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Chapter
1

Send pitches that land assignments

Shift your mindset of one of art as a commodity

Freelance writing means seeing yourself as a business; and your writing a commodity. It may be hard sometimes to think of something creative as a commodity, because writing is an artform and for many of us feels personal and precious. And that’s okay. When we monetize our art, and the time it takes to create it, that’s something to be taken seriously. You’ll need to build positive relationships with other writers and editors, and you’ll need to consider your presence online as part of your “marketing” strategy. Yes, you’ll have to market yourself. More on that later. For now, let’s just focus on shifting gears. 

The playbook will be your tool to create tangible goals, and ensure that your pitches are effective. Our first exercise is a quick gut check. Below is a list of things that’ll benefit you as you pivot into freelance writing. Check off any of the below that you feel confident about.

  • At least 10 hours a week to dedicate to your freelance efforts.

  • Willingness to create practices to stay responsive and reliable.

  • An understanding of your purpose as a freelance writer — that you have something to say.

  • The ability to be vulnerable and accept criticism and feedback.

  • Audacity and confidence that your ideas are interesting and useful.

If you’re not quite ready to check off everything on this list, don’t worry. Most freelance writers battle with these things. I want to help demystify some of the questions that can act as speed bumps, slowing you down unnecessarily. 

Understand who you’re pitching

Before I was an editor, I was a freelance writer for seven years. As a freelance writer, I often felt like I had no idea what editors wanted to see when I reached out. It wasn’t until I was an editor myself that this became crystal clear. Here’s what you need:

Pieces of a killer pitch

  1. Research on the publication to understand their audience and their voice

  2. A strong short bio.

  3. Your previous bylines or experience. 

  4. A detailed but brief pitch.

We’re going to fill these in in this template. Further below you’ll see a real example that I’ve sent.

Hi {name of editor},

{A short bio}

{Previous byline or experience}

{Previous byline or experience}

{A detailed and brief pitch}

{Signature}

Before you send your pitch, be sure to prepare. Read a few articles from the publication you’re pitching so you can determine who their audience is and what their voice is like. Are they frank and quippy? Do they use a lot of in-depth research? Look for and review the publication’s submission and editorial guidelines and follow their specifications to the letter.  

For example, if I wanted to pitch an article to the digital publication Motherly, I would first check out their Google News results. What articles come up? These results will be a mix of their latest articles and articles that got the most attention. Play around with this. If I want to pitch this publication an article about packing lunches for a grade schooler, maybe my search query would be, “Motherly, lunches.” 

Now I can see they published a news report on free lunches being offered. Which means that if I wanted to pitch an article about how free school lunches have an impact on parent’s mental health, they might be more interested because it will link back to a previous article they already published. 

Next, I would navigate to Motherly’s social media accounts. 

From their Instagram, I see that they supply a space for their community to vent about things that make motherhood harder. I also see that they are a sex-positive platform that includes marriage and relationships in their dialogue around motherhood. Now I can come up with pitches that have angles tailored specifically to their audience and voice. 

Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to research each publication you want to pitch. If you’re familiar with the publication, you should still refresh your knowledge of their recent content and brand voice to see if anything has changed. 

A pitch email should always have the following things:

  1. A short bio.

  2. Your previous bylines or experience. 

  3. A detailed but brief pitch.

Let’s talk about why these things matter.

Introduce yourself

Include your first and last name. Yes, your entire and actual name, not a cute moniker or pen name. Remember our gut check? It’s time to put yourself out there. Your introduction should tell the editor why you’re emailing them, which seems obvious, but isn’t always. Are you responding to a call for pitches that was posted? Are you sending an unprompted query for an idea you have? Finally, your intro should include what you write about and any expertise or life experience you bring to the topics. The tricky part is doing all of this in just a few sentences. Here’s mine:

My name is Ashley Simpo and I’m a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. I write op-eds and articles on millennial parenthood, in particular, what happens after diapers.

Now it’s your turn. Write a 50-word bio. Include your name, your location and the topics you write about. Don’t go over the wordcount, the challenge is to simplify something that we often overcomplicate in our heads.

