How to Get Published: Everything I Know About Pitching
This is, without question, my most requested post. It's the topic I'm asked most about and I probably get at least ten emails a week (I know, big numbers) asking me for help getting published. Often from people who've read my blog and noted my portfolio as opposed to long time supporters of my published writing in the tabloids ;) But maybe I have some lurker fans...
Anyway, this post sat in my head for months trying to propagate. I couldn't seem to grab hold of what I wanted to say, couldn't pin down the right way to say it. More than that, I felt embarrassed to claim knowledge of something I feel I'm a rookie at.
There. I said it. Yet again I feel unworthy of claiming expertise in something I don't think I'm an expert in. But my very wise friend Jen pointed out to be an expert you simply need to know more than the person you are teaching....so, I guess unless Christiane Amanpour is reading this for tips on how to get her next piece published, I'm an expert of sorts.
How to Get Published
Before we dive in, I want to let you know I've created a little pitch template for you. I don't actually believe in using someone else's template because you need to find your own perfect pitch style. But from my client work I appreciate it's useful to start with some kind of template as it can be totally alien to start off with.
If you want the tempate - head HERE (although I'd really recommend you reading the post first.
Second caveat: I've made every one of the mistakes I'm counselling you not to make. So, if you're reading it and face-palming hard, know this: you're not alone. And I'll wager almost every journalist/writer has done similar. In fact, when I chat to online colleagues I KNOW they have.
READ What You Want to Write
I couldn't think of a snappier way to encapsulate this point into a nice one-liner. Hence why headers are my weak point....
This is a mistake I've made. Writing a snappy pitch (FYI often not as snappy as I think it is), finding the right contact (an art in itself) and sending it off confidently to XYZ before being rejected with the immortal words: "Thanks, but it's not quite right for us" or, even worse, hearing nothing.
You know why they rejected me? Because I hadn't read the newspaper/magazine/e-zine I was pitching. Which makes the line in my pitch: 'I think this would be PERFECT for your readers' pretty insulting to the editor. I know this seems obvious, but this was the lightbulb moment that totally transformed my pitching game. I went from a one in ten success rate (where one out of ten editors would commission me) to getting a 90% success rate.
I want to give you practical advice, the advice given to me when I was taught this, and the advice I give to my coaching clients.
Pick a few places you want to write for, buy a copy and read the WHOLE thing (or spend a good amount of time online if it's an online only situation, like The Pool). I spend a couple of hours each week with no distractions, poring over a couple of magazines and newspapers while I chain-drink tea. I read them front to back, and try to think of alternative articles I'd write for each section.
You'll note that each magazine has a fair few regular sections right? Note their tone, the style of article; is it an investigative piece, opinion or comment style article, filled with case studies or first person essay? Come up with your own ideas for a few sections (or all of them). Also note the byline - is it a regular contributor/staff writer (you can work this out by checking the first couple of pages in the magazine/checking Twitter/Google)?
If you're anything like me you'll have stacks of ideas by your third cup of tea and will be ready to pitch.
BUT WAIT. You aren't ready yet.
The Art of a Good Pitch Email
I used to think I was sh@t hot at pitching because I got regular commissions. From decent places too! What I was actually good at was story ideas. I'm really good at that. So I got the commissions despite my crappy pitch.
There are plenty of places where you'll get yourself a pitch template (including mine right here!) and while these are great to get you started, you need to find your own style and stick with it. I know what works for me (finally!) so that's what I use, right down to the timing of my email.
One thing I implore you to NEVER ever do, is copy and paste changing only the name and publication title. That's lazy, and it means you haven't done step one - read what you wanna write for. If you can pitch the exact same thing to several people, you aren't doing it right.
I'm not going to give you a carbon copy template (although you can use this to get started) but try to ensure each pitch answers the folowing questions:
- What is the article about?
- Where does it fit in the publication?
- Why are you writing it now? (what is the 'hook')
Okay so this is where I have to give you some tough love. Because over the past few months I have been asked, straight up for contacts. Firstly, if you actually read the magazine, newspaper...whatever - then you have the name of the editor right there. There's usually an editor for each section, a commissioning editor, a main editor.....an editor in chief.
So if you do actually read what you wanna write for, then you have a name right? But you need an email address. GOOGLE IT. It's not that hard.
Admittedly this doesn't always work. Head straight for Twitter. Twitter is a goldmine of information for writers -- many of us have lists where you can find a whole host of editor details. But we probably won't share them willingly, because FFS how lazy are you to just DM someone.
If you have used Gorkana, you'll know it's where you can find everyone...but there is a price for it :(
Okay, if you really can't find the email address after exhausting all of the above methods then go ahead and email a mate/me. But make sure you say thanks afterwards please -- you have no idea how many people don't do this.
If this all sounds harsh, it should. No journo is gonna appreciate sharing their hard earned contacts without receiving a thank-you afterwards. It won't win you any karma points you know?
Pin this for later:
Rejection & Commission
Once you've sent your pitch, make sure you chase if you don't hear anything back. I can't give you an exact time frame in which to do it -- but I always leave it a week unless it's a super time sensitive piece hooked around a quickly changing news story. When you chase, make sure you refresh your original pitch and send it again too -- don't make the editor work to find it.
I was once given very bad advice by a seasoned journalist to never chase. She said it would be a waste of my time and energy to do so. But having worked as a staff writer in two different publications I know the sheer volume of emails editors received (even I received hundreds daily). It's obviously pretty easy for an editor to miss your email....I rarely read all my emails in a day so the likelihood is that they haven't even read it.
That being said, they might have read it and decided against it, and they probably won't respond. However, they MIGHT respons telling you it's "Not quite right for us" or something like that.
THIS IS GREAT.
It may seem counterintuitive to celebrate a rejection, but celebrate you must. Because the best thing I've been taught is to start to build a relationship from those replies. Respond graciously, then pitch them something even better. I've had commissions this way and, more importantly, have some GREAT relationships with editors from seemingly unsuccessdul pitches.
If the alternative happens and you score yourself a commission - YOU ROCK! Typically te editor will come back with exactly what they want (sometimes super detailed, with an exact angle, tone etc etc) and they'll always let you know payment. You are, of course, at liberty to negotiate your rate so I'd have this in mind before you pitch.
SMASH the Assignment
Another EPIC fail I made was not smashing the assignment. All I mean by this, is that i did exactly what I'd been asked to do. Nothing more.
Don't be me. Don't be that person! Do what you've been asked, and then some. Recently I landed a commission for two pieces with a new editor who liked my pitch, and shared she was keen to get a gaggle of good freelancers she could rely on. Gold dust!
I aced the two pieces by spending a hella time perfecting them, filing them a few days before the deadline and doing a couple of sneaky extras: I wasn't required to add a headline and standfirst - but I did. That may seem silly, but it showed I knew the tone of the magazine and that I was a professional prepared to go above and beyond the brief. I now write for this magazine regularly!
Nurture The Relationship
Thete are three of four editors who I have a good relationship with. I check in regularly, picthing sometimes but not every time and make sure I'm still on their radar.
Editors are nice, normal people who need to fill pages. I'm lucky in that I've worked as a staff writer, and seen first hand the pressures an editor faces and therefore requires from their pool of writers.
Try to always remember that your blog is of value. It's your body of work, and not something to be ashamed of.
And give yourself permission to pitch that scary editor. You'll probably find they're not that scary after all.
Go forth my little ones, the force is with you.
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