How to Pitch an Editor and Win the Gig

How to Pitch an Editor and Win the Gig

I got my first rejection letter as a freelance writer when I was 19 years old.

I remember tearing open the letter from Random House expecting a contract of some kind and instead staring at a scrap of paper addresses to ‘Dear Author’. The publisher didn’t even want to spend money on a full sheet of paper on me. I was crushed and determined that if the largest publication in the stratosphere didn’t want me, then I was worthless.

Clueless would have been a better assessment.

Over the years, I got over myself. I nursed my bruised ego and got a clue about how publishing really works, whether it’s for magazines, websites, blogs, books, and beyond. It’s all really the same process.

The key to a successful freelance career is in the pitch. But the art of pitching is more than just asking for an assignment, it’s about giving the client exactly what they need so they can’t say no.

Swallow your pride and crush your ego by performing deep research.

Your pitch is not about you and what the company can do for you. Always approach a client with the understanding that the pitch is all about what you can do for them.

Spend time researching the company’s brand, the staff, the advertisers, and the readership to understand exactly how the editor works.

Study their direct competition for inspiration on new ideas and how to help the publication you want to pitch. Impress the editor with your deep understanding of what the publication needs from you as a writer.

Become fluent with the writer’s guidelines.

Look for writer’s guidelines or study the content the editors wrote for the publication themselves.

If you’ve never seen a guest contributor writing for the Entertainment section, then chances are it’s only done in-house. Investigate the easiest and fastest way to break into a publication.

Ask for writer’s guidelines if there are none available online, and simultaneously warm-up the editor for your correspondence. Keep it light and to the point. Don’t lay out your entire blueprint for how you will win them over with your cunning research and pitching prowess. Editors are busy and read through mounds of desperate writer emails every day. Don’t be one of them.

Outline your article.

You don’t necessarily need to craft your entire article before pitching a publication. In many cases, it’s to your benefit if you wait. This way you can angle the story to various publications you’re pitching. But you do need a specific outline, or your lack of confidence in what your piece is about will show through.

Make notes in your outline to how specific areas will benefit the publication you’re pitching and highlight those in your pitch.

Write your pitch like a pro.

Address your pitch to a real, live person. Do not use ‘Dear Sir or Madame’. When in doubt of the gender of the person you’re addressing, just use the letter M. For example, an editor with the name Pat Ambry can be addressed: Dear M. Ambry.

Craft a compelling and lucid pitch. You need a captivating hook to draw an editor into your world. Keep it informative, light, entertaining and under 5 paragraphs. If you ramble too long, you’ll lose the editor before you get to the juicy parts.

Tell the editor where the piece should appear. Is it for a recurring sidebar in the front of the magazine? Is it a feature for the dining column? Don’t pitch blindly and expect them to figure it out – if they disagree with your suggestion, they will tell you.

Include like-minded stories and articles. Did the publication run a similar piece a few months ago and yours will complement it as a follow-up? Show the editors you’ve done your homework.

Pretend you’re writing the pitch to a friendly acquaintance you don’t know too well. You would speak to them like a real person, not in a stiff and dry manner. Without personality, the editor will not care about who you are or what you can offer.

Proofread

Proofread your pitch at least 3 times over a week-long period. If you dash it off the moment after you write it, the probability for typos and inconsistencies is extremely high. You rarely have more than one shot to make an impression on an editor, so make the first correspondence count.

Ask a friend or writing colleague to look over the pitch for advice and to ensure everything is clear.

Follow up without being annoying.

Editors need follow-up; it’s not their job to get everything off of their plate to devote their attention to you.

If you don’t hear anything back in 2 weeks, follow-up with a short, friendly email and ask about the status.

Dealing with rejection

If your piece is rejected, look for clues. Did the editor say the piece was fantastic but they’re about to run something similar? Take that as a future yes and pitch again promptly.

Did the editor indicate it’s a bad fit for their publication? Accept that you missed the mark on your research and understanding of the publication and try again.

Move on and don’t look back. If you get a rejection or no response at all, just move on. You have a solid pitch to take to their competing publications.

Rejection is your job. If you want to be a writer, then rejection is part of the paycheck. Embrace it now, and use it as a stepping stone to success instead of wallowing in despair where your bruised ego is the only one who will listen.

Practice the art of the pitch

Pitching is like any other skill that you develop over time with persistence, experimentation, and discipline. If you can train for a marathon, learn to knit, study a new language, or take a cooking class then you can learn to pitch. It’s not a secret formula, it’s about preparation, focus and clarity with the confidence to push forward.

Post by Susan Finch

Susan Finch is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in 5 guidebooks, an iPhone app, and articles in The LA Times, The Boston Globe, Bust Magazine, Young Money, Mothering, and numerous other outlets. She's also worked as a video editor on national advertising campaigns and films, TV segment writer, animated script writer for an educational website, social media expert, and Multimedia Director for a and Broadway marketing firm. She blogs about creative strategies for artists, writers, and creative entrepreneurs searching for alternatives to business as usual at CreativeGuideToLife.com.

