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Episode #054

Avoid These 2 Common Photo Story Pitching Pitfalls


UPDATED: May 22, 2023
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON December 15, 2020


Have your conservation photography stories been rejected (or ignored) by editors time and time again, but you have no idea where you are going wrong?


If your pitches aren't getting attention, start by fixing these two things

Plenty of pitfalls can come up in the process of pitching your conservation photography story to publications. Being aware of them is the difference between getting a yes from an editor… or being completely ignored.

I’ve spent years working as an editor, which involved having to sift through tons of pitches. So I have a fairly good idea of what the most frequent mistakes are. And, if you’ve ever listened to other editors, they will point out the same ones that I will walk you through today.

Fortunately, you can avoid these pitfalls altogether by taking the right steps early on in the story creation process so that, once you get to the pitching part, it's smooth sailing.


You'll Learn

  • The difference between a story and a topic and why this matters. 
  • Critical questions you need to ask to formulate a story. 
  • What editors look for when considering a pitch. 
  • How a clearly defined story benefits you, the photographer, and the editor. 
  • Why it is imperative to tailor your pitch to the publication. 
  • The importance of doing your research about the publication beforehand. 
  • How choosing the right publication can increase the impact of your story.

Episode 054: Avoid These 2 Common Photo Story Pitching Pitfalls

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/54

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
Hello, hello and welcome to another episode of Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. I'm so grateful that you are tuning in this week. If you're a long time listener, well, welcome back, and if you are brand new and this is your first episode, well, welcome to the show. I hope that you will hit that Subscribe button and that way you will get every new episode when it rolls out. I roll out an episode every week, but sometimes I like to toss in some bonuses in there too, and I wanna make sure that you get your hands on those. Now, every single week, I hold a live Q&A session with the students who are enrolled in my digital course, Conservation Photography 101, and you can bet that we talk a whole heck of a lot about pitching. Now, my digital course walks students through the art of finding a conservation photo story, photographing it and creating a pitch to send to editors. Of course, that pitching process comes up a lot, but there's also a couple of pitfalls that show up during that pitching process that can actually be tackled far earlier in the process, and this is something that I workshop with my students a lot and help them to avoid these pitfalls.

0:01:12.3 JH: Now, I wanna help you also avoid two of the most common pitfalls that I see pop up. And we're gonna cover what they are and why it's so important to be aware of them, not only when you get to that point where you really wanna pitch your story to an editor, but way before, so that your story starts out even stronger and then the pitching process is even easier.


0:01:40.1 JH: Welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place. From conservation to creativity, from business to marketing, and everything in between, this podcast is for you, the conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.

0:02:11.9 JH: I'm hoping that you already have January 6th circled on your calendar, and if you don't, then you are opening up that calendar, finding January 6th and putting in a bell and a cheers emoji and an alert to be reminded when it is January 6th, because that is the big, big day when I open doors once again to my digital course, Conservation Photography 101. Now, in this course, I walk you step-by-step through the process of finding a conservation photo story, photographing that story and creating really powerful images and writing and sending a winning pitch email to a publication. So by the time you go through the entire course, you'll have found a photo story, photographed it and pitched it to a publication, and I am with you every step of the way. Now, I'm really excited about opening doors this time because I've completely revamped the course. I've added in lessons, new exercises, we've even dramatically upgraded the student group, and everyone is inside of this beautiful, new robust platform, talking with each other and helping each other troubleshoot. It's just amazing. And on January 6th, I get to open doors again and I welcome in a whole new group of students, and I hope that that includes you. So make sure to mark down on your calendar January 6th, then head over to conservationphotographycourses.com and make sure you're signed up on the wait list, that way you'll be first to know when doors open.

0:03:45.0 JH: Alright, let's get into the episode. There are quite a few little pitfalls that can come up during the pitching process, especially if you're brand new to it and you don't know how to recognize them and to navigate around them, and sometimes these pitfalls can mean the difference between a yes or a no answer from an editor. And I spent a lot of years as an editor and getting tons of pitches in my email inbox every day, so I definitely noticed when today's two common pitching pitfalls pop up, and I am not the only one. In fact, the two that I'm gonna talk about today are really common, you'll hear a lot of editors mention this. If you ever drop into Q&A sessions, or if you ever have a portfolio review with an editor and you ask about this, it's likely they'll mention this. Because these two pitfalls, they're an issue. But the thing is, you can catch these really early on in your story creation process and navigate around them, and that way when you get to the pitching process, they're not even an issue.

0:04:50.5 JH: Now, the first thing that I see happen with a pitch that is basically a make-or-break is your pitch is a topic, not a story. Now, this happens a lot when someone gets an idea and they pitch it without really digging in to the nuts and the bolts of the story. A topic is not something that you pitch, it's just an idea, it's a starting point, it's where you begin the journey into finding the story, and editors want the story. So let's take a quick example. Now, let's take an example. Let's say that a photographer discovers that there's this area with an endangered species living in it, and they think, "Oh, well, that could be pretty cool. It's an endangered species. I'm gonna pitch that idea to a publication." Well, an area with an endangered species is not a story. That's a topic. You need to dig a lot deeper into that topic to find out where the story is. You need to ask some critical questions. Who are the characters? What's the conflict? Is there a solution or not? What's the primary activity? What are the driving issues that are causing the species to be endangered? There's a whole lot that you need to unpack, because when you get to the point of pitching, an editor really doesn't care if there is a place with the endangered species. What they care about is what is the story about? What's the narrative arc? Who are the characters? We need to really understand how we're gonna illustrate the story to readers.

