A freelancer’s life is one of organizing one’s thoughts, seeing how far they can work and then pitching the idea to one or more editors, whether online, offline or those of the publishing world. The reason many newbie freelance writers do not meet with success at this stage is that their pitch or query letters either lacked sufficient meat, or was not formatted to catch the editor’s eye and mind.
However, there are ways of catching the editor’s eye, so if you are new to the field, don’t despair. All you need to do is to find out what that winning format is and tailor your pitch to it. Then, you’re sure to get a foot in the editor’s door. But before that, let’s be clear about what a pitch or a query letter really is.
What is a pitch or a query letter? At its most basic, a pitch is a sales letter that you write to a known or unknown editor as a sales letter. It therefore showcases your style of writing and indicates its quality. If the editor is impressed by your writing and your ideas expressed therein, he may ask you to write an article on the topic you mentioned.
Benefits of writing a pitch:
- Writing a pitch is time-saving for the editor and for you. If you write an excellent pitch, you can land yourself an article writing assignment. In the time you take to write an article, you can write up a few query letters and send them on to editors and perhaps land more than one writing assignment.
- By writing query letters, you also save editors’ time as they don’t have the time to read long manuscripts that they haven’t solicited.
- A good query letter also increases your chances of working with a particular magazine. If an editor wants you to make some changes to your article, he can do so if he has already received a query letter from you which proves your quality of writing. He may not accept your idea for his magazine, but if he likes the way you’ve handled the subject, he may offer you another assignment.
So, from these points, I hope you see the importance of writing good query letters—which can absolutely make or break your freelance career. So, it’s well worth all the effort and time you invest in it to make an impressive letter.
However, since editors see several query letters in a day or a week, so it’s imperative that you write one that stands out from the others and catches his attention. If your query letter catches his attention, he will remember your name and give you an assignment. When you do it well, he will remember you for this too. When you send in your next query, he will see you favorably and this can start a good and long-lasting professional relationship between the two of you.
You can choose to send in your query letter in one of two ways:
- Send in an unsolicited or unasked for article.
- Or, send in a query letter in which you pitch an idea you’re passionate about before you actually begin to write the article.
How to pitch an article idea to a website/ magazine: Please note that whether you are pitching for a website or a magazine the process is all the same that I am writing here. Let’s proceed with How to pitch your idea to a magazine?.
If you want to break into the magazine market, you need to first find out who to make your pitch to and how to convey your idea in the most sparkling way. It’s not difficult, but since there’s a methodology for everything in life, why not learn it?
Steps to make a successful pitch:
- What is the editor’s name? Personalize your query letter by addressing it to Mr. George Willis or Ms. Sarah Adams. By not writing editors’ names, the impression they get is that you haven’t bothered to find out enough about the publication and you haven’t invested enough effort into your query letter. Don’t let anyone have such a negative impression of you, so write aiming your letter to a person, not to his qualification.
Secondly, if you’re writing to a large publication, it’s important to know that they have different editors for different sections. So, you need to send your letter to the right person. Yet again, it’s important to find out the right person’s name before posting off your letter. You can do this by calling the magazine and finding out his or her name.
It’s also necessary to spell an editor’s name correctly. Bear in mind that as people grow older and climb the ladder in their organizations, they get touchy about their names being mis-spelt.
- Who are you writing for? Go through any magazine you like and check the sections that you are interested in writing for. Or, you will cut a sorry figure by pitching a beautifully written letter to the wrong publication, assuming you want to write in one niche that it doesn’t have. Read a minimum of two issues of the magazine to know its content, style and length, and of course, frequency.
Next, check out the magazine’s site where it’s sure to have put up its submission guidelines. If you read these, you will get a fair idea of what’s expected of freelancers wanting to write for it. In the rare event that you don’t find any guidelines on the site, send in a letter to the editorial office along with an SAE (Self-Addressed Envelope) requesting for writer’s guidelines. Once you know just what the magazine will accept, you can think up article ideas that the editor is sure to accept.
- Improve your research and writing skills: Ensure that your research skills and your quality of writing are of acceptable quality. So, if you are making a pitch to a large national magazine, do so only if you already have the relevant experience. This means that you’ve already been published in large magazines. If you don’t have that kind of experience, you’re not ready for this publication. Wait until you’re sure of yourself working with such publications and only then send in your query letter.You can also go online and join professional networking organizations like Media Bistro where you can find all sizes of publications and find the information you need regarding pitching to large magazines.
- Build your online profile: Set up your online profile using the power of the Internet and social media sites. After all, every employer today first checks out these sites before meeting an applicant. So, put up your profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Through your online profile, two things should come through about you—that you have an abundance of original ideas and that you are committed to an issue or a topic. You can demonstrate this by embedding relevant articles, videos or images on the subject.
- Research your subject well: When an editor receives a pitch from a freelancer, he is looking for specific information. So, give him that. As a newcomer to the field, it might help you to write brief pitches that make a point straight away. Make your point in about four to five paragraphs, but remember to come straight to the point at the outset itself.
- Time your story right: In the news world, timing is all. Be aware that your story too has its lifespan, so check whether your story can run in the next edition of the publication in question and if it will still interest readers.
