Case Study: How I Became a Regular Contributor to My Dream Publication

By Rachel Presser

If you’re not familiar with Reptiles, they’re the OG herpetology (the study and enthusiasm of reptiles and amphibians) magazine. I remember being so stoked when my dad got me a subscription for my 10th birthday to further encourage my love of toads, frogs, and lizards.

I dreamt of writing for them someday: when I’d have giant lizards of my own, and get to go on epic adventures where I’d see Komodo dragons and colossal neon pythons in exotic jungles just like the explorers I read about.

Well, I moved to Los Angeles to make several dreams come true. I actually didn’t have this one on my 2022 bingo card, but almost 30 years after that dream budded within me, it came true!

It Happened in Ireland of All Places

I’m assuming that you, the reader, are not familiar with reptile husbandry like I am—a lifelong reptile and amphibian enthusiast who’s had herptile pets most of my life. It’s okay, you don’t have to be to understand what went down.

In the spring of 2022, I went on vacation to Ireland. It was on my bucket list for decades and I racked up so many Skymiles throughout the pandemic, that I decided not to hold off any longer. I climbed the Cliffs of Moher, hiked rocky beaches, then ripped out my crown on Irish toffee and had to get emergency dental work in Dublin. Good times.

Then I unexpectedly stumbled upon this MASSIVE reptile hobby that I did not expect to find, or even set out for until I saw a reptile shop wasn’t that far from my hotel.

I had planned in advance to visit the national reptile zoo in Kilkenny, where I saw an amazing variety of snakes, geckos, frogs, and a 10-foot water monitor. But my trip to the reptile shop only scratched the surface: I went on to meet a shocking number of American expats and mainland European emigres who came to Ireland specially for the country’s libertarian approach to reptile husbandry. You can breed, import, and raise almost any reptile—even venomous animals—at home or in a commercial setting provided that it’s not an endangered species or native wildlife. Major contrast to the patchwork of state, county, and city regulations throughout North America.

So when I returned to the states, I figued I had nothing to lose by pitching Reptiles for their travel herping section. Sure, I spent most of the trip wandering Irish cities in search of brown bread and Aperol spritzes and taking pictures with my phone rather than bushwhacking in Sulawesi trying to get a DSLR shot of a rare monitor lizard—but who expected to find a huge and thriving reptile keeper community on such a tiny rainy island said to have cast out all the snakes?!

The Pitch

Let’s start with the actual pitch I sent first, verbatim, then break it down.

Subject Line: Article Query: Why the reptile hobby is surprisingly taking off in Ireland

Hello, as a long-time keeper of toads and steward of giant lizards in addition to being an experienced freelance writer and content creator, I’d like to submit a pitch in the travel herpetology category.

When most people think of countries where the reptile hobby thrives, they tend to think of the United States and Japan. Pet reptiles and amphibians have been banned in most Scandinavian countries. While they can be found in other parts of continental Europe, smaller homes make pet herps scarce. Numerous restrictions also make would-be reptile keepers in the European Union and even Eastern Europe look to Florida and California in the US.

Then I discovered on my recent vacation in Ireland that a great irony now exists.

The small, rainy island nation that once cast out all of its snakes has become the EU’s haven for the reptile hobby. I visited Reptile Haven in Dublin and learned much from the owner about how the simplified import processes and overall lack of restrictions are leading to a wellspring of reptile sanctuaries and smaller shops in the Irish countryside, where real estate costs less and there is more room to captive-breed animals.

While I wasn’t able to get any photos of Ireland’s only native lizard on my nature adventures, I did get several high-res photos of the thriving herps at the National Reptile Zoo in Kilkenny (where many of the caretakers are also active participants in the reptile hobby) as well as a few of Reptile Haven.

As a writer with a legal background, I can explain the differences in reptile trade laws among the US and other EU nations to readers while keeping it easy to understand. With Ireland becoming a popular immigration target for American expats, the numerous rights afforded to reptile keepers is a major attractor.

Let me know what you think, I’d be happy to get something drafted and provide lots of quality photos.

Kind Regards,

Rachel Presser

So, this pitch might seem a little long. Your pitch to your dream publication could be a similar length or drastically shorter, depending on their submission guidelines.

I based this off of what I read in their submission guidelines, specifically pointing out why I’d be qualified to discuss this and why Reptiles’ audience would be interested. Because photos are a major part of this publication (usually, they aren’t for both print and online unless you specifically pitch a photojournalistic project), I also needed to specify that I took many vacation photos and they supported my argument.

