Marisa Wikramanayake works on a story as a journalist and in this post showing you how to write a freelance pitch
Blog,  Freelancing,  Journalism

How to write a freelance pitch to an editor

If you want to be a freelance writer, getting your head around how to write a freelance pitch to an editor is vital.


It is something that requires a lot of practice and from time to time you will feel like you have forgotten how to go about doing it.


But it isn’t that hard to send out a pitch. Sometimes the hardest part is coming up with the story idea.


But in this post, we will go over how to best structure and write a freelance pitch to an editor.

Step 1: Check the publication's guidelines on how to write a freelance pitch

Not all but many publications and outlets have guidelines on how to write a freelance pitch and how to send it to them.

 

Sometimes these are very thorough, sometimes they are very brief.

 

Usually they are set up to manage and filter through the amount of submissions that the editor responsible gets each day.

 

So you might sometimes see something like “Please put X in the subject line” which then means that all pitches can be filtered for and go into a folder for the editor to look through.

 

Sometimes you will see them set a number of words or paragraphs. Here’s a look at the New York Times’ guidelines for submitting to the Wordplay column.

Step 2: Work out who you have to contact

The person you have to write a freelance pitch to may not always be the most obvious person on the masthead or list of editorial staff.

 

Sometimes it might be a task given to a particular person in the newsroom to come into editorial meetings with all the latest pitches so that people can determine who is following up what.

 

But quite often it is a commissioning editor or someone most likely in charge of the section that you are pitching to.

 

So make sure you know which section of the publication your story would fit into and why and then pitch to that section’s commissioning editor only.

Step 3: Write a freelance pitch

Ok, now you are going, ok how do you do that? Here’s a standard template for how most pitches are structured.

Body of email:

 

Dear Mr/Ms/Mx EDITOR’S LAST NAME,

 

I am YOUR NAME, a freelance journalist based in LOCATION.

 

I would like to write a STORY IDEA for SPECIFIC COLUMN/SECTION of PUBLICATION NAME.

 

EXPLAIN THE STORY IDEA FURTHER IN ANOTHER SENTENCE.

 

I plan to interview PERSON A, PERSON B and PERSON C for this story that I think will be about X WORDS long.

 

I think this would be a good fit for your readers because GIVE A REASON WHY SPECIFIC SECTION READERS WOULD CARE ABOUT YOUR STORY IDEA.

 

I have previously written about Y TOPICS/have a degree/lived experience and here are some examples of my previous work:

 

LINK 1 TO PRIOR WORK
LINK 2 TO PRIOR WORK
LINK 3 TO PRIOR WORK

 

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or queries. I am available at YOUR CONTACT INFO.

 

Thank you in advance for your time and I hope to hear from you soon,

YOUR FULL LAST NAME

Step 4: Variations on a theme

Ok, so what if you are a newbie?

 

No problem. Link to whatever examples of your writing you do have, whether it was paid or not, personal or not, school assignments or not. The point is to be able to show someone what you can do with the written word.

 

Sometimes some places do ask for specifically people who have written on the same topics before but that’s often because they want writers to do much bigger stories where knowing the ins and outs of the topic and having written about it and built up contacts will go a long way towards helping write the story well.

 

In those cases, send in some ideas but focus your attention on other places and story ideas where they may be happy to help you learn the ropes as you go.

 

What if you have never written about the topic before?

 

And even if you don’t have experience in one area, you might still be able to write about it. I got to write about cycling because I had an idea and I pitched to an editor who did not have anyone covering cycling news.

 

And suddenly I was writing about sport when a year prior to that I had not been.

Step 5: When you write a freelance pitch, make sure you follow up

Always note down somewhere, when you send a pitch out and to check back in two weeks if you have not heard back from them.

 

Sometimes publication guidelines will state outright whether it will take them longer to respond to your pitch or whether you should assume that it is a no when you have not heard from them within a certain time period. So be sure to make a note of that as well.

 

But always make sure you follow up. I have a pitch tracker spreadsheet that I use to do this. You can get a copy here.

Step 6: Don't wait, keep sending out pitches

Always keep pitching.

 

And yes, you can send out the same idea out to other publications but you need to make sure that you tweak the idea each time so that when you send it out, you are sending it out in a form that would most suit the publication you are sending it to.

 

So it might be a long feature piece for one publication but a shorter piece for another. Don’t assume it should work in one form for all publications. Some may want to focus on one aspect of the story versus another and so on.

Step 7: Rejections will happen and they are not about you

Your pitches won’t be perfect.

 

Don’t aim for perfect – aim for polite and concise and clear.

 

Some publications will politely decline your pitch.

 

It’s common to think that this means that you are a bad writer and that they have somehow cottoned on to that fact despite never having met you in your life.

 

But if you have a hundred pitches in your inbox each day and they are all wonderful but you can only choose two, well 98 are going to get a polite rejection email.

 

So it is not about how wonderful a writer you are. Quite often it is about space and budget and time.

 

So if you then decide that you must be awful as a writer and you don’t know how to pitch, you will inevitably not pitch again and you won’t get any acceptances.

 

The rejections are not personal.

 

And in a very interesting experiment that many freelance writers and journalists have tried, if you aim for a set number of rejections you start actually finding that you get a lot of acceptances more than you get rejections.

 

It’s a mindset shift.

The goal of this post is to teach you how to write a good pitch that will eventually get you a 'yes' BUT it would be very foolish to assume that a good pitch alone will negate all the other factors in a newsroom environment from budget to time constraints, legal constraints, space constraints, someone else pitching something similar before you that no one knew about etc.

At the start of 2021 I aimed to send out 21 pitches a month.

 

That’s a lot of pitches when you have to think up story ideas etc.

I managed to pitch 17 stories in January 2021 and only 2 were accepted.

 

If my pitching skills alone were to account for whether I got a yes or no. then I would not need to pitch 21 times a month to make enough money from journalism. I would get it on my pitching skills alone.

 

However that is not the case. There are factors I can’t account for.

 

But I can make sure that at least my pitch is considered by making it a good one. And by knowing that there is likely to be a low acceptance rate.

Step 8: Pitch again, even if they rejected you

It doesn’t matter that a publication said no to one story.

 

They said no to one particular story idea or pitch. They did not say no to you. 

 

If they gave you feedback, take that on board and pitch another suitable story idea to them.

 

If they know that you are out there and you are keen because you keep pitching then they may also instead of accepting a pitch, remember your name to commission you.

 

This has happened to me a few times.

 

But most importantly, what you want to show them is that you are keen, determined, can take feedback and work on it and that you have not just one idea but several.  

 

It keeps your name in the forefront of their mind for when they need to commission someone. It makes them want to spend a bit more time sometimes on your email amongst all the pitches that they do get overloaded with. 

 

So go out there and think up some stories, set yourself some goals and start pitching. 

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is currently based in Melbourne.

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