How to Pitch a Story

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I was recently published on IFB. I made it one of my goals in February to start pitching stories to larger publications and getting published more and more. They published my article on writing a content marketing plan for your blog. I have a few pieces at a few other websites that will go live in March. 

If you've ever had a genius idea for a post that just didn't really, well, fit with your blog, you might have thought that meant that the idea should just... go away. Wrong! Pitch that story to a larger website, like IFB or HelloGiggles. Not sure how to go about it? Here are some steps. 

1. Review the websites contributor policy. 

Most larger blogs that accept submissions have a policy for contributors. It's usually in the footer links of the website. This is HelloGiggles, as an example. This policy gives you instructions of how to submit a pitch, what they need, and what they want from any submissions. 

2. Have an idea. 

It's easy to just send out a bunch of emails saying, "Hey, I want to write something!" But before you hit send, make sure you're sending an actual, concrete idea. Even better, have part of an article written before you do anything. 

3. Write the email. 

Make sure that the subject line meets standards. (As an example, Rookie accepts submissions, but you have to use the correct subject line. Again, read those policies!) Introduce yourself and then write a brief paragraph outlining your idea. Why do you think it would be good for that website? How would it help readers? Be sure to include a link to your blog and any writing samples you have available. Double (and maybe triple) check your email for mistakes before you hit send. 

4. Play the waiting game. 

Waiting to hear back is the hardest part. I had the quickest turn around from IFB, but for others, it can take weeks. 

5. Get published... or not. 

Boom! Your pitch gets accepted. What now? Time to write! Sit down and write the post you promised. Send it in the format they asked for (most publications are OK with Word doc format). Make sure to include a brief bio at the end! And again, play the waiting game. They'll usually let you know of an approximate publish date. 

But wait, what if they pass on the pitch? Well, that sucks. But don't take it too hard. Move on and send the pitch somewhere else. So it wasn't right for one website... maybe there is another one it would be perfect for. Do some research and find it a home. A professor in college always said that if she ever got a rejection letter, she immediately submitted either the same piece or another piece to a different magazine because it kept the momentum going. No matter what: keep the momentum going! 

Why We Need to Talk about Zoella's Ghostwriter

Hey Zoella, here's the cold, hard truth. 

Hey Zoella, here's the cold, hard truth. 

Zoe Sugg is a "YouTuber" (as I typed this, I literally had to close my eyes and take ten deep breaths, all while reminding myself of Myspace and Livejournal celebrities when I was a teenager). Most people know her as "Zoella", a name that is somehow more unwieldy than her given name.

For months, she's been talking on her channel about her first book. You see, it was a dream of her's to have a book published. She talked about how hard she was working, about writing, about creating this book with her own two hands. She's a vlogger, guys; her job consists of making perhaps one 10-minute video per day. And for that she makes more than I do in a year. Ha! Wow! That's so cool! (Silent seething.) 

Except, after her book was released and started to sell lots and lots of copies, it was revealed that, um, Zoella didn't write it. Ok, yeah, everyone says she "thought up the characters and ideas," but they said that about Kendall and Kylie Jenner's book, too. I'm sure Zoella (and Kendal & Kylie) sat in a meeting about the book and "thought up characters" -- but I don't think for a second she had anymore input than that. 

The sad part is that in the video announcing her novel, Zoella talked about how excited she was and expressed a love of writing. If she loved writing so much, why was the book ghostwritten? Her publisher has said explicitly that it was not written by Zoella -- but even a word. In fact, the ghostwriter has actually stepped forward to talk about the lack of transparency when it comes to celebrity ghostwriters.

You might wonder: Michelle, what's the big deal? She's a celebrity, a "YouTuber." Surely no one expected her to write a novel? 

Sure, yeah. However, like I said, Zoella has said she "wrote" the novel several times and has expressed a love of writing. As someone who is famous on YouTube for being, er, famous on YouTube (can you tell I do not understand this YouTuber fame trend?), her brand is based entirely on authenticity. She's famous for being her, not for having any kind of specific talent. That sounds like a total burn, but I don't mean it like that. Her fame is based on the fact that she's just a normal person filming videos (and making obscene amounts of money for it...). 

This article does a great job in pointing out that yes, Zoella, there are major issues with using a ghostwriter, specifically for your book. It might be standard practice in publishing, but with a new medium like YouTube, the results are not the same for others. YouTubers base their fame on authenticity and using a ghostwriter is the opposite of that. It undermines the brand that Zoella has established. 

That being said, I don't really think any of this is Zoella's fault. Do I think Zoella was naive about how the publishing industry worked? Yes. I believe she was probably told that ghostwriting was the standard for the industry and that if she wanted the book to get finished and be successful, it was the way to go. If she'd known more, she would have put her foot down and demanded to write the book herself -- but she didn't. We know that. She let a ghostwriter do it.

So yes, Zoella is naive, but being ignorant isn't a crime. 

Now, if only she would stop tweeting about quitting the internet and people "twisting her words" and actually show that she's learned from this experience -- she might actually build on that brand that's been hurt by this whole ghostwriting debacle. Because really, the people she lied to were the fans who bought her book in the thousands. People bought that book thinking Zoella had written it because she'd told them she had -- and to find out she hadn't? That's a major break in trust. 

The real issue here is the greater implication this has for publishing as a whole. People are becoming more aware of ghostwriting -- and more aware of issues facing the publishing world. Remember James Fry's A Million Little Pieces? After his book was revealed to be, uh, wildly elaborated, a slew of other autobiographies were revealed to be largely works of fiction. Which was kind of embarrassing for a lot of people, but it had been happening for a long time. 

Does Zoella's use of a ghostwriter -- and the public's reaction to it -- mean that more books will be shunned because of their use of ghostwriters? It is entirely possible and personally, I think it will be a good thing.