‘How to pitch to publications’ is a juicy topic. It can also feel overwhelming to even begin typing out the first pitch email to an editor when you’re just starting out. But – great news: you don’t have to have done a degree in journalism or have even gone to university to become a published writer.
I would know.My degree was in music, I worked for years in hospitality, and now I’m a freelance writer. I’ve been published for national publications such as Grazia, Metro, Reader’s Digest and The iPaper hundreds of times. And all it took was passion and practice.
For years, writing was my hobby. One day, I responded to a call-out on Twitter from an editor looking for pitches. I just decided to bloody well go for it, and my pitch got accepted. So, I kind of got published by accident.From then, I honed my skill as a writer and pitcher – and today, I’m typing away to answer your frequent FAQs on exactly how to pitch to publications, drawing on my now extensive experience over the many years I’ve been doing this.
Before we crack on with your questions, you should head over to my resources page and download the pitching checklist. It’s great to have on hand when you’re crafting every single pitch. Also, I offer 1-1 mentoring calls as well, where I can run over pitches with you, answer your specific questions in detail and have a good old chinwag about the freelance writer life.
Where do you even start with pitching?!
Well, this is a biggie. From my experience, the best place to start is as simple as this: the writing. Don’t start by thinking about making money; don’t start by thinking of that byline. Start by practising to become a better writer. If you haven’t got a blog, start one. Start writing articles you’d like to see published; write about the topics you’re interested in as if you’ve already been commissioned by your favourite editor.
Next, read – LOTS. Look at magazines, digital articles, newspapers. Analyse journalists’ intros, where they decide to put in quotes, what the word count of pieces typically are, how they’ve crafted the headline and narrowed down that razor-sharp angle. Another great thing to do is look at what’s trending, or analyse current headlines, and then decide what your stance would be on the subject. How would you write about that? Then write about it for your blog.
It’s a whole lot of preparation before you get to the pitching stage – but that’s good. The last thing you want is to send a great idea, get commissioned and then panic because you haven’t had enough time to hone your own writing. And learning how to press ‘publish’ on your own work eliminates that imposter-fuelled fear of seeing your work out there in the world. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to pitch.
What do you include in that first email to an editor?
If you’re cold pitching, you do need to introduce who you are – but it’s not as important as you might think it is. Editors get pitches from writers they’ve never worked with all the time, so that’s okay.
Make sure your email exudes quiet confidence: you need to show them you deserve to be in their inbox. Never send an email just introducing yourself and asking if they’re looking for stories: that’s a big no no. Editors are very, very busy people and they won’t have time to deal with that kind of request. You’ve got to give them something they want. Which is a great story idea.
The first time you pitch, you’ve got to make sure you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about your idea. Do some research; find some case studies. When you pitch to an editor, they’ve got the choice of choosing you (who they don’t know from Adam), a staffer that already works at the publication, or another freelancer they’ve worked with before. The others have an advantage over you, and they’re definitely looking like the most risk-free options for the editor, so you’ve got to make sure you can prove why you’re the person to write the piece.
If you have lived experience of the topic you’re pitching, show that. If you don’t have personal experience, do thorough research and make it clear you already have some killer stats or case studies the editor might not have easy, instant access to.
How do you choose which publications to pitch to?
If you pitch to publications you already read, you’re in a great position because you know the kinds of articles they want. However, the disadvantage is you might be a little too close to the subject matter. If you’re, say, the target reader of Cosmopolitan Magazine, chances are the kind of articles you’ll want to pitch have already been covered by the popular title lots and lots of times before. There aren’t really any new stories, always just new angles. And often, with massive titles, every angle has already been covered.
If you decide to cast your net wider and pitch to niche publications, this can be great, because you have a chance to really get deep into your subject matter. I regularly write for Happiful Magazine, the mental health publication, and whilst I adore writing for them, you have to think long and hard about your angle, because every single article in the 12 issues a year is about mental health. A lot of ground has been covered. You basically have to find a niche way to write about a niche subject. Makes sense. But once you get in the groove, this can be the most fun and rewarding work.
If you want to write an article for a publication you don’t personally read, you often find you can tweak the kind of topics you’re interested in to work them for a new audience. For example, I wrote a piece on death positivity, a topic regularly covered by publications with younger audiences such as Refinery29, but for Reader’s Digest, whose target audience is over 50s. Whilst this conversation was being somewhat normalised amongst younger generations, the over 50s were new to it. Rethink your angles and you’ll be surprised with the material you can get.
What are some great pitch email tips?
- Estimate the word count of your piece, and let an editor know in your pitch email. Literally go onto the publication’s website, copy and paste an article into Word, and see how many words it is. Then ensure you stick to the same format yourself – it’ll make you look like you know exactly what you’re doing (even if you don’t feel that way at the time!)
- Make sure the publication hasn’t already covered the angle you want to write. There’s no bigger faux pas than pitching something that’s already been covered.
- Follow your go-to editors on Twitter. Get a feel for their personality; for the kinds of articles they like to commission.
- Why not try pegging your articles to a certain awareness day or holiday? If it’s trending, editors want to get it out there, quick. Whether that be Mental Health Awareness Week, or Valentine’s Day, or a news story everyone’s talking about, ensuring your pitch is timely makes it irresistible for the commissioning editor.
Well, I told you it was going to be juicy! If you want to find out more about how to pitch to publications book a 1-1 mentoring session with me and we can have a good old chat.