Speaking of legalities in the reptile hobby, they were a major factor in why I left New York for California. I knew for the longest time that I wanted a giant lizard, and I had plans to make that dream come true once I settled into LA and my new life there took shape. But did wanting a giant lizard, and having years of toad husbandry experience, qualify me to get into the OG herptile mag?

Well, yeah.

If there’s one takeaway I want you to have from this so far, don’t gatekeep yourself. Within reason, of course. If the MIT Review wants brain surgery articles and you’re squeamish seeing blood, you should probably close that tab.

But I didn’t need to provide a CV or massive rundown of my tax and legal writing experience, just that I have a knack for making these concepts easy to understand. Reptile keepers span all walks of life and education levels, and I want a high school dropout who’s a tortoise whisperer to understand these regulations just as easily as a PhD reptile biologist.

But Hollywood couldn’t write what happened next.

I Heard Nothing At First

Obviously, you can surmise the pitch was accepted or else you wouldn’t be reading this.

As someone used to working with private consulting and writing clients, plus talent agencies and content platforms—the print world has some stark differences. Namely, it runs a LOT slower. Like a Sulcata tortoise on Valium!

Based on my experience pitching online publications, I figure if I don’t hear anything within 2-3 weeks then it’s a no. Rejection always sucks, but you’re no better or worse off for sending that pitch: send it anyway, even if you don’t get a reply or a constructive reason for why they turned it down!

Three and a half months passed after I got home from Ireland. I had a major surgery and other personal and business issues I had to contend with all summer, but I was now ready to adopt a giant lizard I could raise from a baby. I was waiting for this moment my entire life!

On the day I arranged to take my lizard home, as in I literally just got off the phone with the reptile breeder to set a pickup date, I got an email from the Reptiles editor that they wanted to run my Ireland piece!

I wondered if it was a sign of where my life was headed: it seemed a little on the nose that Reptiles got back to me right when I was making another dream come true.

So I excitedly told the reptile breeder, then I told the editor his timing was uncanny what with the arrival of my baby monitor lizard. I said that maybe I could chronicle my baby monitor raising journey. Turns out he was interested!

Several months later, I saw that the May/June issue was announced and my article about raising my little dinosaur didn’t just get included: it was mentioned on the freaking COVER!

This is a water dragon, not the Kimberley rock monitor that I have, but I still got on the cover and my mind was blown a bit! I did not think that my getting a pet monitor lizard was newsworthy: I was wrong.

The editor also reached out to me about commissioning other articles based on my experience raising and babysitting toads and giant lizards, and while I had his attention, I asked if there was any interest in care sheets and similar content. Given that I could talk about reptile husbandry all day, this is living the dream.

A Sharp Adjustment from the Online Content World

One of the biggest differences between the content world and the print world is that things move a lot slower. A fast-paced newsroom will be a more high-pressure environment than most Internet content, but print publications have a very different process.

Depending on the issue your article will be placed in, you could have plenty of time or a tight deadline to submit it. But the editing process is apt to take more time, as is the publication date and when you’ll get paid. If the magazine is with a large media conglomerate, you’ll usually have a Net 30 or Net 60 term on any accepted pieces. But it won’t be 30 or 60 days after submission–it’ll be after publication.

This makes content work through private clients, platforms, and agencies a more dependable income source for paying your most urgent bills. I received paper checks for my articles when virtually every other company I work with pays with PayPal or direct deposit and the money is immediately there. So, if you land any print gigs–take note of your submission and publication dates, but don’t immediately count on them to pay your bills.

The editing process has some contrasts if you’re used to SEO and Internet writing as well. Because quality backlinks are needed to cite statistics or increase reader engagement with inbound linking, I was so used to putting them in just to remember that people aren’t tapping them when reading a physical magazine. It creates more work for the editor as well, so stop yourself from linking when writing for print!

Similarly to digital writing, the editor you work with may be adamant about style guides or give you more leeway to use your own style. Because Reptiles is an image-heavy publication, I had to provide several images that demonstrated various aspects of reptile husbandry like enclosure size, enrichment toys, food, and so on. It was definitely a different experience than what I was used to in the web content world.

Key Takeaways

  • Send that pitch, even if long submission guidelines are making your eyes glaze over. If it’s a publication and/or topic you’re incredibly passionate about, you’re no better or worse off than you are today by sending it.
  • Don’t gatekeep yourself, unless it’s within reason like a casting call for a demographic you do not belong to.
  • Keep your pitch within the submission guidelines and first explain why their readership would be interested, then why you’re a good fit to write the article.
  • The print world runs more slowly than the online content world, so don’t be surprised if it takes several months to get a response!


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