Freelance writers who want to get published in magazines and on websites need to learn one skill above all others, and that's how to pitch articles. Of course, writing skills are needed too. But freelancers, especially when they're starting out, spend a significant amount of time marketing their services. The more effective their pitches, the more time they can spend on fun stuff like writing.
In this post, I'm going to share a 4-step strategy that seems to work best for most freelancers. I'm using my preferences as an editor who assigns articles as well as tips I've learned over the years from scores of freelance writers.
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Step 1: Research your market
Okay, you've chosen which magazine or website you want to pitch. That's exciting! But don't pitch yet. Research your market first. Here are some tips:
- Figure out what your market covers. You may think you know what a magazine or website covers. But do a little digging (and reading) to see what the most recent issues or posts actually include. For instance, you may learn that a parenting magazine isn't really for ALL parents. It may be targeted mostly at parents of infants and toddlers. Your article about caring for a teen may not be a great fit.
- Look for holes in coverage. After reading a few issues or several posts, you may notice some holes in coverage that you can fill. Keep audience in mind though. Make sure that you don't manufacture holes. Going back to my earlier example, no coverage of teen issues may be a deliberate choice by a parenting magazine. Another example: A sports car magazine probably doesn't need articles on "sporty" tractors. That said, if you find real holes, those are great opportunities to break into a magazine or website.
- Identify what's written by staff vs freelancers. If you read several issues of a magazine, you may notice that certain columns or features are written by the same person every time. These places will be harder (if not impossible) to crack as a freelancer. Instead, find the content areas that are written by new people each time around. (Tip: Most magazines have "front of book" and "back of book" areas with smaller pieces that are easier for new freelancers to pitch.)
- Figure out best person to pitch. Check the submission guidelines first. These tend to give the best tips on how to break into a magazine or website. But if you can't find guidelines, try pitching the managing editor first. Unless the guidelines advise otherwise, it's always best to pitch an actual person and not send a pitch into the black hole of a Contact Us form (if possible).
Step 2: Make pitch
One of the most common mistakes writers make is to hide the pitch in their queries. For instance, I often receive queries in which a person tells me their life story and credentials in a paragraph or two before I ever get to their article pitch. Or worse, I have trouble finding the pitch at all. If in doubt, use this template: "I'd like to write an article on (blank)." There are more artful ways to pitch, but make sure you at least have this (or something like this) in the first few sentences. Preferably the first sentence. Don't make editors have to hunt for your actual pitch.
Step 3: Provide extra information
I consider everything that's not the actual pitch "extra information." So this would include data that shows why the article you're pitching is needed. Or it explains how you envision treating the piece (maybe an interview, the possibility of an infographic, etc.). And, of course, it includes your bio information (if it's relevant). Believe me, I'm only including this because I've run across people who haven't before: Be sure to include your name and contact information.
Step 4: Include another idea or three
Many freelancers have used this trick on me in the past. And it's worked! But here's how it works: They give a specific pitch or three. As opposed to writing, "Let me know if there's something else you'd like me to write," which never works, write, "I could also write an article on (blank) or (blank)," in which the blanks are actual article ideas. More than once, I've found the main pitch wasn't a good fit at the time but asked for information on one of these extra "throw in" pitches at the end.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community, specifically working on the Market Books, WritersMarket.com, and maintaining the Poetic Asides blog. He loves a good pitch. Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.