If you’re a freelance writer, chances are there a lot of ideas floating around your galaxy brain. Big, BRIGHT ideas that you can visualise being published with your beautiful name in the byline. The Guardian. WIRED. The Cut. The New York Times. The world awaits your genius… But at some point you’ll realise those ideas will have be translated into succinct email pitches and all the dreams being a big shot writer seem to dissipate.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! You just need to get into the habit of pitching and doing so relentlessly. It’s daunting at first but it’s like learning to ride a bike. Last week, I wrote about pitch rejections, so make sure to check that out if your fear of getting rejected is stopping you.
Welcome back to The Freelance Fraud, the newsletter where I share tips on how to overcome personal and professional struggles as a freelancer with actual, practical advice. If you haven’t signed up already - you know what to do.
How to pitch an article idea to an editor 101
Before I start, I am only sharing what has worked for me so please take what helps. Unfortunately, when I started freelancing there wasn’t a guide or a pitching template I could find on the internet, so over time I developed my own template which I’m sharing with you today. Let me know if you have any fire tips you want to share because by making these resources free, we break down multiple barriers into journalism and the media!
These are the five steps I take in the pitching process:
Is my idea fully formed? One thing an old editor used to tell me was to ask myself - “Is it just a tweet?” Sometimes we think we’ll have an amazing idea for an article but ask yourself, do you actually have anything beyond the headline and a paragraph? Think through the points you would make, who you would contact and how you would conclude the article. Does your idea make a wider point to be made about something? A story arc is crucial.
Am I the right person to be writing this? Be sensible with your idea. Stay. In. Your. Lane. Think a million times before pitching an idea about marginalised people’s lived experiences if you have no understanding of those experiences or any connection to them. Write about things you’re knowledgeable about, write about yourself, write about things happening in the news and themes within your own life experiences. There’s no need for you to centre yourself within conversations that aren’t for you because you may be taking an opportunity away from someone else who is better suited.
Why now? A good idea will be pegged on something in the news, an anniversary of something or a theme. Make sure your idea is current and relatable.
This is the general template when I pitch someone: And yes, most of the time I leave those little bolded subheadings in. It makes it easier for me to write the pitches and easier for the editor to read them.
Hi (editor’s name)!
I'm hoping to write a piece on x y z. I wondered if this would be of interest to (the publication)?
Context: What’s the story? Why is it important now? Is there a news hook? (a succinct paragraph on this)
How I would write this: A paragraph outlining exactly what points you hope to make and your angle, who you want to/need to contact for the piece, what research you need to do.
Why I’m the right person to write this piece: Explain what makes you qualified to write the article (it could be that you’re just really interested in the topic and have been looking into it for a long time), remember a new editor would be taking a gamble on you so show them previous work that may be related to your idea (even if it’s in the loosest way possible).
A little bit about me: Write a sentence about who you are and what you do (whether you’re studying full time or working), who you’ve written for in the past. If you have a portfolio - link it.
Chasing up time sensitive ideas: If my idea requires a quick turnaround and I mean *same day* turnaround, I will send it to a few editors, sometimes around five or more.
I also add a line at the bottom of the email saying “As this is so time sensitive, I will be pitching this idea to other publications.” Because it can really suck when a few editors will get back to you and you’ve already agreed to writing it for someone else. So this is a way of pre-warning them. But don’t worry, they won’t actually get upset with you if your idea goes elsewhere, this is their job.
OR a freelancer told me once that you can also wait until you get a few responses in, see who’s offering to pay you the most/ which publication you want to write for the most and then pick. But personally, I like to hit publications up in order of preference and once I agreed to work on something, I won’t be swayed by more money - I try not to let fees influence my decision with pitching (but again that’s also a massive privilege.)
Remember that over time your relationship with editors will build, so you won’t have to follow the template forever, but it’s a good starting point with new editors!
Dos and Don’ts
Here are some of my dos and don’ts when it comes to pitching:
Do not write an entire article and send it to an editor as as pitch - the whole point is that you work together.
Do chase editors up if you haven’t heard back.
Do not and I repeat DO NOT agree to work for free unless there’s a very good excuse for you to be doing so. The industry will have you believe that you have to work for free for a long time before getting anywhere but decent publications will pay you for your time, even if it’s not LOADS. By working for free, you’re allowing the industry to carry on exploiting people, making it even harder for those who can’t actually afford to work for free, which doesn’t help with diversifying the space either.
Do ask about the fee and the word count because this is fundamentally a transaction, not a favour.
I also asked on Twitter what dos and don’ts other writers and editors follow. Here are all the tips I gathered:
Do include hyperlinks and show research. Especially if you’re new to the game.
Do be confident and trust your instinct - give people a chance to say yes to your idea.
Do try writing every day, even if it’s a diary entry.
Do write thoughtful and specific pitches with loads of examples (3 or 4)
When pitching to interview someone, do pitch interesting people who may not be “huge” because papers are already in for the obvious big names.
Please don’t take rejection personally - a response isn’t always possible and that’s not got anything to do with you.
Unless there’s a time constraint, don’t pitch the same idea to multiple publications simultaneously- pitch your preferred publication first and chase up after a day or two and if they don’t reply, let them know you’re going to take the idea elsewhere if there’s no interest.
Don’t be afraid to pitch stuff that’s direct, even if it’s not massively concise - because sometimes an editor may want to work out an idea with you.
Don’t be afraid to pitch stuff that is half-baked if you can make the case for it reflecting a global trend or disposition, apparently that can be a pretty solid anchor.
Do check that a publication hasn’t published something similar in the past, if its stuff they’ve already covered sometimes they just can’t commission.
Do use Google Trends to see what people are searching for or are talking about online. Identifying trends is a key way to write SEO driven articles.
Do cold pitch people you don’t know, editors are looking for new writers all the time.
Something I found inspirational this week: I was getting down about rejections from a publication I really want to write for in the last few days and then spoke to another freelance writer about it. They told me this very same publication can reject about 10 of their ideas before they like one. From the outside, you would have never guessed it. So if that’s not motivating, I don’t know what is! If you’re getting rejected, most likely so are others.
Things I really loved this week:
This piece of incredible data journalism about ‘A Royal Instagram Mystery’ by The New York Times.
Being interviewed for this piece about “inspirational women” on what it means to be a feminist as I ate pastel de natas in my bed and achieved absolutely nothing on International Women’s Day.
Watching Dark Waters in the cinema and temporarily being inspired to be an investigative journalist/environmental lawyer??? The film is based on a true story about a corporate lawyer who switches sides to defend a community being poisoned by one of the world’s biggest corporations. 100% recommend it.
Noughts and Crosses finally being made into a TV series! I only managed to watch one episode so far but it’s making me remember why Malorie Blackman’s book series were so powerful to read as a child.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter! Do email me or get in touch if you want me to cover any specific topics in the coming weeks. Peace and love. Stay safe out there and look after yourself,