How to Write the Perfect Freelance Pitch to Editors

How to Write the Perfect Freelance Pitch to Editors

One of my least favorite tasks as a freelancer is submitting article ideas to editors, high profile bloggers, and website administrators. It’s time-consuming and can crush your spirits if your idea gets rejected.

Unfortunately, it’s just a part of being a freelancer.

I learned, however, that one of the reasons I dreaded pitching ideas was because I was getting turned down — a lot.

Why bother wasting my time if nothing’s going to come out of it?

The thing, it wasn’t because I had terrible ideas.

It’s because I wasn’t pitching them correctly.

With some trial and error, I got better at pitching — and I learned these seven tips along the way, too:

(1) Do Your Research

Just think about how many emails editors and high profile bloggers get every day asking for guest posting opportunities.

Do you think that they’ll read your entire email if it’s generic and spammy?

Do you think editors will read your pitch if it’s generic?Click To Tweet

Give editors some credit.

They know when they’re reading just one of the many copy-and-paste emails that you sent out.

What if you took the extra time to look over their site, read their content, and then offered some feedback?

They might actually read your email and take your suggestions into consideration. And — with that — you could start a conversation that might eventually become a working relationship.

START YOUR FREELANCE WRITING CAREER

Learning how to pitch is vital to a successful freelance writing career, but there is more to it than pitching alone.

Why not download The 4-Step Quick Start Guide to Freelance Writing?

To make that happen, however, you must first know the types of publications that you want to write.

You need to make sure that your expertise and voice are a good match for the website. If you run an Italian cooking blog, for instance, then you wouldn’t waste your time trying to guest post for a leading tech publication, right?

Also, don’t forget to get in touch with the right person.

Sending a general email is probably going to get overlooked. But, sending an email pitch directly to the editor increases your chances of getting noticed.

(2) Pitch an Idea That Only You Can Write

Here’s some great advice from Patricia Marx, who has written for the National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live, and The New Yorker:

“I think the most important thing for a writer is to be distinctive and write something that only she could write.”
— Patricia Marx

Let’s say — for instance — you aren’t just an expert on Italian cuisine. You actually lived in Tuscany for five years, and you’re familiar with the cuisine in that specific region of Italy. That makes you an expert.

And not just valuable to a cooking publication, but even to a wine or travel publication. Their readers may also value your knowledge and experience.

Also, attaching previous articles that you’ve written or a link to your portfolio will help prove that you’re the expert that you claim to be.

(3) Pitch a Story, Not an Idea

“Pitch a story, not an idea. [A] story has characters, timeline, conflict. Like a movie!”
— Adam Sternbergh

Great advice from Adam Sternbergh, culture editor for The New York Times.

Your ultimate goal is to explain your concept and how you’re going to make it relatable to the audience.

(4) Create an Attention-Grabbing Headline

David Ogilvy, the father of advertising, said:

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
— David Ogilvy

Without a headline that is going to pique the interest of the reader, you can be certain that your email is going to get trashed.

When composing the headline for the story you are pitching, consider the following:

  • What titles have worked in the past? A split test can help you determine this.
  • Be clear and concise.
  • Offer value.
  • Use catchy words, such as “5 Benefits of …”

(5) Use the 4-Paragraph Pitch

Once you’ve got your headline down, you want to compose an email body that’s going to hook the editor and prove that you’re the real deal.

Craft a pitch to hook the editor and prove that you’re the real deal.Click To Tweet

I’m a fan of Alex Crevar’s four-paragraph pitch, which is the following format:

  • Salutation begins with “Dear” and then the editor’s name.
  • First paragraph hooks the editor by letting him or her know that your content is timely, something their readers will appreciate, and proves that you’re an expert.
  • Second paragraph outlines what the story will be about based on why it’s relevant to the publication.
  • Third paragraph opens with, “I propose a story about __.”
  • Fourth paragraph explains why you’re the right person to write this story.
  • Closing similar to, “I look forward to your response, __.”

(6) Practice the Art of Summaries

I know that sounds like a ton of information to cram into an email…

…but remember that editors are extremely busy and only have so much time to review pitches. The more clear and concise you are, the more likely they’ll read your entire pitch.

Keep these pointers in mind when writing your pitch:

  • Why should you write this article?
  • Is there any data from studies or surveys that can can back up your views?
  • Have you researched the publication in advance?
  • What are the main points you want to cover in the article?
  • What’s your angle?

Don’t forget to spell and grammar check your pitch, too.

