Posts Tagged ‘crai s bower’

Pitches Brew – A Staple of Successful Freelance Writing

I’m in my studio away from studio, traveling 38,000 feet above sea level on my return to Seattle from the Alaska Media Roadshow in Santa Barbara, an annual speed-info feed with the tour operators and destinations of Alaska. Like Canada Media Marketplace and Go Media, travel media are flown to a wonderful destination like Santa Barbara where we are feted and presented with inviting details about kayaking off the Kenai Peninsula or small boat cruising through Glacier Bay. I consider these events, eight hours of 15-minute meetings, a cauldron of pitches brew.

What is pitches brew? It’s the magical potion that successful freelancers call upon to keep churning up stories worthy of an editor’s nod, the first ingredient to getting paid for writing, as essential as salt in a professional writer’s cupboard. In the ever changing world of freelance writing, where editors change more often then my teenager changes his socks, if you can’t conjure up a pitch from the time the elevator door closes on the seventh floor until you reach the lobby, making it as freelancer is going to be mighty tough.

Speaking of my eleven year old, all of his blurt outs in 6th grade that are driving his teachers nuts come from the same synapses that now serve his father everyday as a freelance writer: the randomly abstract mind. (Full disclosure: math isn’t my subject but I’m rather confident I spent 50% of my elementary school years on a stool in the hallway.) What was once a deadly potion that combined an inability to sit still and disquieted mind in elementary school (and, let’s be honest, all the way through college and, for that matter, last night’s dinner party), now provides me with the skills to conjure and craft pitches at a wicked swirl.

I give this example when I speak to high school and college journalism classes, student newspapers, etc. We’re usually sitting in a classroom when I ask, “How many stories are in this room?” The students, used to chasing bigger fry, valiantly try to find a story After a few minutes, I share the story about how each of them probably possesses an interesting story one relative or friend removed, an uncle who fishes in Alaska while attending law school or some such. But I also tell them the very desks in which they’re sitting is a story. I then recall the story I wrote, after wondering where school furniture goes to die (or in Seattle, to be recycled into new office furniture) that I researched and wrote eight years ago for Washington CEO. That story, “Where do overlooked industrial necessities go?” led to four similar-themed stories and a roundup. (We’ll talk about bundling another time.)

Crai S. Bower on assignment

Whatever technique you use is fine. When I am in pitch mode I unleash, clear my desk and run like a lab rat until I’ve exhausted the fount. Sometimes I have a “Pitch Tuesday,” when all I do is pitch, forcing myself to create ideas. At other times the ideas come at napkin (or iPhone notes) writing time, typing during a men’s room interlude during a romantic dinner with my partner. Whatever it takes, I take.

The second part of successful pitching also stems from school: homework. You have to know, not just your target publication, but your actual quarry, the editor.

Unfortunately, no two editors are the same, even if they work for the same publication. One may like a single line pitch, one may prefer a paragraph with supporting links and demographic targets. He may prefer to know why you are the right writer to research and compose this piece, she may wonder why the hell you’re selling yourself so hard and lose interest in the story, worried the destination will become a first person narrative that only your mother would enjoy. There are lots of ways to find out about an editor, I like Media Bistro’s “How to Pitch” pages because the examples are right before me and then I don’t have to ask a colleague for the insight that he’s worked hard to cull himself and deserves to keep in his own Rolodex. (Yet another subject for another time.)

The third and final ingredient for good pitching is persistence. When I first started, following up on pitches was embarrassing, so I spent many hours staring forlornly at my “in” box wondering if I would ever hear from anybody. I considered follow-ups to be badgering and my grandmother taught me never to badger. But more than a few editors have told me they appreciate being pestered (their word), as it lets them know I am excited about and committed to a story. (Disclaimer: see part two for mention of how no two editors are exactly alike.) But honestly, what’s the worst that can happen? They can say “no way, go away!”

Getting rejected may sting our egos, but at least we know where we stand, which saves on wasted energy and creates more time for, you guessed it, stirring up more pitches brew. Good luck.

Award winning travel writer, radio and television commentator Crai S Bower estimates he sells about half of the 200 pitches he brews up every year.

