This time last year, I was a pretty horrific writer. Just go look at my old blog posts.
…Actually, please don’t.
I was an avid reader of the tech press throughout my teen years and into adulthood, but it always seemed like a distant, snarky world guarded by unreachable journalists for whom inbox zero is an in-joke.
For a copywriter churning out product descriptions of model cars (my day job last year), it’s an even more distant prospect.
A few months back, I made my debut at TechCrunch, my holy grail, writing on user experience design – a topic I knew shamefully little about which would be read by those that lived and breathed it.
A terrifying thought, right?
The day after my piece on empty states was published, I was nervous to read the comments, imagining angered tirades from UX veterans shouting me down for using the wrong terminology. But no, actually no such thing. Instead, I was lucky enough to get an interview with Holly Jade Chan, a UX designer now leading a team at Facebook and starting a personal project called UXONOMY which aims to gather insight from experts in the field and answer the question ‘what is compelling UX?’
I have a bad case of imposter syndrome. It’s the feeling that you’re secretly 0% qualified for the job you’re doing and that one day, someone is going to call you out on it.
I had it then, and I have it now, even while I wait for my next accepted TechCrunch piece to go live in the coming weeks.
(Update: here it is!)
The thing is, the guys at big publications like TechCrunch don’t mess around. If they think your piece isn’t worth a second glance, they’ll tell you about it. In fact, like a lot of other writers, the story of how I got published started with rejection.
Step 0: Write something worth reading
Since Slack was a trending topic at the time, I thought it’d be a really great time to share with the tech elite my undeveloped thoughts about my limited experience with Slack after 30 whole days of use.
I wrote a piece called ‘Slack Review: My First Month Being Less Busy’, which was a shit draft version of the Slack review now live on this blog.
Yes, I was inexperienced, and it was about the best I could do at the time, but I continued anyway, and remember this does eventually turn into a success story.
Step 1: Find a journalist who won’t hate your piece
While TechCrunch does have a generic ‘tips’ email address, I’d bet that things is bulging with over 9000 unreads and not a great place to send your work. So, even if it takes you a full day to trawl the masthead of your target publication, then do it. Find a reporter who cares about the topic you’re covering.
For this task, I had an assistant gather the details of the main 12 journalists from TechCrunch for me. Want that spreadsheet plus the email I used to pitch? Keep reading.
I took that information, loaded it into a Google Sheet with their names and emails in separate columns, then added a third column for ‘beat’ and a fourth for ‘notes’.
After that, I did a search for ‘Slack’ inside TechCrunch.
As you can see, there are a lot of reporters who have mentioned Slack, so these people would probably be a good place to start. I tagged them accordingly in the notes, then went on to research the most enthusiastic ones individually.
It’s not just the subject matter that’s important, but the tone. My article was naive, playful and not actually new information. In honesty, I wasn’t really sure it would fit on TechCrunch at all.
The closest I could find was this, from Drew Olanoff:
Confident he’d like to hear what I’m saying, I shot him an email only to…
Step 2: Get rejected
My first rejection from big media!
So, Drew got back to me saying that he’s forwarding me to the editor of the Crunch Network. I was excited until I heard back his actual feedback.
Here’s the crushing email in all its glory:
More for Medium. My word…
Maybe this will happen to you, too but the important thing is not to stop.
If you want to see the ‘winning pitch’, click the image below to get access to it plus a spreadsheet of 12 journalists and their contact details:
Click here to get the email I used to land TechCrunch plus 12 journalist’s contact details.
A couple of things I’ve learned since then:
- Don’t bother asking if they want it, write it and send it over with a short summary and title
- Paste the full article into the body of the email
- Make sure your article is useful and isn’t rehashing over-discussed topics.
- If you formatted the post in WordPress first, reformat it in Google Docs before pasting it into the email. I don’t know what it is, but text and images have a habit of looking very weird otherwise.
Step 3: Be persistent without being irritating
As I’ve heard, repeatedly sending bad pitches is a way to on an editor’s blacklist. I’ve not experienced it myself, but I can imagine that seeing the same name pop up several times in your inbox with half-baked content is frustrating.
If you’re rejected, politely ask if they’d mind looking over anything you send in the future. Remember that you’re not looking to shoot your piece off to any old editor, go viral then become bigger than Jesus — you’re looking to build relationships.
One hazy week last October, I spent most of my time exploring empty states (the screens you see when there’s no data to show on an app) and realized that it hasn’t been covered before on TechCrunch.
So, there we have it:
- Technical? Check
- Not covered to death? Check
- Insightful? I’m working on it…
Long story short, I wrote the article (see it here), sent it over to my new contact at the Crunch Network and they took it with great fanfare and applause in what was the most anti-climactic acceptance email I have ever seen:
If that means what I think it means, then…
Step 4: Be a great contact
It’s not like you need to give them hot tips about startup gossip, but if you really care about getting published in one particular publication, (like I do about TechCrunch), make sure to:
- Pitch them first with your best content
- Offer them the exclusive
- Help out whoever is formatting your article as much as possible and as fast as you can
If you pitch them something and you don’t hear back, being the guy who lost out because they were impatient and got their article published somewhere worse is not what you want at all. And it’s not what they want either.
TechCrunch: Hey there, we’ve read and accepted your article, we’d like to publish it
You: Too slow, sucker!
TechCrunch: Remind us never to trust you again.
There are some prerequisites for getting coverage on a big site like TechCrunch, such as basic research skills and common courtesy, but in the end, it’s not as much of a scary ivory tower as you might think.
Even though journalists have ruthless deadlines and overflowing inboxes, they’re human beings who can love what you write.
It’s a real possibility they might think that it’d be worth taking responsibility for your piece and sharing with their audience.
This mindset applies to everywhere. I’ve used this same framework (being a decent person) everywhere I’ve written for, and that includes other awesome places it’s an honor to write for like The Next Web, Usability Geek, SEMRush, and Ahrefs.
If you’d like to hear about the particulars of pitching these sites, let me know in the comments and I’ll write something up about how I did it.