Freelance Writing Series Part 10: Pitching

Article by Jess Gately

Image from Canva Free Stock Images

In our last post we discussed finding your first clients and getting your first paid gig. If you’re looking to write for magazines, blogs or newspapers, a large portion of your career is going to be spent pitching.

So, what is pitching? Pitching is when you put an idea forward to an editor. Depending on the types of articles you write, you might pitch after you’ve already written something (as is the case with many op-eds and personal essays) but a lot of the time you’ll be pitching before you write to make sure you’re not wasting time writing something that no one is interested in publishing.

A pitch should be succinct, compelling and relevant to the publication. So, we’re going to start this post with how to choose the publications that you’re going to pitch your idea to.

Choosing a publication

The most important thing about pitching is to make sure your pitch is relevant to the publication and its readers, which means you need to do quite a bit of research into your chosen publication before you pitch.

It’s worthwhile creating a template that you can fill in for each publication you research so that you begin to create a catalogue of publications that you can write for. The template should include:

  • the publication name
  • how often it comes out
  • the target audience age, gender, and interests
  • where it is distributed
  • the types and lengths of the various features and articles
  • the tone and style of the writing
  • how many pieces they publish each issue
  • the topics covered in the last 12 months

Note that the number of pieces a publication releases and how often the publication is released gives you a good indication of what your chances are like of getting published by them. More pieces more often normally means a larger likelihood of getting published.

Likewise, making a note of the topics they’ve already covered ensures that you don’t pitch something they’ve already written about or pitch something that is too left of field for their readers. For example, if you’re pitching to a men’s health magazine you wouldn’t pitch a story about Chris Hemsworth’s workout routine for the Marvel Movies if they’ve already covered it only two issues ago. You also wouldn’t want to pitch a story about Blake Lively’s workout routine since the routines for women can be very different to those for men. Whatever your idea is, it needs to be new and exciting to the audience but still fit their expectations. You’ll need to read widely to ensure that you’re not covering something the publication or their competitors have already covered.

You also need to look at the types of features they like to include and see how you can achieve something similar. For example, if they really like interviews with academics in their articles, then make sure you have an interview with a relevant academic. If they write their stories in a comedic tone and make lots of pop culture references, you want to make sure you can do that too. You need to be familiar with their layout, any recurring themes (how many features do they have versus listicle style articles) and which have an idea of the type of style your article should be written in.

And don’t forget to look outside the box. Just because you write travel articles doesn’t mean that your only options are travel magazines. Consider other magazines that might have a travel section like the honeymoon destinations in a wedding magazine or the road trip feature in a car magazine.

How to write a pitch

Most pitches these days are sent via email. Editors are bombarded with emails every day, so your email needs to be quick and easy for them to decipher. Below is a basic template on how you might go about formatting your pitch to ensure the editor actually reads it.

[Subject Line] Pitch: insert catchy heading
Dear [always use editor’s name if you can, but if that’s not available just use ‘Editor’]
Write 2–4 sentences on what you want to write, why it’s great for that publication’s audience, and why it might be newsworthy (e.g. timing of other events coming up in the industry’s calendar)
Include 3–5 dot points on what you will cover in the story—be specific about any interviews or case studies
Write one sentence on how quickly you would be able to deliver the piece once commissioned (two weeks or one month).
Finish with one brief sentence on who you are, why you are the right person to write the story, and a link to your portfolio.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing back from you.
Kind regards,
[Your name and phone number]

Keep your pitch as brief and as clear as you can while also ensuring they know exactly what it is you want to write about and why.

Do’s and Don’ts of pitching

DO keep it short and sweet. If you can sell it in the headline even better.

DON’T send a vague pitch like ‘I want to write about bees’. Have a clear angle like ‘I want to write about how homeowners can make their gardens bee-friendly by including specific plants’.

DO explain why you are the right person to write the story—what experience do you have in the topic?

DON’T write about things that you don’t have any knowledge about. Writing about a war or crisis overseas when you don’t have any expertise on it, have no contacts involved, or where it doesn’t directly affect you means you are probably not the right person to write about this story. Write about the things you know, the things you care about and the things that affect you.

DO be compelling and be clear about why the editor and their audience would be interested in your story. Use the line ‘I think this piece is well-suited to your publication because…’

DON’T apologise! Saying ‘sorry for interrupting your day’ or ‘sorry for emailing when you are busy’ is not only a waste of words but it makes you sound unprofessional. You can show respect for the editor’s time by doing your research first and making your pitch relevant and concise.

DO Google your pitch before you send it—make sure what you’re proposing is new and hasn’t already been covered.

DON’T go on about why this publication will be good for your career—the editor doesn’t care about how this is good for your career. They care about why it’s of interest to their readers.

DO attach relevant examples of your writing, i.e. pieces of a similar tone or style to the publication you are submitting to and pieces that show your expertise.

DON’T send a pitch without your phone number. Create an email signature, include your phone number in it and then use it on every pitch you send.

DO make your pieces relatable—especially if you are writing op eds and personal essays. Your personal stories need to reach out and resonate with the audience.

DON’T pitch a story that’s out of date. For example, why pitch about skiing in Canada at the end of the ski season—pitch it in time for the next ski season instead. It’s also important to remember that your pitch needs to be written, edited, rewritten, go through design and printed before whatever event or season you are pitching about so ensure you’ve allowed enough lead time for all those processes to happen!

DO be reliable, submit when you say you’re going to submit, do what you say you’re going to do, deliver what you say you’re going to deliver.

Dealing with rejection

Rejection is hard to deal with but in the freelance writing game you’re going to experience it a lot so its important that you know how to deal with it. The most important thing to remember is not to let rejections turn you off writing and pitching. If you’ve ever read Stephen King’s On Writing, you might remember his story about the nail in his wall that held his rejection slips. He talks about letting optimism be a ‘legitimate response to failure’. He kept writing and the nail got too small to hold all the rejections, so he upgraded to a spike. But eventually those rejections became more personal, asking him to submit again. You have to adopt the same approach. Keep pitching, aim to get better with every rejection. The more you pitch, the more likely you are to succeed.

Ensure you always reply to rejections politely.  Thank them for their time and consideration to ensure you make a good impression for the next time you want to pitch to them. Nothing will get you blacklisted faster than a snotty response to a rejection.

One of the best ways freelance writers deal with rejection is to turn them into a goal. Many freelance writers use this method to ensure they are submitting enough pitches to cover the bills. They might aim for five ‘rejections’ a week because it means that they’ve been submitting the number of pitches they need to make a living. Obviously this doesn’t mean just pitching without thought. All of the above tips still hold true but by counting rejections as a necessary part of your work, that sting when you get a ‘no’ or when you hear nothing at all won’t feel quite so sore.

If rejections are something that really get you down, try keeping a list of your rejections and set yourself certain numbers (10, 20, 50, 100). When you hit those numbers, go out and do something nice for yourself. Whether it’s eating your favourite food, buying a new book, going for a walk along the beach, or having a relaxing bath, make sure you look after yourself and don’t give up!

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