Writing and Pitching Non-fiction Essays; an Interview with author Kenneth R. Rosen

by Dori Ostermiller

This month, we are thrilled to welcome Kenneth Rosen, who will be offering his two-part intensive workshop on pitching and writing nonfiction articles and essays.  Ken, a two-time finalist for the Livingston Award in international reporting, is a contributing writer to WIRED, a frequent contributor to The New York Times, and a columnist for Inkstick. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and The Atlantic, among others. He is also the author of Troubled: The Failed Promise of America’s Behavioral Treatment Programs (Little A, 2021). I recently had a brief conversation with him about the rewards and challenges of writing articles for publication, and wanted to share it:

Kenneth, you have written in many different formats, and for many publications.  How is writing nonfiction pieces for publication different from other kinds of writing? 

Pitching and writing articles and essays for publication is a bit more formal and high stakes than, say, submitting to literary journals. But the rewards are worth it.  I find writing in a vacuum boring: I hope for a dialogue and an active response to my work. Feedback from readers and insights that I hadn’t considered is one of the most satisfying parts of writing for a broader nonfiction audience.

What do you think is the most common misconception about writing articles for publication?  

Sometimes writers think that placing articles or essays in well-known or high-brow magazines will garner the most attention and readership. It is not always the case. What I’ve found is that many smaller publications have very active readerships who are more engaged with the authors. Everyone wants a credit on the New York Times website, but I’ve gotten great responses and more opportunities from articles published elsewhere. Prestige finds the voices that cut through, no matter where they’re heard.

What are three ways to make your pitches stand out to editors?

1. Be direct. Get right to the heart of what you’re writing and why it’s important to the publication’s audience right now. Don’t dither in your credentials. State who you’ll speak to, what insights you’ll share, and how you’ll go about writing or reporting the piece.

2. Research the publication. Know what they publish and shoehorn each pitch to the publication’s readership and interests. Having been an editor on the receiving end of pitches, the quickest way to lose an editor’s eye is to not do your homework. I’ll talk more in my workshop about how to do this!

3. Write the pitch the same way you’d write the article or essay.  In other words, show off your skills as a writer. And always follow up with the editor a few weeks later.

If you are interested in learning more about the dos and don’ts of pitching nonfiction essays/articles and writing for publication, Kenneth will be offering his two-part intensive workshop, Revising and Pitching Your Essays, on September 10 and 17, 9:30 am – 12;30 pm, and will be working with writers outside of class to offer feedback and professional editorial suggestions on their pitches.  Grab a spot now in this fantastic workshop! 

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