By Kristen O’Gorman
The story ideas that you pitch can make or break your test. Find out what stands out—and what gets you taken out of the running for a job.
GET TO KNOW THE MAGAZINE
Head to your library and dig through the past six issues. “That will help you conceptualize and package ideas for the sections that you’re pitching and get you on the same wavelength as the magazine’s editors,” says Wendy Naugle, Executive Editor at Glamour. Take note of the type of stories they cover, how they format their articles, and what their tone is like. Only reading the issue that’s currently on newsstands isn’t enough: “One of the biggest mistakes is pitching something that was covered in the last three issues. The editors expect you to have read at least those issues, and it’s just lazy if you haven’t,” says Chandra Czape Turner, Executive Editor at Parents.
Don’t pitch something from the front page of The New York Times. The editor already will have read that; you need to dig deeper. Look though journals, newsletters, studies, and lesser-known news sources to find fresh ideas that the editor may not have heard before. Talk to friends or family members who make up the magazine’s audience. “All editors are looking for good ideas for their readers, and some of the best ones come from readers,” says Naugle. “The more you can tap into what that reader needs, the better.”
Look to the magazine’s back issues for inspiration. “One of the tricks is to go back a year or two and pick one of the old stories that they’ve done. Re-tweak that and re-pitch it, because you know they like it,” says Turner. “But just don’t make it exactly like it, or they’ll smell a rat.”
Never pitch evergreen ideas. Each idea needs a news hook–it can’t be something that could be published now or three years from now. “We need an idea that’s different or new, or at least a new way of looking at an issue,” says Turner. “I’m not going to hire you to give the same old boring ideas that everybody does.”
PRESENT IDEAS THE RIGHT WAY
Follow their format. Show that you understand the magazine’s format: If they always do a certain column with a two-word hed, a long dek, and five bullet points, pitch it that way. “And never pitch anything unless you know which section it’ll go in,” says Turner.
Talk the way the magazine talks. This shows that you get their tone. “You could literally start an idea with, ‘I’ve noticed among my friends,’ or ‘I’ve noticed among my friends’ kids,’ or whoever the audience is,” says Turner.
Keep it short. A lot of the stories you’re pitching are only going to run about 500 words, so your pitch should be about 100. “That’s part of being an editor; if you can’t condense your pitch, you can’t write and edit it,” says Turner.
If appropriate, suggest ways to package the idea. If you envision a chart, or if you have ideas for a sidebar, mention it. “It can really take something one step further and show me that you’re thinking like an editor,” says Naugle.
Tailor your idea to the publication. You shouldn’t be able to pitch the same ideas on tests for different magazines. “Try to think of a twist that can make it unique to the magazine you’re pitching,” says Naugle. “Anticipate the hurdles of the idea, and think of why this super compelling story would fit in their pages.”
Our final words of wisdom: Have fun with it! “An edit test is a way to show not only how great your ideas are but also to let your writing shine,” says Naugle.