You’re scrolling through your social media feed, and an interesting discussion catches your eye. Your heart skips a beat. “This would be a great article idea,” you say to yourself.
You remember your past pitches that got no answer, and you worry that this pitch might have the same fate. After all, pitching is in part a number’s game.
Don’t despair. Thankfully, there’s a ton of available advice that can increase your chances of writing a winning pitch.
When I first started out, I had no idea what a pitch meant. A “pitch” is a message you send to an editor to persuade them to let you write for their publication.
I’ve gathered some of the best advice on how to structure a pitch and included it in this post – so you can start hearing that notification with an email that reads: “Your pitch is accepted.”
First: have realistic expectations
Freelancers who make a living pitching usually do it often because they know that not all their pitches will make it – even if they’re great. This can have so many causes e.g., wrong timing, more relevant ideas competing with yours, or simply landing your email in the spam folder.
Anna Cat, a freelance writer who writes for multiple publications, wrote that in one year she sent 148 pitches. Her pitches were accepted only 25% of the time.
Second: expect that crafting a pitch will take time
It may take you hours from “idea” to “pitch.” In an interview with The Open Notebook, Bryn Nelson, a freelance science writer and editor, said that it may take him six to ten hours to write a pitch.
That’s because there’s a lot of pre-pitch preparation to do. Here’s an example.
- Give yourself time for an idea to incubate. If your idea isn’t time sensitive, taking a break can help you think of a better angle or a better way to address it.
- Do your background research about the topic to help formulate an initial outline.
- Find possible experts to interview, as well as supporting research articles and statistics to quote.
- Decide on your target publication. If you’re just starting out and you don’t have good quality published writing samples, you’ll have a better chance at getting published in smaller publications. Later on, you can start targeting the big publications. Be patient and persistent, and you’ll get there. If you have a specific publication in mind, try to get familiar with its editor by interacting through social media like Twitter. It‘s more likely for the editor to open your mail if you have built rapport with them or you’ve made your name familiar to them.
- Make sure your target publication hasn’t published similar articles by using the search tool on your target publication’s website
- Look for your target publication’s submission guidelines. And if you find them, you should follow them word for word.
- Read a few examples of their previous articles to get a good idea of their style, voice and target audience. Five out of seven editors interviewed by The Open Notebook said that “lack of familiarity with the publication” was the most common mistake writers make in their pitches.
- Look for the editor’s contact information. If it’s not available on their website, you can find more methods for finding an editor’s contact information in this detailed post.
Components of your pitch
After you’ve done the preparatory work, you can start formulating your pitch. Keep in mind that editors receive tens to hundreds of pitches each week.
In an interview with Freelance writer’s den, Peggy Bennett, former editor of Entrepreneur, said that as editor, she received 50 to 150 pitches per week.
So, you’ll have to do your best to stand out and catch their interest. Your editor is your audience and what they want is to satisfy their reader’s interests. This leads us to the first step of the pitch.
The subject line
Write “Pitch,” then think of a catchy title and use it in your subject line. This will increase the chances that your email will get opened.
Don’t give away the full idea to keep the editor curious. This method worked for me in my first published blog article.
If your idea is time-sensitive, you may also mention that in the subject line.
It’s best to address the editor by his/her name. Try to be friendly but respectful. “Hi”, “Hello” or “Dear” (name), may all work. You may add a conversational sentence commenting on a previous article they published.
The body of the email
You may start with a brief introduction: “I am (name) and I’m a freelance writer…” I would like to write an article (mention the type of the article e.g., opinion, feature, news, review) that would discuss (topic).
Give some background information and explain your idea
Try to lead with an interesting idea. If there are some intriguing statistics, you can mention them. If you can provide a quote from the research, use it.
If you’re writing about a topic that is related to another article the publication previously tackled, include it and explain how your article would build on or expand it.
Explain why your topic is important and why it would interest readers. Mention your angle and how your article will be different than other published articles on the same topic.
Explain how you will write your article
Explain what supporting material you will use (statistics, research articles, interviews), and give examples of them. Include a time-frame during which you can get the article ready, and propose the number of words you will write.
Keep an outline ready because some editors request to see one before deciding.
Information about yourself
Write a brief paragraph explaining who you are, your qualifications or previous writing experience, and mention the publications you previously wrote for.
Explain why you are the right person to write this article (do you have specialized knowledge, training, personal interest or experience?)
Provide links to two or more of your best writing samples that are related to the type of writing accepted in this publication.
You can also add a link to your website or Linkedin profile.
- Remain confident throughout your message. If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s unlikely that the editor will believe in you.
- Keep your pitch short. Leigh Shulman, a freelance writer and editor who has bylines in several big publications like The New York Times, writes that a pitch should preferably be 500 words or shorter.
- Don’t send a vague topic. Send a developed story idea, and ask yourself before you send it if it would appeal to the reader.
- Proofread and spell-check your work more than once before submission, and check your facts e.g., names of people or institutions, addresses and dates. In the results of a survey done by Point Visible and completed by 80+ editors, one of the top two reasons that led to pitch rejection were spelling and grammar mistakes.
- Don’t send a complete article in your pitch because many editors like taking part in shaping the article. But some editors like James Randerson, a former news editor at the Guardian, don’t mind reading a full article, especially if you’re a beginner writer. It’s best to check the submission guidelines first.
- If you decide on sending a complete article, make sure it’s the final version that shows your best writing, and paste it to the email, not in an attachment.
- Don’t send your pitch to multiple outlets at the same time or else, and be honest with the editor if you do.
- Before pitching, make sure that the publication accepts pitches from freelancers.
- Disclose any conflicts of interest you have e.g.; you’re related to the author of the research paper you’re writing about.
- Never pitch an article you’ve previously published unless you’re completely honest about that!
- Don’t forget to follow-up on your pitch preferably a week or two later if your pitch isn’t time-sensitive.
For more inspiration, you can find several examples of accepted journalism pitches in this post by Journo Resources.
The more you work on preparing your pitch, the better it will become, and the more likely you are to succeed in getting an acceptance. Every writer faces rejection, so don’t let rejections affect your self-esteem.
Remember to keep your pitch brief, interesting and well- structured for best results.
Finally, good luck on your pitching journey!