While reputable periodicals shed their staff, the Internet is full of courses for aspiring journalists. While the content mills pay $5 for a thousand words and numerous “pay-per-click” just promise to pay when your post goes viral (at approximately the same odds as you winning a lottery), the courses promise to teach how to be paid $1 per word.
I’m usually skeptical about “get rich quick” schemes. However, as a beginner freelance writer, I subscribed to blogs of the US authors Carol Tice and Linda Formichelli. They have great advice for aspiring writers in exchange for the ads of their products – books, mentoring and online courses.
Marketing of the course, Pitch Clinic, was a free lesson in itself. I subscribe to both Carol and Linda’s newsletters. I was bombarded by promotional emails: “The course is coming soon”, “registration open”, “you still have a chance”, “we have a great editor who will look at your proposals”, “and another great editor”. At last, I was seduced by the offer that if I finish all the assignments on time, I will get all the money, $300, back.
How the Pitch Clinic works
You get access to a forum where you listen to pre-recorded lectures and collect handouts such as a flowchart how to write Letter of Introduction (LOI). The forum software was irritating, the “watch this topic” bookmarks slipping all the time. But the support system was excellent, correcting my mistakes such as posting in wrong places, changing the title, etc. almost immediately.
First, you submit your “pitch idea” The idea should be approved by one of the mentors, media professionals including Linda and Carol. You can provide up to 3 ideas, but only the first one is approved. As a result, I was stuck with a topic, which the more I worked on, the more I disliked it.
Then you write a full-fledged proposal/letter to the editor. Unlike the idea, which was approved breezily, the editing of the pitch went round and round. They told me that I selected a wrong type of journal. Because the course concentrates only traditional outlets such as women magazines, my proposal of a 5,000-word feature idea about a person was transformed into a 700 word “two interviews and some stats” and the person reduced to a paragraph.
I was told I needed more statistics. Right kind of stats. What is so interesting about a man, who is the hook of the story? More details added. Why do you know so much about the man, is he your friend? Fewer stats. Your pitch contains grammar mistakes – but we are not telling you what they are.
The high volume of posts – around 125 people registered – precluded close attention. It’s good in a way, as the commissioning editors will have even less time and patience, however, going in circles wasn’t an enjoyable experience.
You can get one-on-one telementoring with Linda or Carol, but this of course will cost you more than the course.
…As the deadline loomed, I was getting very frustrated. I started waking up at three a.m. thinking about the assignment. I’ve spotted a mistake in my pitch but was afraid to mention it, so I don’t need to go through the twenty rounds of revision again.
Another frustrating thing was that you were supposed to do pre-interviews, e.g. interview people before getting an assignment. It was good because it got me out of my comfort zone, but I feel that people wasted their time talking to me as I didn’t get the assignment.
In the meanwhile, I worked on the third module, a LOI for businesses cold – emailing to people who might need a copy for their business websites, blogs, etc. This was relatively easy.
In the end, Linda Formichelli swooped into my thread and rescued my pitch. I was able to go to the next round: sending four pitches and 4 LOI. Starting the course, I thought that I would get help on all four. But you only get one pitch and one LOI approved. The rest is DIY, subject of approval of a different profession editor, who was very nice and helpful.
What the Pitch Clinic does
The course caters for a standard journo format: a report with a couple of interviews and “neutral point of view”. It’s narrowly focussed specifically to the usual media. You are supposed to find the media outlets yourself – while for a beginner writer this is difficult, the Pitch Clinic certainly gives you a crash course of working in media.
I got through, in the end, managing to get the refund. Unfortunately, Carol and Linda didn’t reply to my statistics request. According to my calculations, 125 people subscribed, 53 were admitted to the “Pitch Challenge” – send queries and for LOI to businesses – and around 25 were refunded. I think that 1 in four chance of getting your money back is good – if you can afford it.
I did get a reply to a few of my proposals and LOI – but no assignments. The experience reminded me of the Onion feature Creative Writing Professor Takes Time To Give Every Student Personalized False Hope: you pay for your instructor’s time, and she is encouraging, but she will not tell you if you can hack it.
There’s always one smart aleck who gets an assignment in Red, and this person’s testimonial is used in all the promotional material. Work hard and you have 1 in 125 chance to be her.