Journalism is a notoriously tough world to crack – this is a sad, sad fact of the industry. Much like the woeful lack of diversity, the fact that many editors *still* require you to work for free for a few months before they’ll even consider paying you, and the crazy notion that you need your Dad’s uncles’ friend’s sister to open up those doors in order to get an internship in the first place. (It’s called nepotism and it goes on a lot in journalism unfortunately).
As Content Co-ordinator of Go Think Big and a (somewhat) experienced freelancer now, my advice to any aspiring writers and freelancers would be: RUN FOR THE HILLS AND GO GET ANOTHER CAREER. (And I am hosting a journalism/freelancing webinar in March 2018 where I will probably reiterate the same thing). But then again lots of people told me the exact same thing when I was starting out and I was really suspicious and actually didn’t listen to any of them. And I guess now it’s kind of paid off? Sort of? So you could copy what I do and not what I say, if you’re absolutely sure this writer’s life is for you. Being persistent will, eventually, get you published (that’s your first lesson when it comes to being a freelancer).
Here are some things I’ve learned along the way to getting myself published across various publications (The Guardian, Independent, Time Out and a few more plus Go Think Big, ofc). This is how I would craft a killer freelance pitch…
1. Have some previous writing to link to
Everyone dreams of scoring a byline in Vogue or a double-page spread in the travel section of The Times, but if you haven’t got any prior writing experience and you’re pitching to the big names, it’s unlikely you’re even going to get a response. Before you even consider writing a freelance pitch, make sure you have some prior writing experience under your belt. It helps if you’ve been published somewhere online; maybe you can link to some articles you wrote on your work placement (they aren’t going to know you didn’t get paid for them!). If not, you definitely need a blog or student journo to link to. Either way it helps if you have previous writing to link to and an online presence so editors can see who you are and what your writing style is about.
2. Pitch to the right people
So you can have the best pitch in the world, but your chances of getting a response are seriously hindered if you send it to the the wrong person. Don’t go for the generic “firstname.lastname@example.org” email – that’s lazy! And we have the internet so there’s no excuse for not addressing your pitch to the editor of the particular section you want to write for! Stalk the hell out of the writers you want to pitch to on Twitter or LinkedIn – they probably have their work email in their bios which makes contacting them soooo easy. Check to see if they’ve tweeted about needing new writers, or what kind of stuff gets them excited.
3. Format your pitch like a mini-article
That means your pitch will need a headline, an intro and 3-4 bullet points or lines of explanation that details exactly what you want to write about. Make the pitch fairly concise; the whole thing should never be longer than 300 words. Here’s an example of a pitch I sent recently to the Independent opinion section (it’s a little over 300 words):
4. Make your pitches newsy & relevant (and big yourself up)
What is going to make the editor jump up from his/her chair and shout: “I must commission this super-talented writer immediately!” Well there are a few things you can do to help make this happen. Firstly, all your pitches should really be tagged to a news hook, which basically means they should offer a new perspective on something trending or current in the news cycle. For example if there’s a story all over the internet about how cow’s milk is now poisonous for human consumption (it’s not, don’t panic, I just had a cup of tea), and you want to write about this for the opinion section of your favourite magazine, what will make your particular piece stand out from all the rest? Are you offering a unique account of drinking cow’s milk that no-one else can match? How will your piece add something new to the conversation currently taking place about cow’s milk and humans? Also note that writing about cow’s milk when it’s not trending in the news will require you to send an even stronger pitch over that persuades the editor that now is absolutely the right time to be opening up a discussion on this topic when no-one else is talking about it. In both instances, you need to let editors know why you’re the best person to write the article, so linking to previous work will help, as will including details that prove that your account on this topic is the most exciting and suitable for their readership.
5. Email etiquette
As mentioned above, always know the features editor’s name! And always be polite! Even if you’re sending your second or third follow-up email, good manners are a prerequisite. Oh and a little bit of flattery will probs get you further, too. Send the kind of email to editors that will peak their interest and make them feel good about themselves. Perhaps you could mention that you liked the last article that editor wrote, that you enjoyed the piece they tweeted out recently, or that you have followed their career for a while. And don’t be afraid to email again if you haven’t heard back from them in a while; as a rule it’s fine to send a follow-up email a week after pitching then another if you haven’t heard back. You can then wait another week and pitch again or try another editor, but if after this if you haven’t heard back, chances are it’s a lost cause and they don’t want your piece. Unfortunately editors often just don’t reply when they don’t want your stuff, but don’t get disheartened, keep on practicing and eventually if you’ve followed all of my steps and your writing is half-decent – you will get published.
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