If you’re trying to launch a freelance writing career, the hardest part can be convincing editors to publish your work. You don’t have an established portfolio, a steady rapport with the editor, or a history of producing high-quality pieces on deadline. But these roadblocks don’t mean that you’re out of luck—a focused, compelling pitch can spark an editor’s interest and catapult your piece into print.
Here’s how you write that perfect pitch:
Research, Research, Research
If you research the publication or magazine you’re pitching to, you have a much better chance of meeting their guidelines—both written and unwritten. Usually, you can find submission rules on their website that give you a sense of what’s expected in terms of word count, content, and pitch style. But if you’re trying to set your pitch apart from the dozens (maybe hundreds) that editors receive daily, keep these three tips in mind.
Read the Magazine
Find past articles and ask yourself: what’s the typical length? Which topics do they cover? What’s the overall style and tone?
Check the Editorial Calendar
Magazines lay out the themes they’re going to highlight monthly—which can help you decide what to write and when to pitch it. The editor searching for outdoor adventure pieces come July will be thrilled if you pitch a backpacking piece well in advance. If it’s a print publication, you should pitch the July story by February or March.
Know Your Editor, Know Your Audience
If you’re writing about global travel, don’t send it to the food editor—unless your travels include goat cheese in France and som tung in Thailand. Likewise, check out who reads the magazine. If it’s a bunch of outdoorsy types, write about rock climbing or yoga and save the video gaming piece for later. Editors only publish what they think their readers will like!
Prepare the Pitch
Now that you’ve done your research, you understand how you can provide what the magazine wants. Your next job is to convey that to the editor in a few short paragraphs.
LEAD WITH A HOOK
Your first sentence should impel the editor to keep reading. Use a startling statistic, an anecdote, or a bold claim.
“Pick something you’d feel compelled to tell people over a drink or at a backyard BBQ. Be provocative, simple and factual.”
-- Scott Hensley, Digital Health Editor at NPR.
SELL THE STORY
Anyone can suggest a topic: meditation, blogging, public speaking. Only you, however, can deliver a unique story. Editors know this, and they’ll welcome pieces that add a new perspective. Therefore, vividly depict your article as one-of-a-kind by including characters, conflict, and a central theme. Want to write about meditation? Tell the story of how it helped your grandmother cope with chronic pain. To an editor, that’s the type of pitch that stands out.
PROVE YOU’RE THE ONE
You think you’re the writer for the job, but editors will need to be convinced.
Are you an expert in the field? Have you written previous articles on the topic? Are you offering an exclusive viewpoint? If so, make sure you include links to previous writing samples and personal media accounts.
Finally, double-check before sending your pitch that your grammar, spelling, and punctuation are 100 percent correct. You’ve spent the time to craft a great pitch. Fix the superficial errors and you’ll be set.
No matter how many times you refresh your inbox, editors are not likely going to respond immediately. Often, they may see your pitch and forget to respond. Wait 3 to 5 days, then follow up with a nicely worded reminder. That may do the trick. However, if you still don’t hear back, you can rework the concept to make it more appealing or tailor your pitch to other publications.
Read the Contract
At this point, you’ve pitched your idea, gotten the green light to write, and are looking forward to seeing your name in print. You’re almost there, but you do want to make sure both of you are clear on the word count, how much they’re paying you, and when you’ll receive the payment. It’ll help keep both sides happy and on good terms in the long run—and ensure you’re fairly compensated for your efforts.
At this point, you’ve done everything you can. Your pitch is targeted to your editor, tells a story, and shows why you’re the best writer for the job. You’ve mastered the art of the perfect pitch—something that will help you start a successful freelance writing career.
Congratulations. You’re on your way to getting published!