After ten years of writing freelance articles and essays, I’ve learned a lot about what editors are looking for when reviewing pitches. My work is usually centered on art and culture but these tips can apply to pitches about any topic.
Write “Pitch” in Your Email Subject Line
This one seems so simple but I only started doing it last year, and WOAH what a difference.
My response rate went up by about 50%. I asked a few editors about why this matters, and this is what they told me: By writing “pitch” my emails were a lot less likely to get lost amid an inbox of spam (editors get a lot of spam).
Make The Rest of Your Subject Line Your Headline
Freelancers too often leave the writing of headlines to editors. But you should start writing them too. Yes, more than likely it’ll get changed by your editor. BUT by doing this you’ll give your editor an immediate idea for how to frame your piece. This one small change boosted my rate of pitch acceptance by about 30%.
Peg Your Pitch to an Important News Story
It’s no coincidence that articles about Halloween come out in October or stories about the US elections publish in November. Articles get a lot more traction when they’re tied to news stories, so make it clear in your pitch why your story is important right now.
Some “news” stories to consider: holidays, anniversaries of historical events, birthdays of historical figures, book or movie release dates, major festivals, elections, major announcements in the tech or science communities. The possibilities are almost endless.
Make Sure Your Story Has “Legs”
Everyone has that one interesting fact they like to share at parties. But can it be stretched into a whole story?
When I first started freelancing, my pitches were full of interesting facts. But I wasn’t getting work. That’s because a fact alone doesn’t a story make. A compelling essay or article needs not just a “what” but a “who”, “when” “where,” and usually a “how” or “why.”
Make sure your pitch contains all of the above. (In a future article I’ll discuss how I turn a nugget of an idea into a full-length story).
Explain Why You’re the Best Person to Write This Story
Were you there when it happened? Have a degree or work experience in the subject area? Or maybe you have access to information that’s hard to come by?
Whatever the reason, make sure you say it in your pitch. If you’re worried about coming across as a braggart, consider phrasing your expertise like this: “With more than ten years’ experience writing about tech, I can confidently explain why this new [gadget] is better suited for on-the-go businesspersons than [this other gadget].” You get the idea.
Keep Your Pitch to 150–200 Words
Every editor is different, but in my experience, 150–200 words is the sweet spot. It’s just long enough to outline the things above but not so long that your editor loses interest. That said, if a publication has pitching guidelines that differ from this, go by the guidelines.
Include Links to Previous Writing
Again, this might seem obvious, but there have been times when I forgot to include links. And when I do, I rarely hear back from the editor if I’ve worked with her before. Include them EVEN IF YOU HAVE A WEBSITE. You can include a link to the website as a way for editors to read more of your writing.
If you don’t have professional links to include, then link to your personal blog. If you don’t have a blog, then draft a short sample piece here on Medium. Most editors will want to see that you can write before accepting a piece by you. (In a future article I’ll discuss in more detail how to get those first few published pieces under your belt!)
By using these 7 tips, I’ve greatly increased my pitch acceptance rate. I hope they help you, too. Good luck, and please share your success stories with me! And if you find my advice useful please consider donating to my Patreon page.