Include your bylines to show what you’ve accomplished

Include your bylines, which should be links to published articles that you wrote. Having bylines tells editors that you’ve worked within an editorial process before, that you know how to submit a draft, respond to edits and can adhere to a deadline. 

What if you don’t have bylines yet? If you don’t have bylines yet, a great place to start is by creating a blog. Websites like Medium or Substack make it easy to put your writing out there. It’s not the same as having a byline, but it will give editors an opportunity to witness your writing style and voice until you have some. 

Write your pitch

The pitch matters much more than anything else in your email. You could be an unknown writer with no bylines and sell a pitch if it has vision and relevance. It’s important that you keep it brief, succinct and informative. Most importantly, be sure you write your pitch the way you would write your article. Swap out overused words, check for punctuation and spelling and you can use apps like Grammarly or Hemingway to edit. Utilize your writing voice to speak to their audience. If your pitch doesn’t read well, most editors will assume your article won’t either.

Stringing these three elements together in an email looks something like this:

Hi Joe,

My name is Ashley Simpo and I’m a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. I write op-eds and articles on millennial parenthood, in particular, what happens after diapers. I’m responding to your call for pitches that reflect on post-pandemic parenthood. Below are a few related bylines and my pitch.

Link 1

Link 2

Pitch: In a post-pandemic world, work will never be the same. But for parents, raising kids is also in unfamiliar territory. After two years of remote school, boundaries around everything from screen time to playdates have changed as we struggle to find our footing. Reflecting on life after lock-down and the attempt to create new normals, I want to check in with parents to see how they fared in 2022.

For this piece I will interview ten millennial parents who saw major shifts in parenting and childhood after the pandemic. I will also speak to a child psychologist for expert insight on how to meet the needs of post-pandemic kids. I’ll share my own experience as a WFH parent and aim to answer the question: where do we go from here?

What makes a pitch bad

I review at least a dozen pitches per week, and sometimes that number even goes up to 20 or 30. Still, I typically see maybe three or four that are a fit. You’d be surprised how often I have to pass on pitches simply because the pitch wasn’t selling the writer’s idea. Below is an example of a typical pitch that I would have pass on.

Dear editor, 

I saw you’re looking for pitches from writers and would love to be considered. I have been a writer for over ten years. I started writing poetry and short stories and then decided to dabble in writing online. I don’t have bylines yet, but have attached an essay I wrote in undergrad.

My pitch is for an article about parenting after the pandemic. I’m a parent who survived the pandemic with my eight-year-old and now that it’s over, it still feels impossible to get back into a groove. I would like to write about what this experience has been like for me and hopefully your readers will benefit from my story. 

Let me know if there is anything I can include in my article to make it more appealing to your readers. 

Even though this pitch had the same purpose as my sample, it left a lot out. For example, this pitch doesn’t tell me how the writer will ensure that their article is helpful to readers and actually they kind of ask me to do that for them. The pitch is also written poorly with bad punctuation and sloppy sentence structure. 

How does an editor decide on a pitch?

Here are a few questions editors might ask themselves that determine the outcome of a pitch.

Do I like the pitch?

Is the pitch wordy without saying much? Did the writer spend two paragraphs listing background and education that I could have found on LinkedIn? Is the pitch well-written? Does it fit with my publication’s audience and voice?

Does the writer seem capable?

Is this a writer who seems organized and able to turn around an assignment on a deadline? Is this a writer I could develop a working relationship with? Did they read our editorial and submission guidelines?

Will it be easy to work with this writer?

Did I get a dozen follow-up emails clogging my inbox? Do they seem pushy or unthorough? Do their writing interests align with the publication? 

Review the pitch examples and consider what editors will be looking out for. Practice writing your own pitch using the outline below.

Introduction (50 words or less)

Your name

What you write about

Your experience

Experience (one or two links)

Links to published byline or blog post

Pitch (1-2 paragraphs)

What is your article about?

Why will their audience read it?

Why are you the right person to write about it?

How will you make this article pop? (i.e. sources, interviews, statistics, etc)

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