Back to Basics: Pitching your ideas to editors

 

Pitching Your Ideas to a Publication

When you want to get published in a newspaper, magazine or website, you start by pitching the idea – not the finished article. A common mistake by beginners is to write an article then look for an outlet to publish it, but this is not how publications work.

The reason for this is that the commissioning editor will have their own ideas about what they want to see in the piece. They’ll know how much space they have available and how many words they need you to write. They’ll know what else is going on the page, and this may be governed by factors such as how many ads have been sold – all stuff that the freelancer on the outside simply is not in a position to know.

Start by reading several copies of the section you’re pitching to so you get a sense of what they cover and where there might be opportunities for you. Believe it or not, many people pitch to sections they’ve never read. If you want to hit a target, don’t just take aim and fire – do your research first.

Think of an idea for the slot you’re targeting – something original that your specialist knowledge will make you the best person to write about. All publications have writing staff – so why would they pay you to write for them instead? What makes your idea unique and you the perfect person to write it?

Submitting Your Pitch
Call the publication and find out the best person to send your idea to. You can gleam information like this from websites and directories, but the media has a high staff turnover so it’s essential to keep checking that you are approaching the right person. 

Most editors prefer to receive pitches by email. On bigger publications, editors receive so many pitches every day that some won’t even read them if they don’t recognise the writer’s name. 

Write your pitch and send it. Describe the idea in a few paragraphs (around 100 words) and give some details of your professional background and experience (ie why they should ask you to write this). The idea is more important than your writing experience, but do emphasise any experience that you have and anything similar you’ve had published.

Make your email subject line no more than six words long and spend some time crafting something that begs to be read.

What’s next after you’ve submitted your pitch?
Responses vary enormously. Sometimes you will hear back fairly quickly – within a day or two if it’s a daily newspaper, perhaps a few weeks if it’s a monthly magazine.  If you don’t hear anything you can take it that they’re not interested or the email hasn’t been read. The editor will not have time to give you feedback if your idea is not suitable.

If you don’t hear anything, you can always follow up with a phone call or a short email.  If an idea is time sensitive, some writers phone up soon after they’ve sent the pitch.  They might say ‘My email’s been playing up so I’m just checking you received this’ but really this is just an excuse to get closer to the editor and start to build up a relationship. 

Another follow up could be to pitch the same idea to another publication,  tweaking it to make it relevant to the new recipient.

Don’t call us…
With pitching, you need to be sending them consistently to build up a profile and eventually have one accepted. Even experienced writers say they have a hit rate of only 1 in 10 pitches getting commissioned, so don’t despair if you are pitching stuff and getting no response. Your hit rate should in theory be much higher if you target lower profile publications. But ultimately it is a numbers game, sugared with a teaspoon of luck, and persistence will lead to success.   

And finally
One thing I have noticed when coaching freelancers is that the most successful freelancers are the ones who keep pitching consistently, rather than waiting until they are desperate for work. Their well never runs dry because it never gets a chance to. Also, when you’ve got commissions already in the pipeline, this is a great time to pitch because you’re coming from a place of success and are unlikely to attach much personal angst to one particular pitch or idea. So if you don’t already have a regular weekly time to work on pitches, why not start one?

 

For more help with pitching come and talk to me about media career coaching – you can find out more over here on my coaching site Help with pitching is one of the most common reasons people come to me for coaching.

  • Thanks for the advice, I’ve found it very useful and now know where I’m going wrong.
    I’ll let you know how I get on.
    Thanks Joanne, you’re brilliant.

  • Si

    Apropos of nothing:

    Life coach, journalist, commentator, blogger, mother, wife, and Brighton boulevardier?

    WHERE do you find the blimmin’ time, woman?

    Yours somewhat inadequately,
    Si

  • Honestly Si, it’s hardly a stretch. None of those things are full time (apart from the parenting – no time off for good behaviour there). I tend to only do things I enjoy or find a reason to enjoy the things I’m doing. It makes life a lot easier.

  • Hi Joanne. Your article at Journalism.co.uk was a huge insight for myself. Having just finished my three year Journalism degree and entered the job market at the worst possible time, I am now looking at freelance opportunities.

    Luckily, a magazine has offered me the chance to submit freelance articles for them. My thinking is that I have to create story ideas that are ‘outside the box’. Something that will make them think “Oh, we’ve never had this story before” etc. How crucial is it to have strong story ideas in the freelance world?

  • Hello & thanks for your comment. Your ideas are everything, that’s your currency as a freelancer. What are you offering that no-on else can bring? Why should they pay you to do this rather than get one of their staff to do it? These are the questions that you need to ask before you pitch.

  • It’s useful to know that the drip drip effect works with some editors. I have been wondering about this myself and thinking not to pitch a second idea to the same editor until at least a month later, unless they give encouragement beforehand. I have a question though… Most of my work I’ve got through good old fashioned networking or at least I’ve had more confidence pitching an editor I’ve met in the real world than cold. So how does one find opps to meet them in the flesh? Or is this just wussing out from the whole sordid busienss of pitching cold?

  • I think the more you can get out and meet people the better – I recently met the editor of a magazine I had been trying to get into for years when she happened to be sitting next to me at a screening. So go to any major PR events you can (ie for launches big enough that an editor might attend). And don’t forget you can network and get to know people on Twitter – it gives you a real insight into what editors are interested in. Lastly, offer to go for coffee or call in to see any editors you’ve worked with but haven’t met yet.

    Good luck!