Journalism is by itself a demanding and highly-competitive profession, but freelancing as a journalist takes a particular set of skills. Not only do you need to come up with amazing ideas, find sources, conduct interviews and write clean copy…but you also need to be able to construct engaging, well-written and insightful pitches before you can develop your stories into fully formed, published articles.
Until I wrote my first piece I had no idea what a pitch was – I wasn’t aware of this extra step between having an idea and having my article commissioned.?
The good news is that once you’ve mastered the art of writing a compelling pitch, you’re likely to see far more success in getting your articles published.
So, here are 7 things I wish I had known when I started pitching as a freelancer.
What is a pitch?
A pitch is a brief summary of your developed idea, that also explains why it works for that particular publication, why it’s relevant now, and why you’re the best person to write it.
It may seem quite straightforward but with editors’ inboxes filling up with hundreds of emails a day, coupled with the fast paced news cycle, the process of pitching articles can feel soul-destroying at first. And only made worse when a freelance pitch is ignored, only to be seemingly published by a staff writer days later.
But with all that said, there is a lot you can do to perfect your pitch and give it the best chance of getting a commission!
Know your target publication
I know this may sound obvious but it is so important to know the style of the publication, what type of articles they already publish and the content their readers are interested in. Make sure to check if the publication has already published something similar, and if they have then try to find a new angle for your article.?
Think of the format you want your piece to take – whether that’s news, features, comment, entertainment, and identify who edits that section. Try searching the publication’s website or Twitter for an email. You could also politely reach out to other freelance journalists for an email – the freelance journalist community is known for being helpful. Unless otherwise specified, it’s better to pitch to an editor directly rather than a general email.?
Know your topic
Make sure you are well versed on the topic you want to write about. If you know what you are talking about and have some extra or personal insight, specify this in your pitch. Think about the unique perspective you can offer this topic, and craft your pitch around this. An editor will be more likely to commission your piece if you can answer, “Why you?”
Your article doesn’t have to be on a topic that has affected you personally. But, if it is then make sure to set boundaries with yourself beforehand so you are clear about what you are comfortable sharing and where you draw the line.
When I was starting out in the industry I felt pressured to share excessive details about my disability, because I knew it would make my story more shocking and engaging to read. Now I am strict with the parts of my disability that I will share. Ultimately I would rather lose the commission than have a vulnerable part of my life on the internet forever.
Make sure that your idea is clear. If you have data, case studies, interviewees then mention that in the pitch. But don’t give too much away – just give the editor enough detail to prove that you have a fresh idea and the research to back it up. If possible, find a news hook for your story. This may help get a commission as the topic is currently in the public domain so would be relevant at that particular time.
Rachel Charlton-Dailey, Editor-in-Chief of The Unwritten, an online magazine sharing ‘all disabled people’s stories’, explains that she looks for a clear focus when it comes to pitches, and she wants more than just a basic idea or topic.
“The pitch doesn’t need to be perfectly written or follow a strict set of rules, I want you to tell me exactly what you want to write about, why I should publish it and why you’re the best person to write it.” she says.
Keep it short and engaging
Get straight to the point. Editors get hundreds of emails each day and won’t have time to read long, complicated pitches. In the email subject include the topic and try to write it in the style of a headline, but avoid click-bait. In the body of the pitch, keep your points succinct but make sure that you keep it engaging. Anything over 250 words is probably too long!
Shahed Ezaydi, journalist and Deputy Editor of the independent publication Aurelia Magazine, suggests: “Use a catchy headline that will make someone want to open the email and pitch, and then a concise and clear paragraph or two/bullet point list detailing exactly what the piece will be about and the central argument/theme. And then finishing off the pitch with a bit about who the writer is and examples of previous work.”
At the end of the email pitch make sure to write a line about who you are and include some writing samples. If you have copy on a similar topic then share a link to that, but otherwise just include links to the work you are most proud of. Editors want to know you can write and that they can trust you with the idea, so prove to them you are the perfect person for the job.
Be confident. Even if you are just starting out and feel unsure about the whole process, try to believe in yourself, and don’t forget – you can fake confidence over emails!
Rejection is normal – Keep going
Once your pitch is sent, it’s time for the agonising wait to hear whether it’s been accepted or not.
If I’m pitching to a publication for the first time I generally wait a week before sending a follow up email. If the piece is time sensitive, you may need to chase as early as the next day. Follow ups are important, and you will often be surprised to find that you will get an unexpected commission from a second or third follow up.
If you do receive a rejection email, try not to take it personally – there are many reasons why the piece may not be right at that moment. You may have just sent it to the wrong publication or editor at that time. Take a step back and look to see what other outlets would better suit your article and re-work the pitch.
This process can be gruelling but remember all writers get rejections, it’s just the nature of the industry. So, good luck and believe in yourself!
Isabelle Jani-Friend is a journalist and campaigner. She specialises in health, politics, culture and lifestyle. With articles in a number of nationals including the Guardian, the Independent, HuffPost and VICE, Isabelle wants to help diversify the media and elevate underrepresented voices. As someone with an invisible illness she wants to fight for an accessible and accommodating society for disabled people. She also campaigns around access to medication and the NHS, with a focus on health inequality and injustice.