Two Harsh Truths That Will Improve Your Pitches

Pitching is one of the hardest parts of writing. And it’s not just that crafting a good pitch is hard. It’s also demoralizing to put in a lot of work and then get silence or a rejection. But there are ways to improve your pitches.

Like it or not, pitching is crucial to your career. And although we call it pitching, it could also be called selling, because a pitch is both selling an idea and selling yourself.

Think about your favorite products–the things that you love so much you would buy them again if you lost them tomorrow. Maybe that’s your iPhone or AirPods or your notebook or your favorite takeout food. Whatever it is, think of that product and how glad you are to turn over your hard-earned money to have that thing.

Now think about an editor. They have a budget, a busy life, and limited time–can you become the type of writer they’ll love to spend their budget on? Is your pitch that good? If it’s not, we’re here to help you improve it.

With that in mind, let’s get into the two harsh truths that hold your pitches back:

Your editor after receiving a perfect pitch.

It’s all about what the editor wants

Too many writers think about what an editor can do for them rather than what they can do for the editor. They’re thinking about things in exactly the wrong way.

Inexperienced writers think, and write pitch emails, which scream:

“If you publish my article, my life will be a lot easier.”

But here’s the problem. The editor wants the exact opposite. They want your email to scream:

“Publishing this article is going to be so easy for you. It’s going to be extremely high quality, without typos or problems, and I’ll even turn it in early. I will make your life, as an editor, easier, by working with me.”

Imagine being an editor. You get all sorts of pitches, many of them poorly written. Does that make their lives easier? No, those emails make their lives harder. They waste time. They see story ideas that are good, but are sent in by people who don’t take the time to correct typos. This leaves editors with a dilemma:

Should I hire a writer to write this great story idea, even though he can’t even seem to spell my name correctly? If she didn’t take the time to make the pitch better, can I trust her to do freelance writing for me?

9 times out of 10, the answer will be no. Which is a shame, because you might have a good idea in there.

For examples of great story ideas, look at articles you love. I love Drew Philp’s article Why I Bought a House in Detroit for $500. In one sentence, just by the title alone, you know this is a good article idea.

Think about the type of email that would make someone’s life easier. Seriously, think of it, then keep reading.

What does it look like to you?

The way I imagine it, it goes something like this:

I am a great/experienced writer with a great idea who will get things right the first time, require minimal edits, and never be late.

But here’s the thing. You don’t say this directly. You need to show this in your pitch email.

A good pitch does two things. It conveys the story you want to pitch, and also shows you are competent. Bad pitches fail at one or both of these things. They can fail for many reasons, but the classics are:

Having typos.
This is obvious but needs to be restated: It is just embarrassing and will make the editor question you. Can you survive a few typos? Yes. Should a prepared writer send a pitch with typos? No.

Long paragraphs which are not relevant.
Don’t forget that you’re writing a pitch, not a full article. You want to tease the article and show you can do it, but not write the whole thing.

Talking too much about yourself
Writing too much of the article is bad, but even worse is if you talk too much about yourself. You want to show off any big clips you have, but the editor doesn’t need to know every step of your writing journey.

When they see these things, even when there is a good idea in the pitch, here’s what the editor is really reading:

I did not take the time to edit my pitch. I am not able to be concise. I am thinking about me, not you. Improve your pitches by reframing how you think about things.

When you sell something—in this case, your writing—you are selling a solution. You are solving a problem for someone who is buying your product.

And when you pitch yourself, you need to think that way. You might want to write an entire paragraph about your life story, or something really poetic about why you got into writing. But unless it is really relevant to your pitch, you shouldn’t do this. And the reason is simple:

The other person doesn’t need to know! They probably don’t even care. I don’t mean this in a bad way. The thing is, you don’t know the editor. And so your job, at first, is to show you are competent and have a good idea. Once you start working together, you can reveal more about your story, and learn about theirs.

I always find it helpful to hear stories from multiple writers, so I recommend you check out this interview with Noah Davis on pitching. His advice from that article has helped me improve my pitches over the years.

Let’s get to harsh truth #2.

You start off invisible, so make a good first impression.

Nobody cares who you are (and that’s a good thing!)

Before you interact with an editor, you’re nobody to them. That sounds harsh, but it’s actually not bad. It’s neither good nor bad. It simply means the editor has no impression of you. What you do next will determine that.

And that’s why having a clear, concise, and typo-free pitch is so important.

Likely, this editor has never met you. They’ve never heard of you. They do not know you exist. So 100% of what they know about you comes from the first few sentences of your pitch email. That makes it important to be:

Clear, concise, and typo-free.

That means getting to the point in the first sentence and expanding on that point in the next few. If you can swing it, you want the first sentence of your pitch to say exactly what the entire piece is about—and hook the reader, if you can.

Make sure you stay clear-eyed about what you are doing here. You’re not trying to tell them your life story. At a minimum, you are trying to make the editor’s life easy. But really, you’re trying to make the editor’s day. Ideally—and this is hard, but it should always be your goal— you are going to make the editor say, “Wow, today I got an amazing pitch about an amazing article from a talented writer who is going to make my life really easy.”

But it won’t always work that way—and that’s okay! In fact, this is where being nobody is good for you. When you’re a new writer, it’s easy to feel like the world has a spotlight on you. You can think that one rejection means you’ll never write for that editor (or publication) again. In reality, after a few weeks, the editor has probably forgotten that you even exist. You’re back to being nobody.

And then you can try again!

Being nobody will set you free, because only if you do something really egregious, like send a nasty email, will you be remembered. The fact that most editors won’t remember you means you have several chances to make a “first” impression. And that’s a good thing, because if you get rejected, you can always rewrite and improve your pitch to nab that high paying freelance writing gig you’ve always wanted.

If you take the time and effort, you can make your pitches better, and make editors like your pitches more. Remember to make the editors life easy and present yourself in the best way possible. If you’ve taken strides to improve your pitches but you’re worried about making the jump to being a fulltime freelance writer, check out this post from Kristin about how she made the jump.

So, there it is, the two harsh truths that will make you a better writer, improve your pitches, and hopefully help you get your dream writing gig. Remember, writing is a process and if you aren’t where you want to be today, you can put in the work to get there over time. Come Write With Us is designed to help you do just that, but regardless whether you are a member or not, let us know your pitching experience in the comments!

And if you are a CWWU member, do feel free to discuss this article or how you have improved your pitches in the Facebook group if you have purchased Come Write With Us!

More writing tips + resources:

Build your own writing website with Squarespace

How Writers Make Money

5 FAQs About Pitching Media & Emailing Editors, Answered

Irving Ruan on Writing for the New Yorker