Adventures in Ethics and Science

Session description: What is a sellable idea? How do you develop one? Is your idea enough for a book, is there more you can do to develop it, or should it just be a magazine article or series of blog posts? This will be a hands-on nuts and bolts workshop: Come with ideas to pitch. Better yet, bring a short (1 page or less) written proposal to read and workshop. This workshop will provide handouts on proposal writing as well as sample proposals you can use to help develop your own in the future. Useful for anyone hoping to someday write for print or online publications.

The session was led by Rebecca Skloot (@RebeccaSkloot), who enlisted the assistance of David Dobbs (@David_Dobbs), Ivan Oransky (@ivanoransky), and Cliff Wiens (@CliftonWiens).

Here’s the session wiki page.

Gearing up for “Pitches that pay” session with Rebecca Skloot. The room is … cozy #scio10

Skloot has enlisted help of Cliff Wiens & David Dobbs for “Pitches that pay” session. SRO #scio10

Skloot’s philosophy of the pitch: A calling card for you as a writer, selling yourself, not just one story #scio10
  
Can string sentences together effectively, deal with complicated stories. (Good pitch keeps you in the file) #scio10

With some pubs under your belt, don’t have to pitch anymore. (It’s hazing.) Now Skloot works w/editor on pitch; diff process #scio10

Mistakes ppl make: Pitch topics instead of stories. Writing abt X vs. I want to tell this interesting story abt X #scio10

Do you have a voice, an ability to tell the story you’re pitching? (Your pitch should be voice-y) #scio10

Bloggers may have a leg-up in pitching b/c a blog lets you develop your voice & link to samples (Hard to send clips w 1st pitch) #scio10

Editor who read Skloot’s blog hired her to “do that” as a monthly column in a magazine #scio10

There are more than 2X as many people as the room fits. Room assignment FAIL #scio10

Editors love blogs b/c they can see what you’re writing before you’re being edited. (This can bite you in the butt) #scio10

Think of blog as professional tool; put stuff on it that you’re happy having editors see. #scio10

Cliff Wiens, story development at Nat Geo: Hard to get in initially, but once you’re in, they know you can do it #scio10

Cliff Wiens: Don’t hold one idea too tightly when you’re pitching. Think of clever ways to shape the story #scio10

Who do you send the pitch to? Avoid the blind pitch. Cultivate relationships at conferences & online #scio10

No website really identifies “the right person” to pitch — and that person’s inbox is already exploding #scio10

Ivan Oransky: The socially networked editors may be the most receptive to your pitch anyway #scio10

Skloot: Show that you’re a professional in the first paragraph of pitch #scio10

Oransky: Please read my pub before you pitch me. At least do keyword search on what you’re pitching #scio10

Non-crap pitches cultivate goodwill with editors #scio10

Be someone the editor can imagine having as a (good) colleague #scio10

Dobbs: Give them something good in 1st sentence. Pitch 3 ideas 1 concise paragraph each; shows you write well & have lots of ideas #scio10

Oransky: discourages students from sending entire pieces, b/c that’s too long *and* editor wants to feel involved in final piece #scio10

Book editors want proposal, not whole MS, so they can participate in shaping it. Turn what’s already written into pitch #scio10

Dobbs: Be persistent. Email followup w/in 3 wks. Followup by phone 1 week after that. Then they’ll look at it. #scio10

Editors are busy, but you should work to be remembered. #scio10

In followup emails, paste original pitch in below (since it might have gotten deleted/buried). #scio10

Don’t pitch editor in chief, sr. editors. Target younger editors trying to bld their stable of good writers #scio10

Match your career arc to that of the person you’re pitching #scio10

There’s writer karma. Everyone needs someone’s help to make it. Driving the writer to conference from airport may help you later #scio10

People will help you, but they know when you don’t know them or their magazine #scio10

Don’t send the “It was great to meet you at the conference” email to ppl you didn’t actually meet at conference. No favor 4 U! #scio10

Dobbs: gossip is grooming, you need alliances. Established writers want attachment to up and coming talent #scio10

Writers positioned to help each other as landscape in publishing shifts #scio10

Subject line for pitch? “David Dobbs sent me” will work (unless he didn’t) #scio10