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  1. I just finished writing several articles for a dating website, and now I have to write another proposal. These tips will definitely help along with the ones James gave me. I definitely feel that crushing your pride is a big factor for success in writing a pitch. It’s definitely the most beneficial to keeping good face.

  2. Crushing your pride is definitely difficult to do, but is also one of the biggest factors in pushing yourself forward. I hope you rock your proposal, good luck! So glad you enjoyed the article.

  3. Thanks so much Susan for this informational how-to manual. I’m realizing there is still much to learn, but I am encouraged by the amount of effort people such as you have invested in helping others hone their craft.

  4. Hi Susan!

    Really enjoyed this. Learning to deal with rejection is something not taught on our way to adulthood, yet it’s key to having a kick-ass life. I used to be devastated when I got a writing rejection, which is silly when you put it in the context of your life. Then I got the advice you mention above, learn from the rejection and keep going. Published writers kept going – that’s the main difference.

    I’ve had essays rejected, so I rewrote them and sent them to the editor months, years later and had them published! Editors are looking for terrific material. Send them good stuff and they’ll print it — and even almost excellent works. I’ve been asked to change titles/endings.

    Never give up! Thanks, Giulietta

  5. Aw, I vividly remember my first rejection letter, too. (And the many that followed.) This is such great info for writers! I’ll bookmark this to read again when I’m ready to pitch my novel.

    Your tip to follow-up is important. When I was an editor, the writer and photographers that got the jobs were the ones that reminded me they existed in the world. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way – it’s simply too hard to remember everyone. YOU have to be your biggest fan.

    If I lived in NY, we could go out for a beer and celebrate.
    Here’s a virtual cheers instead. Minus the beer, since it’s 9 in the morning.
    xoxo
    Melissa Gorzelanczyk

  6. Very timely as I’m about to contact a friend and graphic designer to put together an analysis of a company’s website (I’ve done business with them before and I know they’re not happy with their current website) and pitch a redesign/rewrite. Which does kind of raise an interesting question; how does a pitch differ when you’re not the only person involved and when it involves different disciplines (copywriting, marketing, and web/graphic design)?

    Great and helpful article! The sting of rejection is no fun, even if you’ve had more than a few.

  7. Thanks Susan, Good ideas. I’ve never heard of the “M.” before.

    James, the outline pitch reminded me of your 1-2-3 (set-up, plot, point.)

  8. Thanks for all the comments!

    Mary – I had an editor, a woman, who had a man’s name. She was constantly referred to as Mr. in all correspondence, so it was her technique to just use M. when she addressed people with ambiguous names. No one ever seemed to mind. I also just use the first name once in awhile if I’m clueless and it seems that it would be appropriate to do so.

  9. Robert Simonds says:

    I am writing article right now and have just finished some articles for another websites. Moreover I am a professional article writer. I feel its very important for every writer and will be much effective for me. I will be aware of the methods that are mentioned here.

  10. Susan

    This was a thought-provoking post that has helped me to think anew about pitching and tailoring every pitch professionally, according to the needs of each publication/target audience.

    I have one observation to make. Writers sometimes have to ‘pitch’ for work on a given publication even after they have already written (regularly) for that publication and become an established contributor. This type of pitching can be challenging for two reasons. A publication may be subtly switching its focus and lining up writers with that new slant in mind, or there may be a (sudden) change of editor, which means having to re-establish the editor/contributor relationship from scratch.

  11. Great post, a good pitch is a crucial first impression. Having once been on the other side as a magazine editor, one of the things I actually struggled with was finding good content and good writers, so whenever a good pitch came along I always got excited!

  12. Thanks for this post Susan. For sometime now, I want to try to pitch something to an Editor but I have been having doubts whether I can do it. I am afraid that I would get rejected for another time around. What gives you the drive to pitch?

  13. Robert Simonds says:

    The method which you included is a great useful to me. As a professional article writer I prefer them first. Many may thanks.

  14. Robert Simonds says:

    I am writing several articles for a dieting website. These tips will definitely help along with the ones James gave me. I definitely feel that crushing your pride is a big factor for success in writing a pitch.Its very beneficial with own respect and perspective. Thanks for the post.

  15. Great piece–and I remember getting more than my share of those half page rejections, yay for old school freelancing!

Trackbacks

  1. […] of Psychotactics, on Write to Done.How Do You Find the Time? by Corbett Barr on CorbettBarr.com.How to Pitch an Editor and Win the Gig, by Susan Finch of CreativeGuidetoLife, on Men With Pens.Where do ideas Come From? 8 Essential Ways […]

  2. […] Smith on Pushing Social. More fun reader-psychology learnings, this time applied to blogging.How to Pitch an Editor and Win the Gig, by Susan Finch on Men With Pens. The whole process, beginning to end, and packed with tips on […]

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