There are many different types of freelance writing jobs. But perhaps the most common thing people think of when they hear the words 'freelance writer' is article or feature writing.
Whether it's an online article, a feature in a magazine, or any other longer-form piece of writing, this type of freelance job usually involves pitching.
Let's take a look at what pitching involves, as well what to do (and what not to do) when pitching freelance articles.
What is pitching?
'Pitching', also called 'querying', refers to the process of reaching out to publications and trying to interest them in publishing your piece. Basically, you send out an email explaining:
- Your idea for an article.
- Why you think it would appeal to the publication's readers.
- Why you're the best person to write the article.
Your pitch needs to be clear, concise and specific. You should mention the main points the article will cover, the specific approach to the topic you'll be taking, and any context necessary for the editor to understand your pitch.
Just to clarify: pitching does not involve sending a completed article. Editors are time-pressed people, which is why pitches should be an idea for an article, rather than the entire thing. Put simply, if you send a full article, they won't read it.
You can have a draft of the article written and ready before pitching if you want, but to avoid wasting time on something that might not be accepted, it's always better to pitch the idea first.
If an editor likes your idea, they will usually have feedback or comments that will help you in the process of actually writing your piece. And if they don't like the idea, you can simply move on, rather than regretting the time you spent writing the article in advance.
So! Now we've covered the basics, it's time to delve into a few dos and don'ts for pitching freelance articles.
Read the publication you're pitching to
This might sound obvious, but you'd be surprised at the number of freelancers who pitch to any and every publication – whether they're familiar with it or not.
You might think that editors won't be able to tell if you've read their publication just from your pitch. But trust us: if you haven't, they can spot you from a mile away.
Now, we don't mean you must only pitch to publications you've had a lifelong subscription to. This obviously isn't realistic, especially for freelance writers who have to make ends meet. However, we do mean that it's imperative to at least familiarise yourself with a publication before even thinking about pitching to it.
Knowing a publication means understanding the kind of content it's interested in, in terms of both topic and style. It also means knowing what they have and haven't covered before, and where your idea might fit in relation to that.
If you aren't a regular reader of a publication, but you're interested in pitching to it, don't go in with guns blazing the minute you get an article idea. Spend a good amount of time reading their content, both current and past. Then reconsider where and how your piece might fit in with the publication's identity, brand and back catalogue.
Pitch to a specific editor where possible
Above, we've been referring to pitches as something you send to a publication. But in reality, you'll most likely be pitching to a specific editor, rather than the publication as a whole.
A pitch sent to a specific editor is much more likely to be noticed than one sent to a general email address for the publication. So be sure to do your research before you send out that email to '[email protected]'.
Most publications will list their editorial staff or departments on their website. Take a look at the list and decide which editor your pitch should go to.
Have an idea for the health section of a lifestyle magazine? Find out which editor oversees content for that section. Want to submit an opinion piece to a news site? Don't email the general news editor – find a contact for opinions or thinkpieces.
If the publication is smaller, it might only have one or two editors, rather than a whole team. In this case, still try to remember you're pitching to a person, not just a publication.
Use an attention-grabbing title
Let's face it: we are living in the age of clickbait.
Nobody has the time (or the inclination) to trawl through generic email subject lines or article titles. We've all been conditioned to click on things that immediately grab our attention – and that includes editors.
Let's look at an example. If you were an editor, pressed for time and desperately searching for gold in an inbox full of pitches... Which of the following subject lines would you be more likely to click on?
- Attention: Lifestyle Editor
- Article pitch: Healthy eating
- Article pitch: 5 Simple Ways To Stay Healthy As A Small Business Owner
You guessed it: number 3.
Number 1 is an absolute no – it doesn't even mention that the email contains a pitch, let alone what the pitch is about. Number 2, while better, is still too generic – it's a topic (and an overdone topic at that), rather than a specific angle. (More on this below.)
Number 3 is the best option. It's specific and clear, and it's also much more attention-grabbing than the other two. (It might be a little clunky as well... But hey: that's what the editorial process is for! Your editor is likely to change the title themselves anyway, so in pitches, a less-than-perfect title is fine.)
Keep in mind, though, that this style of title won't work for every publication. This is why it's so important to be familiar with any publication you're pitching to. Take a look at the titles used in past pieces and adapt your pitch title to a similar style.
Give some background info and writing samples
It's worth including a short bio and a link to some writing samples at the end of your pitch. This helps the editor get an idea of who you are, what you write, and whether you'll be a good fit for their publication.
