A compendium of excruciatingly bad pitches.
For quite a while I was convinced that a post-politics profile of Ed Balls would make essential reading, but absolutely no one seemed to agree. The travel shows, the cooking, Norwich City FC: the material struck me as unlimited and rich, and this was before his turn on Strictly.
When I was a young twenty-something, I was obsessed with this very smart blog called The Awl. They had a feature called ‘Listicles Without Commentary’. Inspired by the forthcoming release of Just Go With It, I pitched my masterwork: ‘Jennifer Aniston Film Titles, Ranked By How Many Other Films The Title Could Describe’.
The silence was so deafening that I was too intimidated to send in my follow-up: ‘20 Years That Are Also Songs, Ranked By Disparity Between Song Quality and Year Quality’ (the Fiery Furnaces’ 1917 placed high).
This is the pitch rejection that keeps me up at night:
Hi! Thanks for the pitch. This feels a little look-at-these-freaks to me. I think it is a pass for us but feel free to pitch again.
I once pitched a hipster magazine the idea that I would audition for the Jim Rose Circus when it was visiting Dublin. The idea was that, alongside the aspiring firebreathers and jugglers and professional masochists, I would turn up and show Jim Rose my weird toenail. It was underwhelming and embarrassing.
Some of the worst pitches I’ve experienced have come the other way. An editor once wanted me to spend a day begging to see how much money I could make.
Perhaps not quite what you’re after, but a tv exec once pitched a show to me in which I would eat circumcised foreskins, deep-fried like calamari, as a form of ‘ethical cannibalism’.
Pitch: dogs that have their own apartments…
Pitch: something to do with the army.
Pitch: who are the hot singles in your area? Who makes those?
Pitch: Dubai!!! What is going on!!!
Pitch: where are the Abercrombie hunks now?
Pitch: someone said the bridges on the Euro notes aren’t real? (Follow this up, can’t remember.)
Pitch: Jess Glynne
Ok: one thing I remember is that it turned out the actor Lee Macdonald, who played teenage smack casualty ‘Zammo’ in Grange Hill, owned a locksmiths in Croydon or somewhere. I can’t remember who it was that suggested a regular column called ‘Zammo’s Lock In’, where Lee Macdonald would stay up late with some beers in the flat above his shop and review tv shows.
Hundred per cent, it was my attempt to bridge Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy with Made in Chelsea. So bad. Tried you, tried the New Statesman.
Was in a dark place 🙂
Don’t know if it’s actively terrible or just staggeringly naive but I once tried pitching to a few places the idea of getting Giggs and Camilla Batmanghelidjh to sit down together and discuss the real nature of life for young people in Peckham.
willard foxton todd
I was forced to pitch ‘Terry Waite: The VR Experience’ to the BBC. (Yes, a VR retelling of the story of a man famously chained to a radiator for 7 years.)
Apart from the fiasco surrounding a ‘20 Years Of The Macarena’ long read, the most recent was probably when I pitched a feature on Lewis Capaldi, purely on the basis that the photos would depict lc wearing a cape outside the Lewes branch of Aldi.
Nearly ten years ago I pitched a column about the X Factor rehearsal hat – the oversized beanie they all wore in the practice room to show they were chillaxed yet purposeful – to the Guardian Guide. Amazingly, it wasn’t commissioned. I still have the reply because I’m incapable of deleting anything: ‘Much as I like the hat I don’t think it’s quite right for the Guide. Maybe my own personal Guide made of things I am interested in, but perhaps not the proper one’.
I once pitched a Prague travel piece that was to be a ‘Kafkaesque failed attempt to find Kafka’s grave’. It was met with the pity it deserved.
‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’d Love to Do Again’: cruising is supposed to be just for old people, but I reckon it would be a complete blast to go as a young lad. I’d like to go on the biggest, cheesiest, American-style cruise ship I can find and report back.
I once pitched an article around ‘food made from breast milk’ and ‘eating placenta’ to a feminist food magazine. I myself rejected an Asian female editor’s pitch asking me to write about ‘food and drink in Bangladeshi lap-dancing clubs.’
sam diss & tristan cross
Our time at Shortlist mostly involved pitching ‘What is The Most Evil Height?’ every single day. We maintain it is a good pitch. Here are some other ideas from out time there which we screenshotted.
Pitch Nando’s is not a joke. I actually love it.
Pitch when was the last time you pissed yourself?
Pitch skipping is better than walking.
Pitch best hostage crises
Pitch why do we have lips?
I don’t have any real classics, like the time a friend of mine pitched one entitled ‘The Joy of Bullying’, which you won’t be surprised to hear went nowhere.
jade angeles fitton
‘The Understated Style of Kima Greggs’: a look at the understated wardrobe of Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn) in The Wire. Whether she’s decked in a baseball cap and jeans on a stake out or in a perfectly tailored suit and polo neck in the office, Gregg’s style is always on point, and always practical. This feature will explore why her down-to-earth Baltimore style is the perfect look for winter.’
Looking back, I’m not sure which exact demographic this pitch was aimed at.
I tried to bag an interview for Vice with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, with the intention of asking him – privately – to come to Liverpool.
I once wrote a piece for a sex magazine about celibacy, and it was supposed to be a wry, Philip Larkin sort of feature. They completely rewrote it and turned it into a piece about chastity belts and enforced cuckoldry. I had my name taken off it, but yes, that was a pitch gone wrong.
The best way to answer this question is to reproduce the rejection email I received.
Zach from the Baffler here. Thanks for thinking of us for your pitched essay on incest pornography. Unfortunately, we’re going to pass on it at this time.
I sent a bunch of excruciating ones in my day but nothing that rises to the level of a truly terrible idea. I would perhaps say that all pitches are embarrassing.
‘Why People Like Looking at Pictures of Funny Monkeys’. It was pretty deranged and enthused. (Below is the entire pitch, pasted verbatim from a chat.)
btw lol I have this idea kicking around my head thts so crazy it just might work!
it’s about the post-covid trend of looking at pictures of monkeys on the interne
which has exploded in popularity!
i see it as being part of a philosophical treatise on the appeal of monkeys
part of a reported trend feature
maybe interview a monkey psychologist or something lol
but also i want it to be a refutation of that kind of online writing which takes an online phenomenon and then deliberately overanlyses it to supposedly comic effect – like when that fish tube became really popular and there were loads of pieces (including one by yours truly!) like ‘this has resonated so much amongst millennials because we all long to escape neoliberalism’
I don’t want to do monkeys a disservice like that
Also i reckon if you embedded lots of funny images and videos of monkeys lots of people would read it!
People love monkeys!