If you’re new to the world of pitching media, the process can seem impossible. What are the chances that your story and your pitch will get picked by some random editor?
The most experienced writers we know get about 20-40 percent of their pitches placed, and that’s after years of figuring out the best practices for pitching. Unfortunately, it takes most writers years to figure out what these practices are because they treat pitching as a numbers game — the more ideas you throw out, surely the better your chances. But successful pitching is more about quality than quantity.
Here’s a beginner’s guide to sending out quality pitches to an editor or publication.
Step 1: Look For Opportunities
Why do you want to pitch in the first place? It seems like a painfully obvious question, but the answer will help guide your direction. For example, if you’re pitching media because it’s your goal to get published in a major publication, your strategy will be different from someone who’s pitching because they want to get a specific story placed. Get clear on your purpose for getting published, whether it’s money, prestige, or because you have an essay you want the world to see — all answers are valid.
Once you know your pitching goal, there are a few different methods for finding opportunities to pitch:
Start with the publication. If you have a specific publication in mind that you want to pitch, look for the right editor to send your ideas. Most publications have a handful of different editors depending on the beat, and you don’t want to send your Style pitch to the Health editor and vice versa. Twitter is a great resource for finding the right editors to pitch. Simply do a people search for the name of the publication + editor. Most media professionals are fairly active on Twitter and will list their titles in their bio. Some might even include an email address for pitching them.
Not sure where to pitch your story in the first place? Check out this tool that will give you some advice on where to pitch your story, depending on the topic. It’s aptly titled Where To Pitch.
See who’s looking for ideas. Maybe you don’t have a specific publication in mind and you simply want to get a story — any story — placed. In that case, look for publications that are accepting pitches. Study Hall is a great resource for this — the newsletter sends out weekly freelance gigs and calls for pitches. But again, Twitter is another useful tool for finding places to pitch. Editors often run a call for pitches on Twitter, outlining exactly what they’re looking for and how to pitch them. You can do a simple Twitter search for “hiring freelancers” or “looking for pitches” or “pitch me.” Once you know what specific topics publications are looking for, it’s time to come up with some story ideas.
Step 2: Turn a Topic Into a Story
One of the most common pitching mistakes writers make is pitching a topic, not a story. For example, telling an editor you’d “love to write about sustainable travel” doesn’t offer them a specific story idea. Here are some examples of topics versus stories:
Topic: “I’d love to write about capsule wardrobes”
Story: How I learned to build a capsule wardrobe for under $1,000
Topic: “I’m passionate about mental health and would love to write about this for your site.”
Story: A Chicago coffee shop is raising awareness around suicide prevention
Essentially, a story has a plot or an arc. There is a who, what, when, where, how, and why.
Step 3: Familiarize yourself with the publication
Before pitching an editor at a publication, you’ll want to get an idea of the type of stories they publish.
It may be unrealistic to expect you’re going to read every back issue of Marie Claire before you pitch them, but at the very least, before pitching a publication, make sure:
- The angle of your story fits the kind of stories they publish
- Your pitched headline matches typical headlines for their site or publication
- You’re pitching the right editor and vertical. Twitter is a good place to start your search and verify you’re pitching the right person.
You want to familiarize yourself with the publication so you don’t waste the editor’s time, but you want to save yourself time, too. Many writers who abide by the “numbers game” mentality when it comes to pitching don’t bother with this step at all — with so many pitches to send out, how can you? Take the time to strategize your pitches, and that means getting familiar with the publication and, at the very least, making sure you’re pitching the right person.
Step 4: Draft your pitch
Once you know where you want to write and what you want to write about, how do you actually put that idea into words? Here’s a basic formula for sending a pitch:
[Catchy headline]: 2-3 sentences explaining your idea + 1-2 sentences of research, statistics, data or interviews you plan on conducting + 1 sentence showing there’s interest in the topic.
Pitches are generally a paragraph or two, depending on the topic. If it’s an especially complex topic, you may need to elaborate a bit more, but generally, you want to keep your pitch short and sweet. Editors get loads of pitches, so get to the point as quickly as you can. Don’t spend too much time explaining every facet of your story — communicate the juiciest, most interesting parts of your idea and try to sum it up as best you can in the headline. Editors are looking for “clickable” stories, so make sure your headline is clickable. Grammar is important, but editors care more about good ideas and good writing, so focus on communicating your idea as concisely as possible while still making your pitch sound fascinating.
Step 5: Send the Email
Finally, it’s time to send the email, or the query, as they say in the media world. You have about ten seconds to grab the editor’s attention, so you want to get to the pitch as quickly as possible. Don’t spend two paragraphs explaining your life story or your writing credentials. You can briefly mention if you’ve written anywhere else or if you have a background in the topic you’re writing about, but keep it to a sentence or two, at most. Something like,
I’m a freelance writer who has written for Bustle and Medium, and I have a story idea that I think would be great for Travel + Leisure.
And then get straight to the pitch:
Flygskam: Why Some Travelers Are Too Ashamed to Fly: Flight prices have become cheaper than ever, making flying a more accessible mode of transportation. In 2017, a record-breaking 4.1 billion passengers flew. But the climate impact of air travel is detrimental, which has led to movement in Sweden called Flygskam, or flight shame.
I’d love to write a reported piece on this movement: what it is, how quickly it’s growing, and whether it’s having an impact. I would interview a travel analyst and environmental expert as well as frequent travelers for their take on the movement.
From there, kindly thank the editor for their time and consideration and let them know you’ll be ready to get started if they think it’s a good fit. Link to a few writing samples at the bottom of your email, in case they want to check out your writing. In your subject line, you can add “Freelance Writer: [Your Headline].”
Best Practices and Follow-up
In most cases, it’s perfectly okay to pitch multiple editors at once, especially if it’s a timely story. On the chance that two editors will pick your story at once (a good problem to have, and it happens), most of them will be pretty understanding if you’ve already pitched it elsewhere — freelancers have to pay the bills, and it happens.
However, you mind find it’s a more comfortable rhythm to pitch one editor at a time, wait a few days or a week, and then follow-up before pitching elsewhere. Generally, if you haven’t heard back from the editor in a week, it usually means they’re going to pass on the story, and they may just be too busy to send out rejection emails. It’s still worth following up with a quick and friendly, “Just wanted to make sure you saw this before I pitch it elsewhere.”
Know what publications pay
Let’s say your pitch gets accepted — yay! Now what?
Generally, the editor will send you a contract, ask you to sign a W9, and get you started with a word count and deadline. They may give you additional or different directions of where to take the story. And, of course, you’ll talk rate.
Who Pays Writers is one of our favorite resources for finding out how much different publications charge. Rates vary quite a bit depending on the publication — some pay $50 an article while others pay $2.50 a word — but they can also vary depending on how established you are as a writer and even how big your social media following is. Rates might also vary depending on factors that have nothing to do with you, like how much that editor has already spent on freelancers that month. If an editor asks you for your rate and you’re not sure what to tell them, check out our beginner’s guide to setting your freelance writing rates.
Pitching can feel like an intimidating process, but like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it gets. And if you can break down that process into manageable steps, it’s a lot easier to take it on.