Starting out as a freelance writer can be challenging. No matter how good you are, your work won’t get published unless you can get it seen and, more importantly, taken seriously by the right person.
It’s been almost two years since I took a deep breath and stepped off the nine-to-five office treadmill to take on life as a freelance writer. And while it hasn’t been without its challenges – slow weeks turning into slow months, difficult clients, the wonderful world of business accounting – I have absolutely no regrets.
A lot of what I do day-to-day as a writer is made simpler from years of experience working for other people, but a reasonable proportion has had to be learnt as I go, and it hasn’t all been easy. For example, one of the most daunting aspects of being a freelancer, for me at least, has been pitching stories to prospective publishers.
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So I decided to do a bit of research to work out what I should do, and what pitfalls to avoid when pitching an article, review or story. The following points are the key pieces of advice on how to pitch an idea that my research uncovered. If you too are a starting out freelance writer, hopefully these are helpful to you!
- Know your audience: Make sure you’re familiar with the publication to which you’re pitching. Read other articles they’ve published, familiarise yourself with their style, format and article sizes. Make sure the story is relevant and of interest to the publisher’s readers.
- Know your publisher: Do your research and try to at least, find out the name of the person you are pitching to. If your story fits into a distinct department or section of the prospective publication – e.g. the food & wine section – try to direct your pitch to the editor of that section.
- Don’t duplicate: Don’t pitch an article on a topic that your target publisher has previously covered. If it is on a similar subject, make sure that you have an angle that clearly distinguishes it from past stories.
- The email pitch: When pitching via email, keep it short and to the point. Include a clear, concise one-line summary of the article in the subject field, and clearly identify your correspondence as a pitch – e.g. “Pitch: Six things you need to know before leaping off a cliff in a squirrel suit”. In the body of the email, keep your summary of the article as brief as possible – two or three paragraphs should be all you need – and clearly articulate how you’re planning to approach the story – angle, interview subjects etc. If you’ve already written the article, you can always attach a copy, but this is by no means necessary.
- Introduce yourself: If it’s the first time you’ve pitched to the publisher, include a brief bio and provide some examples of your work, either as attachments or links to your website and/or portfolio.
- Pitch on a story, not a topic: This is perhaps the most important thing. Make sure your article has a clear angle and focus, and that you’re not just pitching a broad topic area – e.g. “A labour of love; the craftsmanship and design behind the modern surfboard” as opposed to “People who make surfboards”.
- Following up – don’t be that guy: You are allowed to follow up, particularly if you haven’t heard back from an editor after a certain amount of time – allow at least one week – after sending in your pitch. But don’t become a stalker in the process. If you haven’t heard from an editor, send another email or call and politely enquire about your correspondence, but make sure you are polite and non-confrontational. In your initial approach it is also perfectly acceptable to provide a timeframe after which you’ll follow up and/or farm the story out to another publication/editor – e.g. “If I haven’t heard from you after a fortnight, I will take this as a ‘no’ and submit the article elsewhere”.
- Don’t give up: Being knocked back can be really disheartening, especially if it happens several times and/or it’s someone you’d really like to have your writing published by. But if you believe in your work and your abilities as a writer, keep sending those pitches and it’s more than likely that eventually, someone will bite. It’s a cliché, but for good reason – persistence is the key to success.
Are you a freelance writer? Or thinking of dipping your toes into freelance writing? Got any great tips of your own for how to pitch an idea?