Take This Scientific Approach For Your Next Freelance-Writing Pitch

Take This Scientific Approach For Your Next Freelance-Writing Pitch

Editors are busier than ever, and it’s rare to get detailed feedback on a pitch.

But this spring, I got lucky.

While at a writing conference, I attended a panel where several editors described how they work with freelance writers.

I knew one of the editors on the panel: I speed-pitched her at an event the previous fall, followed up afterward and got the assignment.

When her turn came to talk about what makes a good pitch, she told the audience she would describe two recent pitches she received, and why they worked.

She started to describe the first example. “I liked this pitch because the writer answered a question I hadn’t even thought about asking,” she said.

And then she told the audience about my article.

She had no idea I was sitting in the front row until she saw me fist-pump in triumph. There was no collusion at work here, pinky swear.

Why my pitch about sandwiches worked

I’ve been thinking a lot about that panel, not because I’m narcissistic but rather because I’ve been in a pitching rut. So I dug the original pitch out of the depths of my Google Docs to see if it really did work as well as my editor’s memory served.

Let’s take a look:

Why is There So Much Philly Food in Central Florida?

The Tampa – St. Petersburg, Florida area has a ton of Philadelphia-style food.

Philly Phlava, a sub shop specializing in Philly-style cheesesteaks and hoagies, has three locations in the Tampa area. Rita’s Italian Ice? The Philly-born dessert franchise? Three locations on the St. Pete peninsula alone. Wawa skips from Virginia right down to Florida, where the Mid-Atlantic staple is opening 17 deli-meets-coffee-haven stores with gas stations — and it already has three within a stone’s throw of downtown St. Pete. The Philly Pretzel Factory has stores scattered east of the Mississippi, but has two near the Gulf Coast of Florida.  

What’s the deal? My best guess is that Philadelphians who flock to Clearwater, Florida, each February and March for Phillies spring-training baseball want to stick with their hyperlocal junk-food diets wherever they are. A friend of mine recently made her own, broader conclusion: “Maybe it’s just for all the old people.” #FloridaProblems.

In this CityEats post, I’ll figure out why the heck there’s so much Philly food in the Tampa area. I’m from Philadelphia and I’m moving in St. Pete in November. My mom’s worried about me adjusting to the southern coastal scene, but it already feels a little like home.

Although I originally pitched this piece in person, I had printed out the above text and my contact information to leave with the editor.

A few features stand out:

  1. I proposed a headline. The final headline on the web? “Why Is There So Much Philly Food in Florida?” It made up for every time an editor chose a headline I wasn’t thrilled about.
  2. I asked one clear question. I knew this piece wouldn’t be long, so I had to narrow my focus.
  3. I did my research. I planned to reach out to all the businesses I mentioned in my pitch for their comments.
  4. I proposed two possible answers to the question, showing the general direction in which I would take my research.
  5. I noted where on the website I thought my piece would fit, which shows I’ve done some reading.

Was this the most beautifully written pitch? Nope. But it got the job done.

Approach your next pitch like a scientist

Thinking about a freelance-writing pitch as a place for a question and a possible answer, I thought back — way back — to high school biology.

Weekly lab reports always used the same format and the same section headings. Each time I wrote one of these reports, I had to present a question, my hypothesis for the answer, a detailed explanation of the steps I took to determine the answer and a conclusion where I wrapped up my findings.

I hated doing it, but knowing I could come back to the same format every week helped me get the task done with a little less foot-dragging.

A good pitch can benefit from the same approach.

Here’s a quick checklist for your next pitch (and mine, too):

  1. Did I suggest an attention-grabbing headline that I could imagine this publication using?
  2. Did I present a specific question I want to answer, instead of a broad topic or subject area?
  3. Did I provide my hypothesis for the question I presented?
  4. Did I propose a few sources I plan to interview or consult?
  5. Did I show I’m paying attention by directing my pitch to the ideal editor or department, referencing similar work in the same publication, or suggesting a section for my piece?

If the answer to all five is “yes,” you’re well on your way to a “yes” from your editor.

Filed Under: Freelancing


  • Ambrose says:

    Thanks for sharing. As someone who has done my time at content mills, I am looking to making my first pitch in order to part ways with those content mills. I will certainly follow the suggestions that you have made because they make pitching less intimidating. I hope to land my first direct client after using these tips in the pitches that I send out.

  • Pitching is such an art. Great tips and insight. One question though–I’ve always read that we should keep pitches to one page and this looks a bit longer (although since I’m reading it on my phone, I could be wrong.) Your thoughts on length?

    • Lisa Rowan says:

      Good question! This pitch is about half a page. I probably would have gone a bit shorter if this had been an editor I’d worked with before. But since it was my first shot – and I was getting valuable face time during the pitching event – I went pretty granular to make sure I was covering all my bases.

  • PJ says:

    I feel less nervous about giving a pitch thanks to your practical tips and encouragement. Thank you.

  • Jayne Bodell says:

    I love the down and dirty approach to pitching. This one is a keeper.

  • Poovanesh says:

    This is great advice. I’m in the process of pitching at the moment. Will definitely use your tips.

  • @lisa
    The checklist was wonderful. You have penned in a simple, succint way. Very useful.

  • This is great, actionable advice. I’ll definitely be referring back for my future pitches. Thanks, Lisa!

  • Lisa, I just sent my first ever pitch anywhere yesterday. Wish I had seen your post before then. Well, now I have your suggestions. Thanks – very helpful!

    • Lisa Rowan says:

      Karen, I get better every single time I send a pitch, and I’ve been doing it for…so long I don’t want to admit it. Take it one pitch at a time! I hope my little checklist helps you land future pieces. 🙂

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