How to Pitch to an Editor as a Freelance Journalist
I became a freelance journalist, alongside my full-time role in publishing, in 2018. I am entirely self-taught, having never studied journalism or even attended classes on how to pitch to an editor before I went freelance.
Get an idea, or find one
First things first, find an idea to pitch about. Not as easy as it sounds. I tend to have a monthly brainstorm to get a burst of ideas. More than half of these are not useable, but just brainstorming helps to spark new pitches.
Look at the news and see what is relevant and doing well. What do people want to read about? For example, right now we’re going through a global pandemic. Whilst the news is already inundated with Corona Virus stories, so there’s really no need to pitch these, there are not many ‘fluffy’ pieces about. And by fluffy pieces I mean listicles, stories about Tinder dating (pre-corona that is), or zero-waste living as examples.
That means that you need to find a piece that is both relevant to now but also not going out into an utterly saturated market of the same news.
Research publications your idea would suit
When you find your idea, or if you’re looking for one, research the news outlets you want to pitch to. A story for The Independent is probably not going to work for a magazine like Glamour or Cosmopolitan.
What stories are the publication(s) you’re interested in sharing and what’s the tone? Don’t just look at the headlines but read the actual pieces as well. What stories are trending? Who is writing them? How many words are they? Do they have pictures? Where are they shared? What kind of audience are they trying to pull in?
The more you do this the less time it takes, as the more you’ll be able to tell from first glance and first read.
Remember, magazines/newspapers will not want to share a story they’ve just covered so don’t pitch them an idea that they’ve already done! It’s a waste of your time and theirs.
Find the editorial email you’ll need
So how do you actually pitch to an editor?
Now you have an idea and you know which publication(s) it is perfect for, you need to find the email of the best person to contact. This is always going to be an editor. Sometimes it’s a commissioning editor, other times it’s a digital editor and sometimes it’s even the editor-in-chief.
Usually, it depends on the size of the publication and the format in which you want your piece to appear. i.e. as a digital article or in print form.
Don’t fire off emails to tons of people at the same publication as this is a waste of time. Send the email to the person you think is best suited. If it’s wrong they’re likely to pass it to the correct person or inform you of who it needs to go to.
I find the best way to search for the right contact is through Twitter. Journalists are very good at updating their bios with their contact details, job titles, and whether or not they’re open for pitches. They’ll also often tweet out requests for comments and/or case studies.
Another way to find out who to pitch to is via newsletters specifically for journalist jobs, like Sian Meade-Williams Freelance Writing Jobs newsletter. Well worth signing up too if you’re a freelance journalist!
Perfect your pitch
Now you should have your pitch, your publication, and your contact. Now to perfect the pitch.
Your pitch shouldn’t be that long, it isn’t the article after all.
- Make sure you use the correct name for your contact and spell it correctly
- Start with a short pitch about the idea, with the headline of the piece you’re pitching
- Explain where it would sit with the publication’s audience and why it’s relevant
- Make sure that you mention the publication you’re pitching it to, and again spell it correctly
- Sign off with any extra details about the piece, whether you have a case study willing to comment on or have a rough word count etc
It should be about 4 paragraphs max. I always end a pitch with a link to my portfolio so that editors can see my previous work and know that they can rely on me.
What not to do!
Do not forget to read through your pitch before you send it! The number of times I’ve sent a pitch with a spelling mistake or worse the wrong publication name in it when I first started out was not good. If you do this you will not hear back from an editor, which I guarantee you.
Don’t send off the pitch to more than 3 editors at once. There are a lot of publications that are similar i.e. Cosmopolitan and Glamour, but try not to send a pitch to more than 3 editors at a time. It’s so easy to tell when a pitch has been sent out to millions of places, as it’s not personalised or relevant to that publication.
It may seem to reduce your chances, but actually, it’s the opposite. The more personalised and researched a piece is for a specific publication the more likely it’s to get picked up.
To chase or not to chase
Not hearing back from editors is a fact of the job. I generally send about 4 to 5 pitches a month and I might hear back on 2 at the most. And usually one of those is a rejection. This is the nature of the job.
If you’re solely freelance then you will be pitching far more often and likely doing extra work on the side like gathering case studies to sell to other journalists and copy-editing, sub-editing, etc.
You can chase an editor if you haven’t heard back after one week, I would say. But usually, if you don’t hear back it means that the idea is not for them, or they don’t have the budget for a freelancer.
But don’t be disheartened, this is just the nature of the business.
Writing the piece or moving on to the next idea
If you have an idea that you’re truly passionate about, you can generally find a place for it. Whether it be a major publication, a small magazine, or a digital placement. But you should always get some form of payment.
If you’re solely freelance you cannot waste time producing work that you don’t get paid for.
Don’t be fooled by the idea that it’s all ‘awareness’ work, you need to be paid for your work. If you want to raise your profile then get in touch with editors and offer your services. Be active on the #JournoRequest hashtag when other journalists need comments or help, pitch your ideas often, and share your links whenever you’re published. Share others’ work and comment.
When you’re freelance, to get noticed by an editor or to reassure an editor that you’re reliable when you pitch to them, you need to PR your own PR.
Being a freelance journalist does not mean sitting at your desk writing all day long, in fact, that’s only about 10% of the job. The rest of the time you’re building your network, editing, and finding ideas.
I hope this post has been helpful and encourages anyone out there with an idea of how to pitch to an editor. I wish you the best of luck, and I’m always available on Twitter to comment or discuss an idea at @ElliePilcher95.