, it’s a good idea to read the issues that your work was unsuccessful for (this will also increase your familiarity with the magazine, which is great). What do the selected pieces offer that yours perhaps lacked? Have you followed the submission guidelines? Is the quality of your writing up to scratch? If you’re worried about the latter, find ways to get critical feedback on your work. This could be in a writers’ group, or a one-on-one thing—either way I recommend teaming up with someone you’re a bit intimidated by. This usually means you feel they have certain skills you’re yet to master.
Do you have any specific advice for young writers?
Get used to writing for a reader. It’s important to know when to push back against an editor and have a dialogue about a particular point. However there are some lines of reasoning that are a nightmare and are good to get out of your system asap. In fiction, for example, this might be including but not exclusive to ‘but that’s just how my character thinks/feels’—if this is not evident in the text (and the editor will have kept an eye out for clues) it needs to be reworked so it’s accessible to your reader. Also, especially when you’re starting out, leaps in logic are really best avoided. They’ll undercut your argument in an article, and tend to do a disservice to plot and characterisation as well, unless wielded very purposefully. Essentially your reader shouldn’t be thinking ‘wait, what?’ at any point.
As an editor, what makes you excited when you read a pitch or submission?
It’s fantastic to receive a pitch that puts a new spin on intriguing topics. An interesting subject on its own might get you over the line. But if you can talk about something in a way that shows it in a new light, that’s when my ears perk up proper. Pairing unlikely combos is often a good way to do this. Giving the reader an ‘in’ via a specific catalyst and then branching out into a broader discussion often works well. It’s tempting to consider editors as the gatekeepers you need to conquer in order to see your name in print. The fact of the matter is that we’re as nerdy about writing as you. We want to be introduced to a new perspective, your characters, your argument. That’s why we’re in this gig to begin with.
Literary criticism is close to my heart; I got my own start in book blogging and then reviewing books, so I wanted to include a conversation here about how to go about pitching and doing that kind of writing. I’m delighted Carmen Machado agreed to answer a few questions for us (just see the list of where she’s written for below and you’ll see why).
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a fiction writer, essayist, and critic, and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. I’ve written for The New Yorker, The Paris Review, NPR, Los Angeles Review of Books, AGNI, and VICE, and I have a story forthcoming in Granta. Right now, I teach fiction writing at two Philadelphia-area colleges, freelance, and am working on a novel.
Do you remember the first book review you wrote? How did you get the gig?
My first review was of Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue for Los Angeles Review of Books. I connected to an editor through a friend, and they asked me if I’d be interested in reviewing that novel, specifically. I’m a huge Michael Chabon fan and am familiar with his oeuvre, so I agreed. I was nervous about writing my first review – I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to do, or that I’d be good at – but ended up loving the process. I felt like it gave me this whole other level of understanding – not just the way that I read and processed and experienced the book, but also the need to articulate that experience.
How do you pitch reviews now?
I’m always on the lookout for books that interest me and pitch them to the publications with whom I have a relationship. I also make sure the editors I work with have a list of my areas of interest and expertise (no matter how niche – the list includes bullet points as general as “genre-bending fiction” and “short story collections” and as specific as “hypochondria” and “micronations”), so they can suggest books that come across their desk. The result is a nice, interesting mix of assignments with which I am rarely dissatisfied.
I also do a lot of thinking about the larger implications of books – how they fit into the zeitgeist, how they are in conversation with culture, with other works of art – and am really excited about a novel (or television show, or video game, or film) that I can discuss beyond its own borders.
How did your career grow from there? What do you think is important for longevity as a book reviewer?
After I’d done a certain number of reviews, I came to an agreement with myself that I would only continue to do so for pay. I can’t pay my bills with exposure, y’know? It was rough going at first (I had to decline several projects), but eventually I got on my feet, and I’m proud for standing my ground. Right now, I’m in the middle of reading and reviewing two debut novels for publications I love.
I think to assure your longevity as a critic you need to be excited, open, flexible, and passionate. You should value your work. You should read other pieces of literary and cultural criticism that are being written and whether you like the piece or you hate it, you should consider what you can learn from it. You also should approach every review you write without an agenda, and always operate in good faith. You should be generous, tough, and fair. Oh, and you should read John Updike’s rules for reviewing other people’s work and follow them, because they are lovely and smart and true.
How do you select the titles you will review? Or are you allocated titles to review more often than not?
Like I said, I just keep my eyes peeled for books that sound interesting and keep on new books by authors I already love. And the editors I work with know what interests me and allocate books to me, too. It’s a good mix.
Can you tell us about expanding into other areas of cultural criticism, like video game criticism?
Last fall, I wrote a piece for LARB about Gone Home, an exquisitely narrative video game. I don’t think of myself as a video game reviewer; rather, I reviewed Gone Home as if it was a particularly intricate type of interactive fiction or postmodern novel – which is how I experienced the game. I’ve also written a piece of television criticism – specifically, about sexual coding in Game of Thrones, which is something that I think about a lot. (Game of Thrones and sexual coding.) I think that if you are passionate about a particular piece of pop culture or media – no matter what it is – and you think about it enough that you suspect that you can see patterns, or ideas being kicked around, or how this show or movie or book or game sits in the cobweb of its peers, or its genre, or culture, then you might be a critic at heart. So go ahead – pitch!
The other day, Meghan Brewster tweeted me saying she’d sent off her first ever unsolicited pitch. I was super excited and asked her to share her experience with us. Thanks, Meghan!
It might not sound like much, but the other day I sent out my first unsolicited email pitch. I sent it to a website I have been following for a few months, with the request that I write for them. The article I pitched was to a professional medical blog. I wanted to pitch an article that covered what they were not including on their site: how it actually felt to have a particular autoimmune disorder.
I am a hatchling of a writer. I have just cracked out of my educational shell and am still finding my feet in the writing world. I am quickly realising that there is a pecking order out here and I am at the bottom. At the moment I am trying to find my place in the “line” and patiently wait my turn. That’s what we are taught, isn’t it – to wait our turn? To be polite, to not be pushy, to not upset anybody. I am a domesticated animal, after all.
I look at all the other writers who have been in this business for longer than me – talented, amazing, inspirational people and I worry I will die before anything good ever happens.
At least that was what I thought until the Emerging Writers’ Festival this year. I was there as one of the Emerging Writers’ Festival Blogging Partners and had just joined Twitter in preparation for the Festival.
At the festival, I was scrolling through twitter when I saw a tweet with the hashtag #pitchbitch. Suddenly I was searching for everything I could find of the hashtag. I read the interview with Estelle Tang on the Kill Your Darlings blog and was so inspired.
I realised that I was the only person who was ever going to get my writing out into the world. I could not just “wait my turn”. I would die before I ever got it. I had to start pitching, even though it made my guts flip over thinking about it.
I sent the email – a proposal for the article I wanted to write and two examples of past work. I took Meanjin’s advice and did not apologise for the work I was submitting. I did not apologise for my unsolicited email. I did not excuse myself for being forward and approaching them without an invitation. I was truly polite, but I was not ashamed of what I was doing.
It was the first time I ever asked someone about a job that wasn’t advertised. Within the hour, I had received a very positive yes, along with the encouragement I needed to continue pitching ideas. Pitch, Bitch is such a wonderful resource. I’m frustrated that I did not find it sooner and will definitely send the word around.