“I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m confused about how to write a successful pitch. What am I doing? Are my choices, right? Why am I finding this so hard? I spend hours on end reading and reading. Why don’t I feel that it’s paying off? I wonder, am I cut out for this? My friend talks about writing like it’s a walk in the park. Why do I find it so difficult? Why do I lack focus?”
That was an excerpt from my diary entry on February 26, 2020. I had started my Introduction to Health Writing course, and I was struggling. These negative thoughts haunt many beginners and keep them from moving forward.
Fast forward a month and a half, and I had published my first article, A Double Whammy: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Burnout in Medical Professionals, in a Harvard Medical School blog called Lean Forward.
Here’s how that happened.
The story of my first successful pitch
When I started learning about medical writing, I read as much as I could about it. I started building a network by connecting with medical writers via LinkedIn. I reached out and asked for advice from experienced writers; most of them were very friendly and answered my questions.
I decided that I needed to start building my portfolio. Following the advice I received from experienced writers, I attempted guest posting since many other options were not feasible for me in Egypt.
I knew I needed writing samples for editors to consider me. That’s where my writing samples from the course came in handy.
I edited two samples with the help of Michelle’s feedback, and I self-published them on Hubpages. So, I ended up with two examples to show potential editors my writing style.
Then, I set up a free online portfolio on Clippingsme to showcase my work, and I researched websites that accept health article pitches. When I finally got the courage to send my first pitch, I sent it to an acquaintance. And, that served me well. Although she didn’t accept my pitch, she sent me a very kind rejection.
Having an empathetic first rejection was helpful and made me feel that rejection wasn’t so bad after all.
My second attempt came with a second idea. I chose to write about burnout in medical professionals. My previous work experience, and reading the news and the personal accounts of doctors on the frontlines, inspired this idea. I was ambitious; I dreamt big and targeted two prominent publications that had millions of readers.
I received one rejection, and the second publication didn’t send a response.
Unlike the first two publications that had a general audience, the third publication I targeted had an audience of doctors. The different audience meant I had to tweak my idea to suit the new audience.
At this stage, I had written a rough draft. I tried to remove some background information since doctors were already familiar with a lot of information about burnout. I wanted to include an expert’s opinion, so I contacted one of my LinkedIn connections who is a burnout coach (yes, connections are beneficial!).
I told him that I didn’t have an accepted pitch yet, but he was generous and gave me his time and insights. I sent my pitch to the editor after revising the submission guidelines on their website (but I didn’t include my draft).
My successful pitch
Here is the pitch I sent to the editor:
Subject: Pitch: Double Whammy of Coronavirus Pandemic and Burnout in Medical Professionals
I would like to propose an article discussing the effect of The Covid-19 pandemic and burnout in healthcare workers.
My story would include burnout statistics, quotes from frontline healthcare workers and details about why COVID-19 is putting healthcare workers at increased risk.
The article would contain expert advice (from a burnout coach) for healthcare workers to navigate these turbulent times and expert suggestions to improve conditions to support healthcare workers.
I included a little background information about myself, plus a link to my online portfolio and LinkedIn profile, and I offered to send an excerpt from the first draft.
The editor was interested. She asked for an outline that I sent in a later e-mail with a bullet point layout about each point and a link to the research paper.
My article differed from the original outline I sent, and that was okay since I used feedback from the editor to make alterations and change the focus of the article.
My idea got accepted with this publication, unlike my first two attempts, and that wasn’t a coincidence.
The factors that helped my pitch success
I believe these factors helped my success:
- The publication was a small to medium-sized publication.
- The publication had specific requirements for writers that I was lucky to have, so that meant less competition.
- I could see they also published articles for foreign writers so that was a good sign that they may accept.
- They had a specialized target audience for whom the article idea was relevant.
- The topic was timely and not covered that much in other publications.
- I wrote a structured pitch with a clear outline in mind.
Publishing my article gave me a massive boost in self-confidence and the courage to make more pitches.
I sent five other pitches after the first successful one, and I succeeded with only one out of five, but I learned to move on.
Should you choose a timely topic?
Choosing a timely topic can work for or against you. It can work in your favor (as in my experience) if the editor gets excited and convinced with the idea, and they decide to give you a chance just because the idea is so compelling.
But, it may work against you – that’s because editors take time to get back to you. So, every passing day makes your idea less valuable and you begin to see it popping up here and there on the web.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if your idea wasn’t time-sensitive because you could just send it to the editor after editor until it gets accepted.
In short, if you are excited about your timely idea, go ahead and pitch it. But, keep in mind that your idea might not be accepted for many reasons other than the quality of your idea. You will soon develop the writer’s mindset and learn to be resilient and move-on after a rejection.
Keep going, and if you are excited about an idea and it isn’t accepted, you can always self-publish on mediums like LinkedIn, Medium or Hubpages.
The advice that worked for my successful pitch
- Research publications that accept guest post contributions by Googling a phrase like “health+ write for us” or similar search terms and keep a list of them at hand.
- Target smaller publications when you are just starting out.
- Read a lot of articles, books and even social media while deliberately thinking of relevant and timely ideas.
- Make use of trending topics that interest you.
- Start with a topic you know or feel passionate about – it will make the research and writing process a lot easier.
- Check that the publication hasn’t published similar articles to yours and check their style of writing and target audience.
- Read about how to craft a pitch like these tips.
- Think about your angle or what will make your idea unique.
- Before sending your pitch, make sure your idea is fully developed with an outline in mind; this will help make your pitch more focused and signal to the editor that you have an organized plan.
- Think of a compelling headline and use it in the subject line.
- Add writing samples preferably by a web link to showcase your writing skills (I’ve read that editors don’t like attachments).
- Follow up with the editor after sending your pitch (in her blog, Lindy Alexander, owner of The Freelancer’s year, writes that at least 20% of her pitches get commissioned after follow-up).
- Don’t give up!
Being a beginner at anything is difficult. But, believe it or not, every expert was once a beginner. Develop your writing skills, practice your craft and have faith that your hard work will pay off. Make use of tips from other writers, be brave and put yourself out there.
Don’t be afraid of rejection because it is a natural part of the writer’s life.
Instead, try to learn from rejections and see what you can do better next time. You can make a successful pitch as a beginner writer – and, when you do, you will feel that your effort was well worth it!