Subject line should indicate that it’s not a PR pitch #scio10

Editors do check whether claimed social connections really exist. Get caught lying abt this and get binned #scio10

Over-the-transom pitches sometimes work, too. Harder that way, but if really well written can work #scio10

How to disclose if you have another dayjob (say, in PR) to editor you’re pitching? #scio10

Oransky: Conflicts of interest are a real concern, but transparency is vital. Will try to find you other assignment w/out conflict #scio10

NYT contract for freelancers about conflicts is a good model to examine #scio10

The 60 sec pitch tests your ability to hone your story idea. (Have it ready in your head for phone followup) #scio10

Mastering the elevator pitch as a form can take years #scio10

Practice elevator pitch w your friends. Goal is to get them to want to hear 2nd minute. #scio10

Oransky: “I want to write about…”=FAIL. Asking provocative Q (“Do you care abt …?”)=WIN #scio10

Skloot: “What’s the diff betw X and Y?”, “What do X and Y have in common?” = FAIL #scio10

Practice your pitch with people to determine empirically what they’re interested in hearing about. #scio10

Some complicated (but fascinating, gripping stories), it’s hard to get past 1st line of pitch to get to the next. But pitch must #scio10

Need to pull yourself out of the writing & think as a marketing person to get the pitch to do what it needs to do #scio10

Dobbs: if you overhear ppl talking abt the story in a coffeehouse, how would they say it: “Did you see that story abt …” #scio10

Begin your pitch in the middle of the story – unexpected; want to know the context #scio10

What will keep an overworked editor reading? #scio10

Oransky: Deck-test. What’s the part right after the lede (which tells what story’s abt)? Use that as starting pt for pitch #scio10

Skloot: BTW, we’re talking abt pitching feature stories, not news stories, which are completely different #scio10

Dobbs: Lead your pitch w surprising element (attention-getter) #scio10

Oransky: making arg that would hold water in grant proposal won’t necessarily make for successful pitch #scio10

Skloot: “Show, don’t tell”=diff betw topic & story. Who are the characters in the story you’re telling? #scio10

Dobbs 1. new idea (or powerful one or new take on old idea) 2. interesting/articulate researcher 3. reg person who’s subject of sci #scio10

Dobbs: 4 real story arc (protagonist, obstacle in her way, resolution)

Skloot: Don’t bury your credentials in pitch! (And NPR is more attention-grabbing than your PhD) #scio10

If you don’t have time to write feature stories, excerpting your own book might be the way to go #scio10

Up to the writer nowadays to be her own publicist in a lot of ways (cultivating relationship betw author & editor) #scio10

No one will care as much as you abt your book … which is why you need to pitch even w a publicist #scio10

Act like an established, accomplished professional and you’ll be treated like one #scio10

Oransky: Don’t take anything personally. One editor’s rxn has little bearing on whether it’s a solid story for someone else #scio10

Oransky: Keep pitching so you can make editors who rejected you jealous when you’re published somewhere else #scio10

Good session, but this room is starting to smell really sweaty #scio10

Pitching historical stories is hard if there’s not a hook to current news #scio10

Dobbs: It’s v discouraging to pitch stories. I still get turned down more than I get accepted. #scio10

Dobbs: The moment you send it out, decide where the pitch will go next when you get rejection; revise and resend same day u get it #scio10

Dobbs: Written proposal just part of your sales job. You’re going to infect editors w your excitement for the story #scio10

Comments

  1. #1 David Dobbs
    January 18, 2010

    Janet,

    Impressive! I’d have never thought that tweets could serve so well as conference notes. But (to my clunky memory, anyway) this seems to capture with remarkable accuracy and fullness the main points touched. (Though it was me, not skloot, who mad the NPR-more-imp-than-PhD comment. NB: I was referring to how valuable in the PITCH, not in life …)

    Thanks again to a great attending crowd and the rich combined experience of Skloot, Wiens, Oransky, and Levenson.

  2. #2 Grant
    March 21, 2010

    I swore I’d written in thanking you tweeting this, so here it is very belatedly. I read it on-line live and later blogged about it as your tweet stream was one of better ways I’d had off connecting with the meeting until I discovered the line video feeds (for some of the sessions).