This is just going to be a brief post sharing some of the things I’ve learnt about pitching article ideas to magazine/newspaper/online publication editors. I wouldn’t have had time to learn all this properly had I not been furloughed, so that almost makes up for the six months of purposelessness and uncertainty. I discovered most of this through Twitter, as well as through a freelance writer Whatsapp group I’m a member of, aptly named ‘Freelance No Bra Club’. Clearly, I’m quite new at this myself and my success rate isn’t hugely high, so I’m definitely still learning. But, I think I’ve improved by about 5000% since my first pitch last year and may as well save you all the effort of working it out for yourselves. Anyway, I hope some of it is useful!
[NB: I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who doesn’t write freelance for a living. Therefore, I haven’t included anything about rates, fees, invoices etc, as I am even more inexperienced with that side of things than I am with pitching itself. Basically, don’t be afraid to negotiate a fee, and use an invoice template in Word. That’s about the extent of my advice re money.]
me when i come up with a pitch idea: i’m a genius
me as i’m writing a pitch: honestly if this doesn’t get commissioned within the hour i’ll eat my hat
me after pressing send: omg how embarrassing I can literally picture the editor on zoom laughing about how bad that was
— Harriet Clifford (@hClifford29) September 18, 2020
- Get ideas from the media – just because people are already talking about it, that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything new to add. Cultural trends are always a good shout, as long as you can offer a new and interesting perspective. Use sites such as Science Daily to find out about the latest research, maybe in health or the environment.
- Sign up to newsletters put together by journalists, so you’ll get weekly calls for pitches straight in your inbox. That way you’ll know what editors are looking for. The best ones I’ve found are Hattie Gladwell‘s, Sian Meades-Williams’, and Jem Collins’. Some are free, some involve a small cost – it just depends on whether this is something you can include in your budget.
- Do your research to find the best publication for your idea. Instead of just pitching to a publication because you want the byline, think carefully about whether your piece would fit well with the rest of their content. Quickly search the site (if it’s online) to see if something similar has been written recently, so that you don’t duplicate.
- Once you’ve decided on a publication, find the appropriate editor using Twitter, if contact details aren’t provided on the website. Search ‘Refinery29 lifestyle editor’, for example, and select ‘People’. This should bring up people who have their role in their bios. You’ll often find that their email addresses are there too. If not, they may have posted a call for pitches and included their email address there, so have a scroll. Also, if you find one person’s email address at a publication, chances are the format will be the same for other editors e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Check to see if a publication has posted pitching guidelines. This will ensure you don’t waste your time and end up getting rejected because of formatting/style, rather than the idea itself.
- Pitch one idea at a time, rather than sending an email containing five different ideas. I used to do this and it was rarely succesful. (Edit: journalists have different opinions about this one – just see what works for you)
- Your email subject line should be ‘WRITER PITCH: [catchy headline]’, or, if it’s a timely piece, ‘TIMELY WRITER PITCH: [catchy headline]’. Once I started using this format, I got so many more replies (even if most of them were rejections…).
- In your email, after the opening pleasentaries, repeat your proposed headline again in bold, then outline the idea in 200-300 words, breaking it up into short paragraphs. You don’t need to start actually writing the article, but just make it clear what you want to write about, who you might speak to, what sources you’ll use, and why they should bother commissioning it right now. Include a suggested word count and a proposed deadline that you know you can meet. Then, I always do a secondary heading of ‘Why should I be the one to write this piece?’ Here I just paint myself in the best light possible, providing a link to my portfolio (or links to articles/blog posts if you don’t have one), and also mentioning why the piece is specifically relevant to me. You might have to open up a bit about your personal experiences here, but that doesn’t mean you also have to do that in the article if it’s commissioned.
- If you’re pitching to multiple publications at once because it’s a timely piece, let the editor know this in your email. This avoids the stressful/awkward situation of being commissioned twice. (Not that this has ever happened to me – I wish).
- I always end my emails by saying something like, ‘I am really keen to find a home for this piece, so I would appreciate it if you could let me know either way.’ This (slightly) reduces the likelihood of being completely ignored, although it’s no guarantee.
- Chase up on unaswered pitches within roughly 3 days. This can just be something quick e.g. ‘I was wondering whether you’d had a chance to consider the pitch below?’ – then repeat the headline again. If you’re really keen on a specific publication and would rather not try elsewhere, chase up again after a few days. But if that doesn’t work, it’s probably time to try someone else.
- It’s probably a good idea to keep a tracking spreadsheet of all the pitches you send out, just so you can see when you sent them, when you need to chase up and whether they’ve been commissioned/rejected. It’s also quite cool to see how many you’ve sent out in a month, although slightly depressing when you realise how many have actually been successful…
- Remember, rejections are a COMPLETELY normal part of pitching. It feels really bad, especially when you were convinced by your idea, but there are so many reasons why you might not have been successful. It’s a good idea to ask the editor for brief feedback, just so you can try and learn from the experience.
I can’t think of anything else right now – I’m very tired and have about 8 work deadlines within the next few days, so I’m not even sure why I’m writing this tbh. If anyone has any questions or wants to know anything else, please feel free to DM me on Twitter or send me a message on Insta and I shall see if I can help!