Before I began pitching articles to newspapers and websites, I thought everyone had something I didn’t: an “in,” a “secret sauce.” Whatever it was, it set them apart, and I wasn’t sure if it was possible to break into the elusive club. Well, allow me to do some myth-busting.
As unbelievable as it is to see your byline in print, there’s nothing keeping you from getting it there. Freelancing is just another way to earn an income, but it’s a little different. Why?
You make the rules.
When you’re pitching an article, it’s you who decides where to pitch, what you plan to write, and how much you want to earn. The problem you might be facing (and believe me, I wrestled with it, too!) is how to transform your plans into a pitch that actually sells.
HERE ARE FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PITCHING:
1. Contact info is everywhere.
We live in a creepily connected world, and it’s easy to find people online, including editors. Think about it: publications thrive on a constant stream of content, and they aren’t likely to turn away a freelance writer with a strong story. Here are a few places you can look:
- Writer’s Market. If you’re not familiar, Writer’s Market is an annual reference book that lists thousands of contacts in newspaper, magazine, book, and several other industries. Their info lists the most current editor contact info, submission guidelines, and even editorial calendars that can help you narrow which topics to pitch. You can grab a copy on Amazon for under $20, and the Kindle version costs less than $10.
- About pages. When I’m interested in writing for an outlet, the first thing I do is look for the About page. When I pitched Scary Mommy, for example, I scrolled to the bottom of the website to find the About Us page, which links directly to their contributor guidelines. Do a quick search on your favorite sites; the information you need might be closer than you think.
- Mastheads. Almost every publication and website has a published list of employees, also known as a masthead. Suppose you have a perfect pitch for Smithsonian Magazine’s website, but you don’t know who to contact. Start by Googling “Smithsonian Magazine masthead.” The first link will take you to a complete list of the magazine’s online and print staff. If you can’t find email addresses, another Google search is usually the only thing that stands between you and a direct contact.
2. Sources are essential.
Unless you’re pitching a story that requires zero research, sources are a crucial part of grabbing an editor’s attention. Let’s say you have an amazing pitch about the latest health trend. You’ve researched and found a study that supports your topic. Time to pitch, right? Eh…not quite. Editors want a little more from you. Depending on the media outlet, your pitch should include plans for expert interviews and even first-person accounts of the topic you’re pitching. For example, when I wrote about postpartum PTSD, I interviewed Harvard researchers and a woman who had experienced the disorder. If you’re not sure what kind of sources you need, read through the magazine or website’s published pieces to get an idea of what they prefer.
3. You need a website (and samples).
The bad news: You’re right to be worried about the competition. There are literally thousands of writers in any given niche, and editors are overwhelmed with pitches every day. Whether you’re unknown or trying to break into a new topic, you won’t stand out unless you have a website and relevant samples. The good news: Your online presence doesn’t need to be fancy: You only need a website domain (e.g., yourname.com), an About page with contact info, links to your social media accounts, and online work samples.
But I don’t have any samples!
That’s okay! You have to start somewhere. Consider writing unpaid pieces and posting them on LinkedIn or Medium, and then link them back to your website. If you’re willing to let a website publish your work for free, take a look here, where I talk a bit about unpaid contributions.
4. The “club” matters a little…
I’m a firm believer that you don’t need industry connections to succeed as a freelance writer or journalist.
But it doesn’t hurt to have them, either.
Years ago, I interviewed a source for an article about teaching kids financial responsibility. A writer herself, this lady has been busy since we first spoke, publishing regular pieces with The Atlantic and The New York Times. On a whim, I reached out to her to ask about writing for a particular publication, and she was nice enough to introduce me to her former editor. That simple kindness put my pitch in the hands of the right person, and I published my first piece a month later.
See what I mean? Networking is powerful, especially when you’re working to establish yourself. Reach out to fellow writers and develop relationships.
5. There’s a formula for pitching success.
Pitching is a learning process, and it takes time to understand why Magazine A might LOVE your story, while Magazine B says “no thanks.” Every outlet has their own guidelines and standards, but when it comes to pitching, there’s a formula I follow every time:
- The Hook. Write the first paragraph of your article. If should grab the reader’s attention and make them want to learn more.
- The Support. Who are your sources? What gives them authority in the area you’re pitching? How will you learn from them?
- The Details. How long will your article be (in words)? When will you complete it? What is your rate?
- Who Are You? This is where you introduce yourself and provide links to your website, social media accounts, and recent work.
So, ready to dive into pitching? Need more help?
Make sure to check out my Article Pitching For Beginners Challenge. In this FREE, 5-day challenge, you’ll get my complete step-by-step system to help you pitch your article ideas with confidence, including:
- How to find a writing niche that pays well AND fulfills your personal interests
- How to set up a professional portfolio website in less than a day (yes, really!)
- How to find sources to inspire your ideas and support your pitches (and later, how to get those sources to send YOU ideas)
- How to build a network of writerly friends to support you (and introduce you to editors)
- My EXACT article pitching formula