I wrote yesterday about how most writing outlets are mired in the status quo. But how do we get out of that? One way would be to level the playing field to allow new writers to more easily get their work seen. That would require reforming the pitching process.
Right now for most publications the pitching process works like this: they have an email for pitching which is basically like a black hole, except once in awhile something does escape from it, but mainly though luck. But if you send something to it, the odds are it won’t even be read. Most established writers bypass it entirely by knowing someone on staff personally. An example is a writer I’m friends with sent a pitch to the New York Times and never heard back, then he realized that he had met someone on staff a few years ago at a conference. He sent that person his pitch and it was published soon after. This just reinforces the status quo. It’s more about who you know than anything else. This particular writer had also sent the pitch to 5-6 other publications and he never heard back from any of them. Not a rejection, just dead air. I’ve never heard back about a pitch unless I knew someone on the staff or they already knew me from other pieces I’d been in or had written.
But the fact is the supply for writers is higher than the demand. And the number of pitches can easily get overwhelming. What is needed is a system that can automate some of the process. It’s clear to me that vanilla email is way too underpowered for this kind of task.
As an associate editor I don’t get a huge amount of pitches, but they can be hard to sort through. Often the pitch email does not contain the type of useful information I’d really need to make a decision about it and it is too long. Like most editors, I have a lot to do. So I created a Google Form with basic validation. It asks a series of questions to determine the fit of the piece and whether or not it even qualifies (we rule out pieces that have been published elsewhere before, for example). It also asks them to provide a 2-4 sentence description of the pitch, which allows me to get an idea about it without reading their entire piece. It was pretty simple to build.
For a larger publication I would probably design something more sophisticated with features such as allowing those responsible for reading them to rank them, the ability to search through large numbers of them, etc. Well-built custom software could easily grow to incorporate new features as needed. I worked on the team for a project like this built for the Pulitzer Prize committee, which also consists of very busy people facing an overwhelming onslaught of information.
Regardless of how you feel about the status quo, the poor management of pitching almost certainly allows gems to slip through the cracks, unread among the chaos. Any system that can help catch some of them is going to benefit everyone and will lead to an output that is more reflective of writers as a demographic rather than ossified social ties.