Website DIY #12: Email & Responding To Pitches

How we responded to pitches by email. (And took way too long doing it.)

After reviewing pitches (see that post) and deciding which ones would be a good fit, in terms of the pitch itself and/or in terms of making we’re maintaining a good, diverse contributor pool, we email the ‘pitcher’ in question. Whether we’re accepting the piece or inviting the person to re-pitch, we try to give detailed, actionable suggestions that at least would make the piece a better fit for us – stressing that last part, since it’s less about whether an idea is strong or weak per se, and more about making it jibe with the sort of pieces we’re trying to publish.

This has been far and away are biggest weak point. We wanted to reply to everyone within a few weeks. Ha fucking ha. It ended up taking usually up to a couple months for us to reply to people.

I’m not sure if there’s a way around this. We usually write people around two paragraphs of personalised notes on whatever our favourite one or two of their pitches. How do you standardise that?

One of our editor friends suggested using email snippets to at least make snippets of whatever you can. Like, think about the types of feedback you give as an editor – “this pitch has could be simplified; let’s focus on ‘one weird thing’”; “solid premise – can we heighten your beats way more?” etc. You could turn the big note into boilerplate and then only have to manually write the specific examples. Still a lot of writing, but honestly we probably could have cut our response time in half.

Digression: Okay, what are those notes you give a lot? They’re ones to do with:

  1. Heightening the premise or beats
  2. Clarify/simplify/tighten the premise
  3. Bad fit (essay for a comedy site, e.g.)
  4. ‘Do less’ (cut the backstory or cram it into intro, e.g.)
  5. Good ingredients, but examine other formats or other POVs
  6. …a million others, no doubt. Should re-watch our classes and grab the common missteps they identify.

Same goes for any emails that we wrote a lot: Even “Thank you for the draft, we’ll get you notes ASAP” – I’ve written that 100 times or whatever. Seems like a small thing, but could have saved time.

The only boilerplate we did have was a part of two onboarding emails:

Here's some general admin/advice we paste in all these acceptance emails:

* Want writing tips? Feel free to make use of our free comedy writing class(es) – with password [redacted – sign up for our mailing list for access 🥸]
* A note on our taste: Know that you have the freedom to get a silly, absurd, weird and ridiculous as you think works. Heighten as much as you want to and find funny. You don't need to get weird or 'out there'. We're just saying, if you think another site would be like "woah, can you dial it back?", that's almost definitely not us.
* Process: Send us the draft however (Google Doc; email attachment), we'll (Janet and Sam) copy it into our Google Docs, do a read through, make suggestions/comments, and share it with you to review. The norm has been 1 revision, with some minor final tweaks, but we've done more drafts on some pieces as well. We want to make sure to not ask for excessive labour, while also wanting to make sure the piece is as strong as possible; hopefully we thread that needle.
* Recommended length: Approx. 500-700 words has worked pretty well so far, but it's 100% not set in stone.
* Dates: if you're able to send a draft in the next week, that's fantastic. We're flexible though, just let us know what dates work for you.  We'll try to have notes to you ASAP.
* Payment: We'll invite you to the payment product we're using, Outvoice from the Hard Times team. There's some forms to fill out; might take around 15 minutes.
* Author profile: Please set up your author profile on the site here. This shouldn't take more than a few minutes: [redacted]

Please be in touch a) just to confirm receipt of this, b) if there's anything else you want to discuss in the meantime. Warmest regards,

Sam, for me & Janet

And our Outvoice welcome email:

Hi there, incoming Widget Contributor,<br>
Thanks for joining the Widget party. To get you set up to pay you, you'll need to fill out the appropriate IRS form -- which you will be asked to upload to Outvoice -- and then proceed through the Outvoice account setup:<br>
For CANADIANS, it’s this one:<br>
(Fill out the top section as yourself. Enter your SIN in box 6, and skip boxes 5 and 7. Here is a handy guide – – and a more detailed one –<br>
For AMERICANS, it’s this one:<br>
Any glitches or questions? We're happy to help. (Full disclosure: we’re just getting started with Outvoice here, so apologies in advance if we missed anything. If we did, we’ll get it sorted ASAP for you. Just let us know.)<br>
Janet + Sam

(Yes, we included HTML line breaks in the email. They could really use a WYSIWYG and/or their own actionable on-boarding instructions like this (IMHO) and I’ll tell Matt this next chance I get.)

As far as tools for writing and loading text snippets, no first-hand recommendations. We’ll definitely search for one if and when we reopen submissions. It would be important for us it’s not a privacy nightmare (like this one, Streak, seems to be, e.g.) Wes Bos, coding teacher/podcaster, uses the paid one Text Expander.

So long story short, it’s important to us to give good, actionable, empathetic feedback to everyone who pitches. They took they time, they put themselves out there, they want to get better (or at least that’s the healthy assumption to keep you human). But with that said, it’s now important for us to not make people wait two fucking months for us to be able to do that. So how do you thread that needle? We didn’t figure it out yet, but will try again if we do another bonkers 6 months like this GftW has been.

More in the series

  1. Website DIY #1: Intro & Domain
  2. Website DIY #2: On Starting A ‘Magazine’
  3. Website DIY #3: Site Setup
  4. Website DIY #4: Monetization (Quick Overview)
  5. Website DIY #5: Newsletters
  6. Website DIY #6: Social Media
  7. Website DIY #7: Pitches/Submissions
  8. Website DIY #8: Analytics/Traffic
  9. Website DIY #9: Accessibility
  10. Website DIY #10: Podcasting
  11. Website DIY #11: Equity
  12. Website DIY #12: Email & Responding To Pitches
  13. Website DIY #13: Payments
  14. Website DIY #14: Admin Tools/Apps
  15. Website DIY #15: Networking
  16. Website DIY #16: Audience
  17. Website DIY #17: Stock Assets (Photos/Illustrations)
  18. Website DIY #18: Finances (How To Lose Money!)
  19. Website DIY #19: Wrap Up: Wins & Losses
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