There’s nothing like good ole practical advice, is there?
No wishy-washy explanations or roundabout responses, just the useful stuff.
So when last week a freelance writer emailed me asking if I had any tips on pitching articles and breaking into a niche of writing, I wanted to give her something she could act on right away.
Her email reminded me of another conversation I had with a friend in New York. She too was wondering how she could land that first byline and start carving out a niche.
So, as it seems to be an advice-worthy topic — how to get your article on the pages of that publication — I thought I’d share some actionable tips for writing a successful pitch and some resources that have helped me along the way.
Before diving in, it’s important to remember that everyone’s path to byline bliss looks a little different and there’s no magical formula (if only!) for getting published in a new publication.
I am convinced that patience and persistence are golden qualities in the freelancing world, so as you start sharing your article ideas keep in mind that a) crafting a good pitch takes time and b) if your first attempt isn’t successful, try, try again.
Who to pitch
First things first — who should you pitch to?
If you have a specific story idea in mind and know for example that it would fit nicely with a travel publication, then that narrows down your search quite a bit. From there, I’d try to see which outlet’s writing style and tone matches your story’s the best.
On the other hand, if you don’t have an article idea yet, it helps to think about your interests and your experiences as that will focus your search and bring target publications within reach.
So let’s say you enjoy cooking and are an excellent home baker, then you might start flipping through food blogs, taking note of their writing style and the type of content they publish. Once you’ve decided on one, jot down a few angles they haven’t covered yet and
This approach works well if you frequently read the blog or publication you’re pitching because then you’re already familiar with their style and know which types of stories they are interested in running.
During your search, don’t forget to check that the publication accepts freelance pitches. Because you know that feeling when you fall in love with a piece of clothing or furniture only to find they don’t have your size or are out of stock? Yep, it’s like that… if not worse.
So always remember to make sure they accept pitches before polishing up your idea. Normally those that do will have contributor guidelines. I always look for these first and follow them closely so my pitch has the best chance of catching the editor’s eye.
Here are some good lists of blogs and online publications that accept (and pay for!) guest pitches. Also, if you’re in the UK, check out this roundup of online papers and magazines.
How to pitch
Pitching is more of an art form than an exact science. And that’s why the not so fun truth is that you have to keep pitching in order to learn what works and what doesn’t.
If you haven’t written for a publication before, sometimes they only accept articles written on spec, or in full. That means you will need to send them the whole piece instead of just the idea and outline.
Other times editors prefer you to submit a standfirst, which is essentially a brief synopsis of the article and how you will offer a fresh take on the topic.
In the past, I’ve also sent editors a few article ideas (usually three) so they have more options to choose from. Typically I do this for editors who I have worked with before.
As you can tell, there is no one-size-fits-all template for pitching. There are things you can do that will make your pitch much stronger — this checklist covers the bases —
To maximize the chances of your pitch getting past those barriers, ask yourself: why me (what value do I bring to the piece), why them (does my tone match theirs, have they covered this before, are they interested in this topic) and why now (is there an upcoming event I can tie this to, why do readers care about it now)?
Most importantly, don’t let the notion of a “perfect pitch” get in your way. If you have a compelling idea or an amazing story to tell, put it out there. Be passionate and show that you care. It makes a difference.
When in doubt, publish your own writing
It’s a bit of a catch-22 when you’re trying to land your first byline and you’re asked to provide a few writing samples along with your pitch. Because, well, you don’t have any clips to share because you haven’t been published yet.
I know the feeling.
So why not become your own publisher?
The beauty of having your own website or blog is being able to showcase your writing in a variety of ways: a travel narrative, a news story, a lifestyle feature. Just keep your target publication in mind and write it for you and them.
Say this becomes a weekly habit, you will have 52 writing samples to share by the end of the year. That’s fantastic!
Or, if a family member or friend has a blog or online journal (ideally one that would support your pitch), ask to write a piece or two for them. They get fresh content on their site and you get a published clip — success!
No matter what, I have found the sooner you begin writing, for yourself or another publication, the more confident you get with your pitches. Article ideas come more naturally and your writing improves.
Like any other skill, pitching takes practice. Sure, the first time you send your article to an editor your hands might shake slightly, but afterwards, you’re one step closer to that beloved byline.
Now that you have everything you need to get started, it’s time to begin penning those pitches.