0:06:33.2 JH: When you pitch a topic rather than a story, then the editor isn't able to see what's in it for their publication, for their readers. You're making them do a whole lot of legwork, and that's gonna probably mean they're gonna pass on that story idea. Now, if you do do the legwork, you really get into understanding all of the nuances of what's going on and you craft a story out of that topic, well, now you're on to something.

0:07:03.0 JH: Now, this work doesn't just make it easier on the editor, it actually makes it easier on you as the photographer, because the more you drill down from topic into story, the clearer it's gonna be for you to know what it is you're photographing and you're gonna really understand not only visually what your story is gonna look like, but also what the workflow looks like for you to be able to photograph the story well. So for example, the more clear you are on your leading characters, well, the more clear you are on how you're photographing them, and the more clear you are about the conflict, or the solution, or the research, or everything that's going on inside of this, then the more clear you are about what shots you're gonna need to create. So really doing that difficult but essential work from going from broad topic down into a crisp, clear, concise story, well, the easier it is for the editor to see what it is that you're bringing to the table and to envision how that will work inside of the publication, and the easier it is for you to get to the next stage of that story process, which is the photographing of it. You can't do your job if you only have a topic, neither can the editor.

0:08:22.8 JH: So number one, pitching pitfall is someone who pitches when they only have a topic and haven't done the legwork to find the story inside of that topic. Now, the second pitching pitfall that I see happen a lot, and this is really important. I got pitches like this in my inbox all the time and really commonly passed on them for this reason. The problem is, is your pitch is generic in its approach. It's not tailored to the publication. And it's really easy for an editor to tell if you did not do the legwork in figuring out exactly what that publication is about, what their tone is, who their audience is, and crafted your pitch to match that.

0:09:07.6 JH: So let me take an example. Let's say that you are pitching a feature story on a conservation issue, when that publication just doesn't do feature stories on conservation issues. You didn't take your conservation issue and find the angle or the spin or the way to make it fit into the types of features that they do usually have. Or let's say your story sets a tone that doesn't match the publication's tone. So let's say you're doing a hard-hitting science-y conservation issue, and that's not at all the tone of the publication. They don't do hard hitting, they do light-hearted or maybe solutions-oriented or fun-loving. So you really need to figure out, "Okay, well, if I'm gonna pitch a publication on this story, what are they like? How does my story fit into that? What do I need to do to craft my story in such a way that it makes sense for that publication, that it's a no-brainer for the section that it would go in, or the way that it appeals to the audience of that publication? You, as the person pitching a story, you need to do your due diligence and your research. Not taking the time to do this, is basically being really lazy about your pitching, and that's just not gonna get you anywhere. A little bit more work upfront and being conscious of how you are setting up your story to be presented to a publication and really making sure that it is just hand-crafted for that publication, that little bit of work is gonna go a long way in helping you get that yes answer.

0:10:46.3 JH: Now, this is something that we talk about a lot in those weekly live Q&As with my students in Conservation Photography 101. And for those of you who are in CP 101, you're probably nodding right now. We talk about how your story fits into which publications and how to shape those. Because we really wanna maximize the use of your time as a creative, and we wanna make sure that the publication and the story are a perfect match, because it does no one any favors to try and jam square pegs into round holes. It gets all of us nowhere. But this is one of the really fun parts about creating stories and crafting them. It is figuring out, "Okay, well, I have this conservation story that I care about, and I need to find the perfect home for it, which means that I need to shape the way that I talk about the story just perfectly so that it can find a place in that perfect home."

0:11:45.1 JH: It is a whole jigsaw puzzle and it is nuanced and it is a blast to figure out. So once again, doing a little bit of legwork goes a really long way. And it makes it easier not only for the editor to see how easily that story really fits into the publication, but it makes it easier for you, as well, as the photographer, because it makes you think a lot more critically about, "Okay, well, I spent a lot of time photographing this story and thinking about it, and it's an important story that could really make an impact. How do I make sure that it lands in the perfect place where it can make that impact?" Sharpens those critical thinking skills, sharpens those storytelling skills, sharpens those investigative skills for finding exactly what kind of publication would be the perfect match, and it makes you much more effective as a visual storyteller, because you always know that the stories that you spend so much time and energy working on, well, they're really gonna mean something when they get in front of that right audience.

0:12:52.3 JH: Those are the two most common pitching pitfalls. One is you come up with a topic, but it's not a story. You really need to dig into that topic and find the angle, find why it matters, find those characters. You gotta dig into that and really find the story, and the story is what you pitch. And the second one is making a pitch really generic and not really thinking very much about crafting that pitch to match the publication that you're pitching it to, really understanding that publication in depth and assuring yourself as well as the editor that your story and that publication are a perfect match.

0:13:34.8 JH: Now, of course, there are definitely more pitfalls out there, and this is something that we talk about not only in conservation photography 101. You're not alone in worrying about all of this stuff, all of us do. And no matter how experienced a photographer is, they're still worrying about, are they messing up or is this pitch just right, or I wanna make sure that I really get this through to the right editor. So this stuff doesn't go away, you just get better at recognizing those pitfalls and navigating around them so that you get that higher success rate.

0:14:11.4 JH: Alright. I hope that this was helpful and that you can avoid these common pitfalls because you know that I want nothing more than for your photo stories to get out there in front of audiences, because that's how we as conservation visual storytellers really help to drive change. Alright, my friend. Have fun, happy photographing, and I will talk to you again next week.


0:14:37.3 JH: Before we wrap up, I would love to ask you to do one quick thing, subscribe to this podcast. As a subscriber, you'll not only know when each week's episode goes live, but you'll also get insider goodies, like bonus episodes. You might miss them unless you're subscribed and I don't want you to miss out on a thing. So please tap that subscribe button and I will talk to you next week.


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