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Pitch Perfect: Magazine Writing Seminar in Edmonton


Shelley Youngblut will host Pitch Fest in Edmonton, September 7.

Shelley Youngblut will host Pitch Fest in Edmonton, September 7.
Photo by Heather Saitz

Interested in writing for magazines? Wondering why no one wants to publish your story? Not sure where to even begin? Learn what to pitch, how to pitch it, who to pitch it to, and how to get stories published at Alberta Magazine Publishers Association’s PitchFest on September 7, 2013, 10:30 am – 12:30 pm.

AMPA’s Pitch Fest Magazine Writing Seminar and Panel Discussion
Saturday Sept. 7, 10:30 a.m. – 12:30
Lois Hole Library, 17650 69 Ave, T5T 3X9, EdmontonOne-on-One Pitch Sessions
Saturday Sept. 14, 1 p.m. 
(individual pitch session length and timeslot will be coordinated in advance)
Lois Hole Library, 17650 69 Ave, T5T 3X9, EdmontonRegistration
Sept. 7: $30 AMPA member rate; $40 regular rate
Sept. 7 and 14: $50 AMPA member rate; $60 regular rateONLINE REGISTRATION – closes Friday Sept. 6 at 5pm.More Information: www.albertamagazines.com

PitchFest will begin with a one-hour seminar from Shelley Youngblut (she’s the founding editor-in-chief of Swerve magazine, and has worked on countless publications including ESPN the MagazineSeventeenEntertainment Weekly, and The Globe and Mail) about pitching stories to magazines. Youngblut’s presentation will be followed by a one-hour panel discussion featuring our own Where Edmonton editor, Lindsay Shapka (alongside the editors from Alberta Venture and Avenue Edmonton magazines). Guests can also register for PitchFest Part Two on Saturday, September 14  for a one-on-one discussion with Lindsay to receive feedback and specific advice on your pitch — and maybe even get an offer to write an article for Where Edmonton!

“There’s a really interesting gap that goes on in publishing,” Youngblut says. “There are good writers that want to write and magazines/editors that need good writers… and the two just haven’t connected! It’s like a missed connection on the C-Train [that’s Calgary-speak for LRT]. As a editor I’m desperate for good writing and am always looking for new talent. It’s important to me to find writers I can develop a good relationship with so that I can work with them again in the future and work together to make their pieces excel.”

The thing I’ve heard most often in the publishing world is that writing and dating are pretty much the same thing. At the Words in 3D Conference, Nancy Flight (associate publisher of Greystone Books) compared the writing-to-be-published processes to dating — and the relationship between author-editor-publisher as a menage a trois. Youngblut continued this writing-as-dating analogy when I called her to chat about her upcoming seminar, as she shared with me some of the topics she’ll be discussing at PitchFest:

1. Getting the first “date”: How does a writer get the attention of an editor? How do you generate great story ideas — and how do you get your work published? How do you develop a good relationship with editors, to make it likely they’ll want to work with you again?

2. Ideas are better than topics: An idea is not a topic, and editors want ideas. A lot of writers see the trees and not the forest; they miss the big picture and the “so what”, or why their topic matters. Writers often have things they want to write about but don’t know how to write about it in an interesting way. Restaurants and diners are “what” topics, but so what? What are you telling me about this restaurant that I should care about? A lot of writers fall down because they don’t know how to develop the so what in their pitch, and this seminar will help writers differentiate that and develop ideas, not topics. Don’t freak out if you see your “story” in a magazine written by someone else: no, your ideas are not stolen. You gave them a topic. “Budget cuts to the faculty of arts” is a topic. Someone else wrote a story.

3. Getting a rose, or: Getting your pitch accepted: Not all entities are equal, the same story should not be pitched the same way to different publications. Perhaps the reason why your story keeps getting rejected is because you’re pitching it the wrong way or to the wrong publication. A good story also has to be a good fit for the magazine. Think of it like The Bachelor! Not all 25 men are perfect for the one woman. Your story may only be a fit for one publication, but there are dozens of publications you may be pitching to.

4. Get them to say “yes”: Writers always wonder why the editor won’t get back to them. It’s because they’re too busy! If they haven’t responded to your pitch it’s because they aren’t interested. I have never not responded to an idea I like. You always say “yes” to dates with someone you’re interested in, and try to avoid dates with someone you’re not! If you don’t hear back from an editor, don’t send an incessant number of emails and repeatedly call them. Pestering an editor will make them hate you; don’t be that needy boyfriend or girlfriend!

5. Right place, right time: Timing is EVERYTHING in publishing! Especially seasonal or timely pieces, for which you need to consider lead time. Editors work months in advance, so it’s important to know that you may need to pitch that Christmas story in April. I’ll talk in more detail about editorial calendars, and how to figure out what a magazine needs and when it needs it! Even the time of day you send a pitch is important! Don’t send it to me 9 am Monday morning when I am busy catching up on the work I didn’t do Friday afternoon. Don’t call me Friday afternoon when I’m trying to leave the office.

6. First time: Being a new doesn’t necessarily mean you’re young, it means you’re new: either you’ve never written anything before or that you are trying to establish a new relationship with an editor you’ve never worked with before or at a magazine you’ve never written for. Aim for the stars give [editors] something amazing. You give them an amazing story idea, and they will accept your pitch. It really depends on talent…  how good of a writer are you? The great things about publishing is that if you’re good, your good. Age and experience don’t necessarily matter; I’m going to want to work with you. At the same time, writing is a craft and you can always improve. When you look at who wins magazine awards, it’s typically writing veterans but there is always a newcomer who had a brilliant story idea… magazine editorial is always a balance between experience and ideas.

7. Friends first: If possible, get to know the editor you’d like to write for in a personal setting. “I like to meet my writers face-to-face, though I know this isn’t possible with all editors. But meeting an editor face to face or even introducing yourself over email makes your relationship personal and memorable. Ask to meet with an editor or go to events [like PitchFest!] where people in the industry will be present.” Then, your pitch becomes like a first date, and you need to convince the editor to want to go out with you again — make them want to read the rest of your story.

8. Be yourself, be original: Take ownership of an idea and make it yours; the best kind of magazine story is the one that only YOU could write. Great magazine pieces are the ones that only you have access to insider information on — sources for interviews, experience. A good article is all about great story telling; write it in such a way that I feel like I’m there, tell me something I didn’t know.

9. Fall in love with your own ideas: Enthusiasm and belief in your own idea is 90% of what it takes to get published. Don’t write stuff that you think is boring; if you’re bored with what you’ve written, the editor will be, too, and they won’t assign you the piece. A good writer has to care about what they’ve written; it’s not so technical.

10. Be passionate: The goal with pitching is to have a long term relationship, but you have to get that first date. It’s seemingly very simple because every magazine wants great writers and everybody has one great story that can make them a great writer. The passion that comes from telling a good story can make a writer great.

11. Avoid a bad first date: Pitches are like first impressions, and there are little things writers do that can just turn editors right off. The worst pitches I get are the ones that start with “Dear Avenue Magazine…” when I don’t work for Avenue! It’s like calling your boyfriend or girlfriend by your ex’s name. If you’re serious about writing for the magazine, do some research and find out the editor’s name. Make sure you’re sending pitches that are the right fit for the magazine; know who you’re dating, know what their interests are.

Talking with Shelley was a lot of fun and insightful, and I can’t wait to learn more from her at PitchFest! Join us!

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