Introduction to Media Writing
How to Write Formal Pitch Letters
For week two, you will submit a formal, written proposal explaining the focus of the profile you want to write and making clear why the topic is viable
In the letter, I am looking for:
• A clear statement about the focus
• One or two paragraphs explaining why the focus merits attention.
• A clear statement about why someone might be interested in your particular story or piece of persuasion–remember that the first think to consider when you write anything is your audience and your pitch must make plain what the reader will gain from the story or the piece of persuasion.
• Clear, concise writing that is free of mechanical errors (pay attention to grammar, spelling, usage).
Guide to the Formal Letters
Effective correspondence can help you land a job, convince someone to cover your client, sell an article—in short, it’s a first step to being successful in any field.
1 Make it clear from the first sentence why your reader should pay attention.
2 Don’t forget to develop and defend your argument with specific detail.
3 Close in a way that your reader understands the next step.
Please frame each as if it were correspondence you were writing in a professional setting. Your letter/memo should contain three basic parts. Although I hesitate to say that every letter or memo contains these pieces, it might be useful to think of the structure of a formal letter according to the following mnemonic: C-A-N:
First, it is useful to think of a letter (or any piece of writing) as an argument for something: it might be a cover letter accompanying your resume or CV; it might be your proposal for a freelance job; it might be a response to someone’s request for information or your opinion about some issue with an organization. It might be a query letter to an editor proposing an article you’d like the magazine to hire you to write. It might be a letter of complaint in which you ask for a refund for defective merchandise or an adjustment because of poor service. (Here, when I use the word “letter,” I also refer to e-mail or memoranda: regardless of the form—on paper or electronic—when you write a letter in a professional setting, the person who receives it has certain expectations about content, tone and correctness.) In any of these cases, you are making an argument: that the reader consider you for a job, that the reader honor your request for information, that the reader weigh seriously your opinion on the issue, that the reader refund your money, that the reader give you the assignment you want.
With that in mind, then the purpose of the three parts:
• Connection?People who read letters don’t want to spend a lot of time reading them; they want to know what the letter is about and what the writer wants them to do about the information. Early on in a letter, then, it helps if you make immediate (or quick reference) to how the letter connects to the reader:
? In response to your advertisement in which you said you were looking for candidates for a position as a video game developer.
? In our recent department meeting, many of us expressed concern about what we see as unnecessary expense for doughnuts.
? Recently, the FDA proposed certain changes in school lunch programs; readers of your magazine will be interested in knowing how those changes will affect their children.
? With the national unemployment rate hovering around ten percent, Americans are looking for strategies to help them find jobs in a tight labor market.
• While there are few absolutes in writing, it is nonetheless useful if the first sentence of the formal letter tells the reader why you’re writing to them and perhaps what’s in it for them to consider whatever you’re proposing.
• Argument?Once you’ve introduced the subject of your letter (or, again, memo or e-mail), you need to give the reader some evidence that your request is worthwhile. In a cover letter for a job application, then, you might point to highlights from your resume:
? As you will see when you consult my resume, I have had formal training in video game development as part of my undergraduate major in animation at Webster University. While there, I won a college prize for my animation and earned department honors for outstanding work as a major in the program.
• In a letter in which you are arguing for a specific solution to a problem, you would give brief reasons why your solution might be effective:
? Last month, the department spent more than $800 on doughnuts and other snacks. At the same time, the administration has let us know that we may need to cut our spending for staff development and office supplies. If we eliminated the spending for snacks, we could redistribute the funds and use them for these other purposes.
• In your letters for this class, I would like you to give me a paragraph which gives me some idea why your proposed subject has merit for the reader. You may see my example, attached, for one very obvious argument—if someone is successful at something, people will be interested in reading about their life journey so that they might have some insight into how someone becomes successful. However, not all subjects will be so transparent, so ask yourself: why do I think this subject is interesting:
? Jones works as an announcer at a commercial radio station in St. Louis and aspiring disc jockeys will gain from his stories about his beginnings in the industry as well as the advice he might offer for people interested in following in his tracks.
• If the person you are writing about is not yet successful but is struggling to succeed, or even if they are successful but have an interesting personal story, you might make your argument (or part of your argument) that readers will find that story compelling. If you do this, you do not want to spend more than a paragraph summarizing the high points of that story. Your goal in the letter is to give editors enough information to make them want to see the finished piece but you do not have to tell them everything you might include in that piece.
• Next?At the end of the letters you write make it clear what an appropriate next step might be:
? I will look forward to your response to my proposal.
? If you are interested in this topic, I can submit a finished article within two weeks, or sooner if your deadline is tighter than that.
? If you are interested in interviewing Mark Jones, you may contact me at. . .
Dear Jane Doe:
I am writing in response to your request for a proposal for a topic for the profile I will be submitting for class in week three.
I am interested in interviewing and writing about Richard Russo, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2002 for his novel Empire Falls. In all, Russo has published seven novels, as well as a collection of short stories. Last year, he published a memoir, Elsewhere, which received critical acclaim. He has also published short fiction in some of the most important magazines and literary journals in the country, including The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker. In addition, he is a successful screenwriter; his credits include adaptations of his novels The Risk Pool and Empire Falls, as well as the films Ice Harvest and Twilight.
Russo is an appropriate subject for a profile as readers will be interested in his journey to his current place as one of the most important writers in the country. Beyond his story, my article will also deal with Russo’s notions of the differences between writing prose and for the screen, as well as his advice for aspiring writers.
If you have any questions or comments about my proposal, you may contact me at (314) 555-5555 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
This is a traditional letter, but as a writer, you have the freedom to create a more exciting lead. Consider how you might take the lead above and turn it into something even more captivating and memorable. Could you ask a rhetorical question? Begin with a quote? Make your writing stand out. Writers often take the most interesting aspect of a piece and use that for the lead.
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