Resources for Writers
How to Pitch a Feature Story
Before deciding on which story to pitch and who to pitch it to, closely examine your reader’s demographics. Newspapers and magazines differ in style. When pitching a story, writers need to familiarize themselves with the kinds of stories the publication usually features and the way that these stories are presented. A thorough examination of a few back issues can serve as a safe guideline.
When writing a pitch letter, remember that politeness is important, and that common courtesy pays off. Addressing your pitch letter to a person instead of a title (not, “Dear Editor”, but “Mrs. Murphy”) shows your consideration for that person and may help in preventing your letter from being misplaced. An updated media directory (Check out mediacontact.ie) can help you match any editorial position with a name.
Similarly, filling your pitch letter with relevant facts and omitting empty hype demonstrates that you are keeping the publication’s best interests in mind while establishing your competency as a features writer. The easiest explanation of a pitch letter is that it represents a communication urging a media gatekeeper to commission your story. Persuasive by definition, it needs to convince the gatekeeper that the material is newsworthy, entertaining and of human interest. You need to sell your idea. You want to make other people see the value and importance of it.
Points to remember in a Pitch Letter
Include enough facts to support the full story you intend to write.
Provide an angle of interest to the readers of the specific publication you have chosen.
Offer the editor the possibility of alternative angles.
Indicate your willingness to supply or aid the editor in securing quotes, interviews with credible sources, important statistics, and arrangements for photographs or illustrations.
Explain your credibility or authority to deliver the article and mention that you will call the editor for his/her decision.
The thesis or main point of a pitch letter may be straightforward, but the actual pitch letter must have a certain structure. More importantly, the gatekeeper reviewing the pitch letter probably receives hundreds of these letters on a daily basis. Therefore, your pitch must be eye-catching and original. As most features editors are incredibly busy – it helps if you do the work for them by supplying a catchy headline, a list of compelling interviewees and a great hook.
Remember to keep it short and snappy
A pitch letter should be as brief as possible, while containing all necessary information you want to contain in your story. You must customize your pitch letter to fit the editorial guidelines of the publication you have selected. Nothing turns off an editor faster than a formatted pitch letter. The flat form and dull message of too many pitch letters decorate the bottoms of many an editor’s trash can.
The Feature Article
Remember that Feature news is unique because it gives the reader the fine details of a story. Unlike spot news stories, features have a long shelf life and can be placed even six months after the distribution date. With newsroom staffs getting smaller every day, it’s a great time to pitch feature editors. A feature story whether it is written for a trade publication, a special section of the newspaper, or a national magazine, is a special document and requires thoughtful wording in order to paint a portrait of your intended message. The feature article provides additional and more in-depth information than what is covered in a news article and creates comprehension of a subject more imaginatively. In the writer’s favor, time-wise, is the fact that the feature is not as time-sensitive as “hard news,” yet you will need to know the submission deadline and the possibility of topical editions for your article.
The feature article possesses the potential to provide information to the consumer, add background and context about organizations, and cameo the behind-the scenes perspective. It’s also an amazing opportunity to let your creative flair, as a writer, to really shine. Newspaper editor’s love colour, description and humour in feature articles – so feel free to add your own touch to the story. The feature also adds a human dimension to situations, topics, and events. Once you have snagged an editor’s interest with an angle suited to a particular publication and you have reviewed editorial suggestions, the green light is on for you to write the article.
The Nuts and Bolts of a Feature Article
The first thing you must do is come up with a good idea for a story – this means feature material that is interesting and useful to a certain audience. Publishers often select a feature idea based upon a pitch letter or proposal that spells out the tentative title, subject and theme, significance, major points of the article, and a list of available photos and graphics. Remember that the objective of a feature story is to “educate and entertain “readers .A riveting headine such as, “They were both blind. Yet it was love at first sight” captures the essence of the story without summarizing it entirely. This feature heading entices the reader’s curiosity.
Similar to the news release, the feature flourishes best when the core message is addressed in the introductory paragraph of the article. What is a feature story and what are the important components of this popular genre? Feature stories generally range from 2,000 to 3,000 words. There are a few essential steps to be included in the feature: 1) quotes from people who are willing to be named in the article; 2) concrete examples and important facts; 3) words that paint a descriptive mental picture; and, 4) information that is presented in a pleasing, interesting way.
Format the Story
Now that you’ve selected the type of feature you will write, you need to present your story in a standard, acceptable format. This includes:
A creative lead that captures the reader’s attention and appeals to his/her curiosity.
A body that emphasizes quotations, illustrations, descriptive words, active voice, examples and information presented in an interesting entertaining way. Remember that the inverted pyramid structure is not important here.
A summary that is complete, but brief and lucid. The kernel of your message is here and you want the reader to remember it.
Communicate with the Editor
The editors of publications can be your best friends, or your worst nightmare. Remember, they have a job to do. If your article is not in shape, they’ll publish someone else’s whose is. You must meet all deadlines: otherwise, your articles can be eliminated. Editors need a great deal of latitude, so you cannot predict how the completed article will turn out.
The Final Touch
One item you might consider adding to your feature article is a photograph or a graphic. These visuals add appeal to the story and increase the media usage of your work. Quality, subject matter, composition, action, scale, camera angle, lighting and color are considerations for an effective photo. Sharp, clear, and high-contrast photos creatively captured are the ideal. Avoid the dull “ribbon cutting” pictures. Break new ground with your photos and get them from the most creative angle and in the most creative way as possible. Go for action shots in your articles, and, if possible, hire professional photographers to capture the pictures to ensure quality. Keep your photo captions short. Write captions in the present tense to describe the action, and provide the context of the picture.
© Georgina Heffernan, June 2011.
Georgina Heffernan previously worked as Fashion Editor for U magazine and Deputy Editor for Irish Tatler; this led to close contact with Diane von Furstenberg, Paris Hilton, Cindy Crawford, Vivienne Westwood and Kate Moss – to name but a few. She became Style & Features Editor for Irish Daily Mail in 2004. Over five years she wrote many lead feature and fashion stories for The Mail, as well as penning a weekly dating column.Georgina is also a regular face on Irish TV and has appeared as a guest on Expose, Off the Rails, The Afternoon Show, Open House – and NBC’s Today Show. She has written for nearly all of Ireland’s top publications and these include: Social and Personal, YOU magazine, Irish Tatler, Irish Interiors, The Daily Mail, The Examiner, The Irish Independent and Irish Brides Diary. She is currently working on her first novel.