by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo
Saturday, June 17th, The Latino Arts Network sponsored the very first Gathering of Latina Writers at Plaza de la Raza in Lincoln Heights. The Gathering was organized by LAN organizers, Rebecca Naverez and Tomas Benitez, along with Jessica Ceballos y Campbell and Iris de Anda. This was a free event that included four panels on genre bending, publishing, identity and community, lunch, and an award presentation to Trini Rodriguez of Tia Chucha Press. Many WWS members were in attendance including WWS organizers, Tisha Reichle, Ashley Perez, and me.
I was very thankful to be invited to speak on the Publishing panel along with Iris De Anda, Jess Castillo, Sonia Gutierrez, Jen Hofer and Dr. Thelma Reyna, and to participate in a conversation on the varied avenues a writer can take to publishing including independent presses, self-publishing, zines, translation and special DIY projects. Seeing how all these different Latina writers found success on their own terms was inspiring and gave me sense of community I often hunger for.
For full rundown on the Gathering of Latina Writers, check out this piece by Agatha French at Los Angeles Times. The next Gathering is set for February 24 and 25, 2018.
Saturday, July 1st, I attended the “How to pitch to Los Angeles Weekly and other publications” free workshop facilitated by LA Weekly’s Arts & Culture editor, Gwynedd Stuart, and lead film critic, April Wolfe, and hosted by the Women’s Center for Creative Work.
From the event description: “In an effort to change publishing demographics — with a special emphasis on including writers of color — LA Weekly editors and writers want to give new writers a leg up by helping to refine their pitches and demonstrating proper pitching techniques. Workshop attendees will be required to come with 2 pitch ideas suitable for an Arts & Culture section. You can bring a laptop or pen and paper to write, though laptops are encouraged. (Materials will be emailed before workshop date.) At the end of the workshop, you’ll have two polished pitches and face time with LA Weekly’s assigning editor. WRITERS OF COLOR ARE HIGHLY ENCOURAGED TO ATTEND.”
The event was from 2pm-4pm, and though the event description promised two polished pitches, most were lucky to have a polished email subject line, but this I learned is no small feat. Subject lines are hugely important in getting an editor to read your pitch, especially when they receive an average of 100+ pitches a week. Gwynedd claimed to receive 250 emails a-day, so you want a subject line to stand out.
For a solid subject line, be sure to make it catchy, fun, and specific. With concerns to the LA Weekly, it’s good to include the neighborhood because according to both editors, the neighborhood says a lot. Also, be sure to pitch LA stories, or international stories with an LA hook.
At the end of the session we had time to work on subject lines and receive feedback.
Struggling Eastside Book Store Hopes Paying it Forward will Pay Off
They edited it to:
Struggling Eastside Book Store Stays Afloat by Giving Away Free Books
According to Gwynedd, the change told how the book store was keeping its doors open, and the method left a question in the reader’s mind. How can a book store make money by giving away books? The question is what causes someone to read further.
As for the body of the email, be sure to address the editor by the correct name (happens more often than you would think), and these editors even suggest addressing the editor by first name with no titles or salutatory words followed by a comma. Then you can go into a first sentence with any connections you may have (if you have them):
I really enjoyed your pitch workshop at Women’s Center for Creative Work and thought you might be interested in my story idea.
Next up is the actual pitch. They suggested about two paragraphs followed by a tiny bio, but if you have most of the story already together, longer pitches are not out of the ordinary. Within your pitch you should:
- showcase the rhythm and language of your piece
- illustrate that you are an expert on your subject
- get into specifics, especially the “why” of the story
- have a clear hook (the angle that makes your story different from all others)
- begin the reportage (names of experts, interviews, research on locations, history)
- stay away from too many adjectives and describe the scene.
Before writing a pitch, be sure to have already done the leg work. If you want to interview a person, go interview them first. Do your research prior to pitching and come with the meat.
Some other tips for new writers trying to break in:
- Have a stellar pitch that is finely copy edited and practically a finished story.
- Be prepared with multiple sources.
- Expect to be assigned 500 word (or less) articles to begin with and other “front of the mag” material like “Top Trends of Summer.”
- LA Weekly is excited for human interest stories, stories on the LA every-person.
- They recommend taking a class on ethics for those who are new to journalism.
- Do not email on Mondays.
- Tuesdays during work hours is recommended for emailing, but also try other times if that doesn’t work.
- Use hyperlinks whenever possible. Don’t make the editor’s work harder.
- Hyperlink to relevant previously published work in your bio.
- Always make your deadline!
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is the author of Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications 2016), a 2016-2017 Steinbeck fellow and former Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange winner. She has work published in Acentos Review, CALYX, crazyhorse, and The James Franco Review and is a cofounder of Women Who Submit.