Another Night, Another Networking Event or “Why go? I’m sure they’re on Facebook…”

Contributed by Crai S. Bower

I’m prepping for the Media Bistro December party, deciding whether I have time to print the guest nametags or leave it in the capable hands of “My Anti 9-to-5 Life” author, Michelle Goodman, who usually takes care of this task as part of our co-hosting “arrangement.” I like hosting the Media Bistro parties, which we throw about six times a year, though I haven’t quite learned not to take the attendance numbers personally.

Years ago, I met one of my main editors (i.e. steady, well paying employers) at a MB event, one of the most important connections I’ve made. Because I’m host, it’s unlikely I’ll feel too tired to muster the energy required to pull my boots on and head to Kate’s Pub for a couple of hours of chitchat, pints of Guinness and perhaps even an editor score.

But the whole process has me thinking, with everyone tweeting, slathering Facebook with promotional materials and connecting on LinkedIn, what’s the point of face-to-face networking anyway? If I can attend virtual meetings with Skype video, why depart my house (and family) for yet another “event,” especially as someone who travels for a living.

Crai S. Bower (center) at another networking event.

I put this question to Laura Serena, Immedia Inc. partner and chief cat of, one of the travel journalism’s most popular go-to networking sites. Over brunch this past weekend, Laura was exuding the virtues of Übertwitter, the new Twitter-centric app designed specifically for the Blackberry, definitely great news for the Canadian publicist.

A visionary in the social media sphere, Serena’s PR company also reps several of Vancouver’s hottest restaurants, including Coast, the “see-and-be-seen” seafood palace, frequented by Vancouver’s networking elite. As a social media maven who also commits many nights to being out and about at promotional functions, she seemed a perfect judge of the online vs face-to-face networking bout?

“With the continued growth of such networking platforms as Skype video, I think you really have to evaluate the value of attending each specific networking event,” explains Serena who with Heather Kirk, her Toronto-based partner, also operates, a networking source for business journalism.

“And remember,” Serena advises, “Tweeting from an event not only raises visibility of the event, it elevates your exposure as well.”

Like most publicists, Serena says she ultimately favors live interactions. To prove her point, she told me she recently attended a networking function where she made three unexpected connections. She met a publisher who was launching a new magazine, discussed potential collaborations with a colleague she hadn’t seen in years and was introduced to a journalist she had always wanted to meet.

Personally, my insane, nonstop “building a brand/business” networking evenings are behind me. Gone are the days of 4-5 nights out a week, elevator pitch rehearsals and cold-call conversations. (I started writing for because of my literal elevator pitch to former editor Valaer Murray, conducted between the 7th floor and lobby of Vancouver’s Metropolitan Hotel.)

Yet, the importance of heading out remains crisp as an Alberta winter. Two weeks ago, while in Calgary to research the burgeoning culinary scene for and American Forces Radio, I received an invitation to hook up in the evening with an editor I’d met fortuitously that afternoon at a group luncheon held at Catch, Calgary’s premier fish restaurant, a repast I’d unfortunately had to leave early.

That night, I didn’t hear from said editor until after I’d returned from the Calgary Flames hockey game to the cozy Hotel Le Germain. Fryes off and tethered to my keyboard, I declined the opportunity when the text came in to pull on my boots, wrap my scarf, and jump in a cab for the trendy Inglewood neighborhood.

Unlike the frigid, -40 degrees (Celsius) air that night in Cowtown, the editor’s responses to my attempts to engage later in email conversation have been tepid, at best.

Of course all is not lost. The reason I left that Catch lunch early? To meet with the fabulous Deb Cummings, my new editor at Up! Magazine.

Still, that I didn’t rally to join up with folks in Inglewood eats at my freelance soul though, I’ll admit, tweeting and blogging about it has helped.

A little.

Award winning travel and lifestyle writer Crai S Bower contributed over 100 articles in 2010 for more than 20 publications and online sources. He is the travel commentator for NPR-affiliate KUOW and American Forces Radio and was featured in “Seattle 100: Portrait of a City.”


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