This post is an adapted excerpt from our ebook, Earn More Money as a Freelance Writer.
The guide, written by successful freelance writer Nicole Dieker, will help you set and reach goals for the next phase of your freelance-writing career, including ditching your entry-level writing jobs and landing higher-paying clients.
If you don’t ask for the work you want, you’ll never get it.
Let’s look at how to improve the way you ask for that work.
We’re going to focus on pitching articles, blog posts and stories. Pitching isn’t the only way freelancers get gigs — I’ve gotten jobs by submitting a resume and clips, as well as by completing a sample assignment — but it’s one of the most common.
If a job wants you to submit a resume and clips, it’ll say so in the application guidelines. For everything else, including the majority of the blogs and online publications out there, you’re going to need to get really, really good at pitching.
So how do you write a good pitch?
If you’re pitching a publication with a set of submission guidelines, start there. A lot of publications tell you exactly what they want.
Be aware that the submission guidelines are sometimes hidden under “Contact” or “FAQ,” and it never hurts to search “[PUBLICATION] submission guidelines” if you can’t find anything on the outlet’s website.
Sometimes editors write blog posts or tweets describing what they want in a pitch. If you’re interested in working with a specific editor, it doesn’t hurt to search their name plus words like “submission,” “submission guidelines” and “pitch me.”
Get clear on the story you want to tell
Once you’ve figured out what submission guidelines to follow, the next step is to get really clear on your story.
One of the most common mistakes people make is failing to state the story they want to tell.
What do I mean?
Well, writers often say they want to write about something. “I want to write about Famous Person X.” “I want to write about gender in the workplace.” That’s an idea, not a story.
By the time you pitch, you should have enough background research to be able to pull the story out of your idea, as follows:
Hit Musical Hamilton Is Great — But Is It Addictive? Just about everyone I know is obsessed with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new musical Hamilton, to the point that we’re listening to the 2-hour 22-minute cast recording nearly once a day. What makes music like this feel addictive, to the point where the first thing we want to do after finishing the album is start it at the beginning again? I’d reach out to a musicologist and a psychologist for their thoughts on the nature of addictive music.
That’s a real pitch I sent to Popular Science, which they accepted. Notice how my pitch included not only the story, but also the method by which I plan to research the story?
Writers often skip this step, but adding a sentence or two describing your methodology shows an editor that you’re serious about your idea. It also lets an editor know that you have a plan of action, and that your finished draft will be backed up with both sources and substance.
Not all stories require research, of course. Personal essays, for example, don’t necessarily need a methodology statement. But too many writers pitch stories as if they were personal essays: “My thoughts on why Hamilton is addictive,” for example.
No editor cares about my thoughts on Hamilton. They care about a music expert’s thoughts on Hamilton, crafted into an eye-catching story that promises a reader an answer to a question they’ve probably asked themselves: Why can’t I stop listening to this album?
That bit about promising the reader an answer to a question they’ve probably asked themselves? That’s the pitch’s benefit. Whenever you craft a pitch, think about how it will benefit the publication’s audience.
Will it give them the answer to a question? Will it prompt a discussion in the comments? Will it ask them to think differently about a common experience?
You don’t need to state your benefit directly in the pitch — in fact, please don’t write “this story will prompt a discussion in the comments” — but it’s important to consider the benefit as you put your pitch together.
After all, publications aren’t interested in what you want to write. They’re interested in what their readers want to read.
Lastly, my Hamilton pitch was only a paragraph long because I had already built a relationship with one of Popular Science’s editors. If you’re pitching a publication for the first time, put a short bio at the end with links to a few relevant clips that — you guessed it — establish expertise in your beat.
Here’s a sample pitch
Here’s a sample pitch to review, so you can see exactly what a solid pitch looks like.
Writing a sample pitch email is tricky because every publication has slightly different guidelines. With that in mind, here’s what a good pitch email might contain:
SUBJECT LINE: Check the publication for guidelines. I often write “PITCH: [HEADLINE]” in the subject, e.g. “PITCH: Are Dogs Better Pets Than Cats?”
SALUTATION: You can go with the formal “Dear [EDITOR]” here, although I often just start my emails with “Hi!”
INTRO PARAGRAPH WITH HEADLINE: Introduce your relationship to the publication, if relevant, and your pitch’s suggested headline. (I got the “always add a suggested headline” advice from Carol Tice.)
STORY AND METHODOLOGY PARAGRAPH: Briefly explain your story and the methodology by which you will tell it.
BIO PARAGRAPH: Share a bit about yourself and link to relevant clips.
NAME AND CONTACT INFO: Thank the editor and “sign” the email with your name and contact info.
Hi! I’m a huge fan of Dogs and Cats Daily — I comment as DogFan27 — and I wanted to pitch a story that I haven’t seen on the site but I think your readers will appreciate: Are dogs better pets than cats?
This story will look closely at three different families, each of whom have dogs and cats in the home. I’ll interview each family, asking them to share stories about their pets’ behavior and comment on which pets they enjoy interacting with most. I’ll also interview a veterinarian and a pet psychologist to learn more about animal behavior and discuss whether dogs or cats make better pets for certain personality types.
I’ve previously been published in Dogs Are Great Monthly and I Love Cats Magazine. My clips include: “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Puppies,” “Cats Are Purrfect,” and “Do Dogs or Cats Save More Lives?”
Thanks for considering my pitch!
Pitching can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be such a daunting task. Do your homework and follow this simple email pitch formula and you’ll be well on your way to getting an editor to say “yes” to your idea.
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