Monday, 3 November 2008

#55 – Why specially formatted sections are the easy way in

Or supply and demand for regular slots.

Too many stories
The editor of one of my outlets usually has more than enough stories to fill her travel section with. She could probably fill it four or five times over every week, even though there’s a high pagination. Understandably, therefore, it is not really in her interests to put out appeals for yet more stories.

Pleading e-mail
Relatively frequently, however, I will get a pleading e-mail from her. She’ll want to know whether I have any stories that fit a particular slot in the paper. This slot is around 700 words long, and is in an identifiably structured format.

Written specifically for the slot
This format means that there isn’t much flexibility with any articles going in that slot. Realistically, they have to be written specifically for that slot. And that’s probably why she’s always short of pieces to fill it with.

Supply and demand
Most of the articles she’ll be sent are the ones we all enjoy writing – travel narratives in an essay-style format. And I’m sure this applies equally to other magazines and newspaper travel sections. Logic dictates, therefore, that these specially formatted slots are the easy way in. There is less competition; supply and demand.

Same structure
Most magazines and newspapers have such slots (often called departments in the United States). To anyone who has read more than one copy of the publication, these sections are easily identifiable - they follow the same structure every issue.

Lack of competition

And due to the lack of competition, a pitch aimed at that slot or department is more likely to get the editor’s attention. Craft a pitch specially designed for that slot, put the name of the slot in the e-mail subject heading and make sure you highlight why your idea is good for that slot – not just the publication as a whole.

Breaking into new publications
In the past, I have found this an excellent way of breaking into new publications. Editors who have ignored rafts of e-mails suddenly become responsive, and in one instance I’ve ended up taking over that slot as my own regular gig.

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