(7) Be Persistent

After you’ve sent out the pitch, don’t just sit there and wait for a response. Much of the time you’ll never hear back from an editor, so keep pitching! Sales is a contact sport — the more contacts you make, the more wins you’ll have.

“BUT WAIT… WHO SHOULD I BE PITCHING?”

Congratulations! In this post, you learned how to pitch more effectively. But are you still wondering who you should be pitching?

Enter your email address below for a free copy of 70 Freelancers Reveal Their Best Source of New Business.

But if there’s a publication that you really want to be a part of, then take the initiative and follow up with the editor to see if he or she received your pitch.

Just please don’t be pushy.

Politely ask and go from there.

How have you successfully pitched your freelance ideas?

Leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below…

Eric Hebert

Senior Marketing Strategist at evolvor.com
Eric is the senior marketing strategist for evolvor.com, where he helps educate business owners about digital marketing. Some of his work has appeared on Entrepreneur, Search Engine Journal, and ClickZ.

Latest posts by Eric Hebert (see all)

30 thoughts on “How to Write the Perfect Freelance Pitch to Editors

  1. Hi Erik,

    Thank you for what you said. I realise now that I make some mistakes. I would ask you one thing that you didn’t bring into discussion.

    I want to write for a website. If that website has a Write for Us page, then probably I know who to send my email to and what to write in it. Most importantly, I probably know what to write in the subject line.

    But if the website doesn’t say anything about contributing to the site, what would you think would be the best approach for the subject line. I always find this to be the most challenging part. If that I can’t get someone’s attention, then it doesn’t matter what I write in the body of the article.

    Thank you!

    • What to put in the subject line is a great question, Samuel! Let me notify Eric that you’ve left a comment, and hopefully he’ll have some thoughts for us.

      Best wishes,

      Brent

    • My best results are usually the ones that get to the point. I’ve simply used “I want to contribute to your site” in the past and that’s worked for me! Of course, you want to keep it as personalized as possible.

  2. Great tips! I avoid short pitches as much as I can. Of course there is a limit on how long you can and should go, but you need to clarify. And there are still things you can’t predict: the editor’s mood, the stories that have just been pitched before you hit sent, the stories already assigned and the content they are planning (but haven’t announced on the site). So, even after you send some well-crafted and highly-customized pitches, you will still get rejected from time to time. The trick is to keep moving, and always have more than one pub in mind for an idea. 🙂

    • Great thoughts, Pinar. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Even the “perfect” freelance pitches are sometimes rejected and ignored, right? We can’t control every outcome. All we can control is our effort. And by continuously pitching, our hard work will pay off.

      Brent

  3. Hi Eric,

    Thank you for this helpful and powerful post.

    If your ideas gets rejected multiple times, it can truly be soul crushing. But without the right approach, we can only expect those kind of responses.

    A generic pitch is probably the most sure-fire way to get a negative knee-jerk response. I think working with a template is okay as long as you have enough points to make it unique. Looking at a website and giving valuable feedback before getting in touch is a fantastic tip.

    I have never heard of #2, that one pleasantly surprised me. I love that quote by Patricia Marx, thank you for sharing.

    Pitching a story sounds good, but I’m still quit confused on how I can work character, a timeline and a conflict in a pitch. I’d love to see an example of a pitch that considers this. The 4 paragraph pitch covers the story part, but not the elements above.

    That David Ogilvy quote never gets old. It’s a mind boggling fact. We continue to consistently underestimate the power of a well written headline. Great tips, especially split testing. I would also recommend reading magazine headlines. Magazine headline writers are one of the best at grabbing attention.

    I’m truly impressed with this post. I learned a lot of valuable things. The 4 paragraph pitch is one I’ll certainly be using.

    I also wonder how you feel about following up. Do you think 3 times is persistent enough? The way I see it, 3 strikes = out. If you have a different opinion, I’d love to know.

    Have a great week, Brent and Eric!

    – Jasper

    • Hi Jasper,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      How are you?

      How is business?

      Prior to freelancing, I spent 10+ years in sales and business development in one capacity or another. I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule about how many times to follow up. Surprisingly, most salespeople never follow up or do it only once — and as the saying goes, “Timid salespeople have skinny children.”

      I think the greater the potential reward, the greater the risk you should take to close the deal. If the client tells you to f*ck off, then you know it’s a no-go. But barring that, you might as well continue to follow up until you actually get a firm rejection. In sales, that’s sometimes called “forcing the no.” Either way, get that prospect out of your pipeline and move on.

