So, you have an idea and the world needs to know about it. This article could be the defining moment in your career: it could excite and inspire people everywhere. Well, you think so, anyway. Now your job is to convince an editor to have the same belief in your idea!
Contrary to popular belief, the economic downturn has actually increased the use of freelance writers. As companies have been forced to have a smaller staff, buying-in articles often works-out cheaper, so although you might be nervous, be assured that yes, editors do want to hear from you! However, in such a saturated market, they receive hundreds of articles each day. So, give yourself a fighting chance by creating the perfect pitch…
Writing your pitch
The best pitches are clear and concise. Editors are busy people, so getting to-the-point quickly is essential.
Be sure you don’t miss the interesting details: boast about what your article would have over others.
To excite the reader, your pitch should be passionate. John Steinbeck once said “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.” Having this approach is the best way to encourage a genuine interest in your work.
Include a sample paragraph to give an idea of your writing abilities.
Whilst being true to your own style, it’s often best to tweak it slightly to suit the feel of the publication you’re pitching to.
Try to put a unique spin on the topic. It’s important to remember that editors read the same newspapers, magazines and blogs as you do – they won’t be interested in something they’ve read a million times before.
Cover the basics. It’s surprising how many people fail to fact-check (or even spell-check) before they pitch to a glossy: big no-no.
Make sure what you’re pitching is current. The best way to show this is to relate the subject matter to a recent news story or event.
It’s good to include a brief summary of your writing experience, but don’t be too in-depth. If they want to read your CV, they’ll ask for it!
Getting it out there
Be selective with who you pitch to. There really is nothing to be gained in offering an article on ‘The Perils of the Acrylic Manicure’ to GQ magazine.
Do your homework: it doesn’t come across well to pitch an idea for something which was featured a couple of issues back. It suggests that you don’t have a regular interest in their publication and that your finger isn’t really on the pulse.
In an ideal world, phone calls are the most personal way to pitch. In reality, however, the fast-paced world of publishing means that most editors don’t have the time to talk to everyone. Believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time in publishing offices and have overheard the “sounds great, can you put it in an e-mail?” response more times than I care to remember. If you are faced with this, don’t despair: the fact that you bothered to pick up the phone will resonate and could ultimately work in your favour.
That being said; BEWARE THE GENERIC E-MAIL. There really is nothing more hated than a round-robin message – it’s lazy (I mean, seriously, don’t CC six other editors). Take the time to tailor each pitch to each readership group and adapt your writing to suit.
To save your e-mail from drowning in an overflowing inbox, be sure to have an attention-grabbing and informative subject line. For example: “FREELANCE ARTICLE – ‘What’s hiding in your daily caffeine fix? The health risks of mass-produced coffee’”
Carefully research whom you should send your pitch to. Most publications have commissioning editors, who are in charge of selecting freelance work; it’s often best to start with them. Relevant contact information is largely available online, but avoid sending pitches to general e-mail addresses, such as firstname.lastname@example.org . These mailboxes often go unmonitored for long periods of time and the chances are that your message won’t be passed on to the correct person.
It’s a good idea to end your e-mail with a phrase such as “I look forward to hearing from you” or “thank you for your time.” These are confident and polite sign-offs with the right amount of formality.
Once your e-mail has pinged into the stratosphere, there isn’t much you can do but wait.
If, after a week, you haven’t had a response, a follow-up phone call perfectly acceptable. It’s a good idea to check when the editor’s press day is, as phone calls on busy days like this are really not appreciated.
If it’s proving difficult to make contact with the person you pitched to, be persistent (but not annoying, there’s a natural limit!)
If it’s good news…
Great! Well done, you!
In amongst your excitement, be sure to check the details of your agreement. Key info to ask for is:
– When is your deadline?
– How many words are expected?
– What will your fee be?
– When is the prospective date for publication?
– Whose property will the article be? Is the editor buying copyright, or will the content remain yours?
If it’s bad news…
Don’t be too deflated. Although it might sound like a brush-off, if they say it isn’t for them, it probably just isn’t!
Be gracious. Although it might not reflect your true feelings, respond politely and keep the lines of communication open. Good contacts within the media are invaluable.
Keep pitching! Just because this editor didn’t want your idea, it doesn’t mean there aren’t editors out there who will!