- Make your opening sentence a showstopper: Let it catch the attention of the editor. It should electrify the editor to want to continue to read on and reach the end of your pitch. Begin by asking a question, or presenting an interesting fact, or a quote, statistic or riddle. Never begin your letter by mentioning that you have no published samples or that you’re new to writing. Nobody wants amateurs, so speak like an experienced person.
- Don’t spend too much time getting to the point: Plunge straight into the heart of the letter by letting the editor know that you’ve got a unique idea that could prove to be very interesting to him and the publication’s readers. As proof, include a paragraph of attention-grabbing text. Also, add a brief description of yourself and your achievements that make you the right person to handle this story. Include the length of your article which can be shortened or lengthened according to the magazine’s style. Make your pitch a page-long. Pitch only one idea at a time to a publication, except if you’re working on fillers.
- Show professionalism: As important as your pitch letter is the image you portray of being a confident and professional person. Project the image of being professional, though you may really be disheartened because you haven’t been getting acceptance letter from anywhere. To show just how professional you are, get yourself a well-designed letterhead and logo. Include all your contact details and include an SAE before sending it to the editor.
- Remain focused: True, most things in life are already written about, but it’s up to you to look for that fresh, new angle. If you can bring newness to an old topic, you’ve got an editor listening to you. Next, it’s important for you to be specific about what exactly you want to write about. So, if you want to write about the 10 tallest buildings in Europe, say so. Don’t waffle and waste people’s time. The more focused you are in your writing and speech, the easier it becomes for editors to picture where your article can appear in his publication.
- Mail your query or e-mail it: Usually, publications are very sure of the mode of query letter submissions. While some are ok with you mailing them, others insist that you e-mail them. So, find this out before shooting it off. However, do not phone them because they don’t like it. If you choose the wrong method of submitting your query letter, it proves to the editor that you don’t take care of the details and this will deter them from getting in touch with you. Querying by e-mail is best done by pasting the query in the body of the mail. Do not send it as an attachment as attachments are known to spread viruses.
- Send in relevant clips: If you’re a newbie writer without any clips, that’s fine. But if you’re published but don’t have any relevant clips when you make your pitch, don’t send them because it doesn’t say anything about you. If you haven’t been published yet, don’t make a big point of it to the editor. Be professional and you’ll make a much better impression on the editor.
- Don’t pitch your idea to several editors: Ideally, you should wait for a couple of weeks before you get in touch with an editor to find out the status of your pitch. Don’t go against a publication’s submission guidelines and follow up with the editor. Also, while you wait for an answer from Editor No 1, don’t pitch the same story to other editors. Wait until you get a rejection from one editor before you approach the next one. No response even after two weeks automatically means it’s rejected.
- Make every rejection a lesson to learn from: The waiting time for you begins once you post or mail your pitch—which can be anything between two weeks to three months. This can be extremely disheartening for newbie writers, bringing with it self-doubts and a fear of the future. However, it’s best to develop a thick skin where rejections are concerned, as this is a big part of a freelance writer’s life. The positive side to it is that you’re reaching out to people you never thought possible. So, be persistent and one day your name will appear in a noted newspaper.
Dos and Don’ts of querying editors and publishers: As you know by now, a query letter or pitch is as important to a freelance writer as a resume is to a job applicant. By writing an attractive pitch, you introduce yourself and your writing to an editor. So, it’s important that you put your best foot forward.
However, though it may be initially difficult to write a query letter, it does have its own set of rules which you must obey. Here are some dos and don’ts that will get you a foot in the best editor’s door:
Query Letter Dos:
- Address your letter to a specific person by name.
- Begin your query letter with a few lines on why you are contacting this editor. Also include the title of your article and its genre.
- Summarize your article in a paragraph.
- Inform the editor of your target audience and tell him why his publication is best for your article.
- Add a few references, writing credits and biography.
- Let the editor know you can provide more information on the subject, if he wishes to have it.
- Include your contact details in the query letter.
- Follow all the submission guidelines to the letter.
Query Letter Don’ts:
- Don’t write one email and address it simultaneously to several editors.
- Don’t address the letter “TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN.”
- Don’t discuss money upfront.
- Don’t add any unwanted enclosures or attachments with the query letter.
- Don’t request for an interview or feedback.
- Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have any published samples to show.
- Don’t threaten the editor that you will take your idea elsewhere if he doesn’t publish it soon.
- Don’t make the mistake of submitting an idea to him that is not in his domain.
- Don’t pester him to respond to your pitch.
- Don’t stray from the topic in your query letter.
- Don’t use mobile phone texting short forms in your query letter.
- Don’t lie about being known to an editor when you have never met him.
- Don’t mention falsely that someone well-known has recommended you to him.
Now that you know what makes for a good pitch or query letter, get down to writing it without delay. Remember, a good one means you start your journey into the freelancing world that much faster. So, why delay?
I would also like to hear in the comments about Your own experience or ideas about Pitching to an editor.
Filed Under: Freelance Writing Insights
About the Author: Hi! This is Amit Bhagat.(Founder of Digital Creative Network). I am the voice behind this Blog. I am a full-time freelance writer, a successful affiliate, and a mentor [a full-time Entrepreneur]. I love writing. When I am not writing for clients, I am writing for my blog or eBook or promoting my affiliate business. I love sharing my experiences and helping others to make money online. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook., LinkedIn, Google+