      Statistically speaking, most deals are closed on the fifth time asking for business. So sometimes, following up three times just isn’t enough.

      Just try to take a unique approach each time you follow up. Reach out with a new stat or good news or an example — something along those lines.

      Don’t just reach out and say, “So… are you ready to say yes now?” 😉

      Good luck, Jasper.

      Brent

  4. Hey Eric,

    Glad to read your wonderful post,

    Most of bloggers didn’t like tasks considering freelancer to submit article ideas to editors or high profile bloggers. Yes it is really very panic if they reject our individual ideas.

    You have presented great information for us.

    Eventually, thanks for sharing your worthy post.

    With best regards,

    Amar kumar

  5. Hi Eric,

    Pitching is not a pleasant task, is it? But I do like the steps you’ve laid out here – all very logical.

    I was wondering if you had a pitched a great idea, not heard anything, but then later saw that your idea had been used by the editor?

    Thanks
    – David

    • Hi David — great question! I second this. Eric, do you ever see an idea get stolen? I don’t do much in the way of freelance writing these days, so I can’t really speak to this.

    • Not so much – but I’m sure it happens!

      Great question though David! I’d say that, by the time a pitch I’ve discussed is planned out enough with an editor, we’ve had enough engagement that it wouldn’t make sense for them to “steal” an idea. But I wouldn’t rule it out.

  6. Amen.

    Eric, you just put together most necessary steps to get the ideas out to publications. I wish I read it several years ago when I started pitching magazines to publish my photography work. The process is similar as you pitch to publish your writings.

    From my experience, after creating a perfect pitch it’s useful to track the emails you send to editors using services like http://www.yesware.com/ or http://rocketbolt.com/. Then you get the notification that they at least got and opened your email.

    If they don’t have any notes on the site like ‘If we didn’t reply you in a week, then submit your ideas to other publications’ and they didn’t reply to you, then send a follow-up email telling that ‘oh, you probably didn’t get my email’ (even if you know they got it, you saw that with the tracking software 🙂 ).

    The follow-up can be something like ‘I’m writing to you again to make sure you actually got it’. As the result, they may still don’t reply, but some of them can give you the feedback or they really didn’t get your email and thanks that you sent it again.

    PS: Great guest, Brent 😉

    • Hi Marina,

      I’m as thrilled as you are that Eric chose to contribute this post to my blog.

      I’ve used Yesware in the past and it’s kinda neat to see when a prospect opens your email… as you say, it doesn’t guarantee a reply in any way, but it can help in figuring out when to followup again.

      Hope all is well in your world, Marina.

      Best,

      Brent

    • Thanks Marina! I agree that the “follow up” is very important – I’ve gotten dozens of articles published because of a follow up email that was “missed” the first time 😉

  7. Hi there Brent,

    First of all I want to say to you that you made a big favor to your blog by letting Eric writing this post. So hello both of you.

    I just really liked the sub headings that you mentioned here, they are all connective to each other. From 1) Do your research to 2) Write in things that you can write.

    Anyway, I just want to congratulate for this blog post.

    Waiting to see more.

    Cheers, Clay.

  8. Great info here, Eric! I’m still working on the art of pitching (does one ever stop learning?). Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I feel like sometimes, I give up too early. Gotta keep plugging away at the persistent stage. LOL.

  9. Hi Eric, Hi Brent,

    Thanks for putting this together. This is an awesome list and I’m happy to say that I do follow a lot of this advice.

    I agree wholeheartedly about discussing a topic that YOU can write as opposed to a generic summary of an idea. That’s what sets people apart – and I feel it’s what makes you stand out in what would otherwise be a pile of pitches.

    You can find an abundance of topics on the web written by many different people – but it’s always that unique spin that can relay something to readers who otherwise wouldn’t have truly “gotten it.”

    In all honesty, I’m not exactly in love with pitching, so I’m glad I read this.
    Makes the process a little more desirable 🙂

    • Hi Dana,

      Thanks for sharing this post and for being the first to comment.

      Everyone is pitching something, aren’t they? It’s that person who goes the extra mile to deliver value that really stands out from the crowd.

      I think it’s okay to admit that none of us are truly in love with pitching — it’s just part of the process. The more efficient we get with it, the less time-consuming it becomes.

      Have an awesome week!

      Brent

    • Thanks Dana! I never liked “pitching” at first either, but the more content I wrote and got published, and the more more authority I build, it becomes easier to do! It’s really great too when you find publishers who see the value in great content and are willing to publish too.

      The hardest part is getting started!

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