Pitching ideas to editors is an essential part of being a successful (and unsuccessful) freelance writer. It can create wonderful confidence-boosting results, but most of the time it is a frustrating and thankless task leaving you staring at your empty inbox in dismay, and doubting that you even exist. Unless you are well-established in your field, it is rare for someone to call or email you asking you to write an article on the topic you want to write about. However good your idea is, it will remain just a good idea, unless you tell someone about it.
Putting aside a decent amount of time to pitch ideas is crucial. You need to generate your own work and I sometimes think I am too busy to do this – which is often true – but sometimes it is because I have chosen to write a short story or eat Jaffa cakes while watching Poirot. Suddenly I have a ‘quiet time’ which everyone sitting in offices thinks is great, but every freelancer fears. So make sure you have a regular time slot for pitching ideas, and always have a few in the pipeline.
Here is my quick guide to pitching.
- Contact the living: If you already have a relationship with a commissioning editor, why are you reading this? You have it easy – a couple of lines bashed out with a clever joke about the last time you met, and you get an immediate response. They know your writing, they know you understand the publication, and they probably know your favourite drink. If you don’t know anyone at the publication then the magazine/website should have email addresses available – if not it’s best to find out who the deputy editor/commissioning editor/features editor is and call to find out their email address. If you just send your pitch to the editorial inbox you are taking a big risk, condemning it to the Press Release Inbox of Doom. It will be lost among a pile of emails about dog-friendly hotels and fat-busting jumpers. It will remain there, gradually being pushed down into the depths of time until someone sees it three months later and decides it is too old to be opened and deletes it. Yes – you and your ideas can be ignored, deleted and laughed at. Get used to it. Take it personally and then get over it.
- Know it all: Look at the magazine you are pitching to. I don’t mean flick through it nodding wisely. You need to read it. Read it as a reader and work out which section your article fits in to. You need to flatter editors by showing them you know their publication. They don’t get to be editors without carrying around some sort of ego and without caring about what they do. Check a few issues back. It’s embarrassing to pitch an idea and then be told it was done last month.
- Timing is everything: Find out what issue the magazine is working on. There is no point pitching an idea on skiing in January when they are already working on their Spring issue. Some magazine teams work three or four months ahead of time so get into their way of thinking. Christmas starts when you are still sipping cocktails on the beach. Summer starts when you are pouring hot water over your windscreen. Think about seasonal ideas.
Keep it short: Avoid long rambling emails. Editors like everything to be to the point and have a very short attention span when dealing with people they don’t know, so you need to instantly show them how your idea fits with their magazine. As well as the idea, include a brief paragraph about why you are the best person to write it. If they like the idea, they may come back to you and ask you to give more detailed information.
Don’t be timid: This is your chance to get in front of the person who will be looking at the next issue, so sell yourself, but make your email snappy, interesting, confident and relevant. Include links to a website / blog / LinkedIn profile with your signature.
- Wait: Unless you have timed your email perfectly, pitched perfectly and sold yourself perfectly, it is unlikely you will get an immediate, or any, response. Sometimes editorial meetings may be happening in the next couple of weeks and your email may be flagged up, waiting to be read out at that meeting. Or it may just be ignored or deleted if it is not seen as relevant. Whatever has happened to your great idea, you won’t hear anything for a while, so make a note of when you want to hassle the person – but give it a couple of weeks. It is rude if no one acknowledges your email but get used to it, don’t cry about it and get over it. And then send another email.
- Move on: Start the process again with the same magazine and a different idea, or a different magazine and the same idea. Have a Jaffa cake.