Keep this part brief, though. The main thing editors are interested in is the story you're pitching; they don't need (or want) an extensive publication history or a detailed biography from you.
Make sure your background information is short and to the point. (Some of our tips on writing a killer author bio might come in handy when crafting your freelance bio.) Provide a link to a professional portfolio of your freelance writing, or a couple of individual samples of relevant articles.
Wherever possible, make sure that your samples complement your pitch – that is, that they give a good indication of your writing ability for the specific kind of publication you're pitching to.
For example, if you pitch a feature article to a print magazine, don't include a bunch of samples of blog posts or journalistic news stories. This might be a red flag for the editor, indicating that you don't have experience writing the kind of piece they're looking for.
And on the topic of things NOT to do, let's move onto a few don'ts...
Send out bulk identical pitches
This is perhaps the biggest no-no when it comes to pitching freelance articles, and is a surefire way to get your email sent straight to the trash.
Never send out a mass email of the same pitch to multiple publications. It might seem like a time-saver, but the reality is that it will get you nowhere. Just as editors can tell when you haven't read their publication, they can tell when a pitch is a generic send-to-all.
It's absolutely imperative to take the time to customise each and every pitch you send out. Both the article idea and the pitch email itself need to be tailored to suit the publication and the specific editor you're contacting.
It's up to you to make it as easy as possible for an editor to see why your pitch would suit their publication. Plus, the personal touch never goes astray. Which do you think is nicer to read: 'Dear Sir/Madam' or 'Dear Claire'?
A little effort in personalising your pitches will go a long way.
Submit without an angle
Remember our title example above, where we compared 'healthy eating' with '5 Simple Ways To Stay Healthy As A Small Business Owner'?
In this example, 'healthy eating' is the topic, while 'staying healthy as a small business owner' is the angle. For a lifestyle publication that has undoubtedly received countless pitches on the topic of healthy eating, the angle is what's going to make a pitch on that topic stand out.
Finding a compelling angle is one of the most important skills you can learn as a freelance writer. It's what will help you and your pitches stand out in a sea of other writers.
When considering pitching an article, think about why you are the best person to write it. Think about what's original, unusual, refreshing or personal about your take on this particular topic.
And finally, make sure this comes across in your pitch. If your angle is clear and compelling, you'll have a much better chance of convincing an editor that they want to publish your piece.
Disregard pitching guidelines
Many publications will include pitching guidelines on their website. This is a general set of instructions outlining the procedure you should follow to send a pitch.
If the publication you've chosen has these guidelines, follow them to the letter. And we mean to the letter.
Don't disregard any of their specifications, no matter how small. Following the guidelines exactly shows that you've done your homework, that you're capable of following instructions, and that you'll be easy to work with – all of which will get you in an editor's good books to start off with.
A great example of detailed, straightforward pitching guidelines can be found on the New Scientist magazine website. This page tells freelancers exactly what the magazine is and isn't looking for; provides examples of articles from particular categories, and of a real pitch that they accepted; and provides contact details for the editors of each section.
Not every publication will have a set of pitching guidelines this detailed, and some might not have guidelines at all. In these cases, as long as you stick to the most common-sense approach and follow our dos and don'ts, you'll be on the right track.
Pitch and forget
It can be all too easy to put a pitch together, send it out, then forget about it entirely. But we believe it's important to follow up on pitches you haven't received a reply to.
As we've mentioned before, editors are busy people. It's safe to assume you won't get a reply right away from the majority of publications you pitch to. Don't freak out and assume you've been rejected immediately, though. (That's just the impostor syndrome talking!) Pitching takes patience.
Sometimes, a long period without a response from an editor does mean they've chosen to pass on your piece. But sometimes, a lack of response might simply be due to an overflowing inbox and not enough hours in the day.
That's why it's always worth following up if you haven't heard anything back after a certain period of time – we suggest around a month. Send a short, polite email referring to your pitch, reminding them of the details, and enquiring whether they've chosen to accept or pass on the piece.
To remind yourself to do this, keep a pitch calendar where you can record the dates you've sent off pitches and mark down follow-up dates.
If weeks and weeks go by after your follow-up and you still don't hear anything, it's safe to assume you should call it quits with that particular pitch and that particular publication. But you never know – the editor might have liked your pitch and simply never got around to responding, in which case a polite reminder from you will help get the ball rolling again.
What are your best tactics when it comes to successful pitches? Share your freelance article pitching experiences in the comments below!
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