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How to be a successful freelance writer: Part Two

I have been a freelance magazine writer for 20 years and was the managing editor at a Victoria BC magazine for five. I am offering this insider information about how to be a successful freelance writer to help struggling writers everywhere.  And I am doing it to help beleaguered editors receive higher quality pitches from writers with more skill and less ego.

Part Two: The Art of the Pitch

Editors want the classic three to four paragraph pitch. It is not because we are stodgy old farts, it is because we don’t know you and we are taking a HUGE risk if we assign to a writer we don’t know. We are keeping two to three pages of our precious magazine open for someone who must be able to come through with a story that is accurate, well-researched, well-written and right for our magazine. If we make a mistake and back the wrong writer with the wrong idea, we are hooped. We don’t have a lot of inventory. The better the pitch, the more confident we feel about taking a risk.

How to write a winning pitch

1. Open with how it might open in our mag. (This shows us you know our style and what will fly in our pages.)

2. The second paragraph details what the story is all about— what it will cover, who it will interview and what style it will be ( profile, investigative feature) (This tells us you have a good handle on the subject matter and have a general workable approach for the story.) Be succinct: make it visual, so we can “see” the characters, the place, the scene.

3. The third paragraph tell us why the story is right for the magazine and its readers. Why our audience? Why now? Why do we care? (This tells us you know our audience and why they will read this.) Ask yourself, would you read it?

4. The fourth paragraph tells us why you are the person to write it. Summarize your experience, give us a brief précis of your CV or expertise, your publishing track record, your clips. If you haven’t yet got a magazine track record, still let us why you are a good risk for this story. (This tells us we can rely on you to come through with the story, that you are a good risk for us and we are not going to be left with a gaping hole in our magazine or a piece of dreck.)

How to send the pitch

Send the pitch as an email, with “Pitch” and a short description in the subject line (e.g Pitch -- Profile of Joe Smith.) Put the four paragraph pitch both in the body of the email and as an attachment in a Word document. Some editors want it in the email, some as an attachment. Give it to them both ways. (Or better yet, give it to them the way they have asked for it on their website or in The Writer's Market.)

 One pitch per email. Sometimes writers pile in three or four pitches in one email. Editors need to file pitches into the best months or by priorities (we are not going to assign three stories to one writer in one month. That is too many eggs in one risky basket.) Or we like two and hate two, so we want to kill off the two we hate and file the two we like. So keep them separate. You may make three pitches at once, but keep them all in separate emails so the editor can read and decide quickly and file accordingly.

How to follow up

It is important to follow up on a pitch, but do it in a way that does not piss the editor off. Here are a few tips:

  • Follow up nicely in about two weeks: Editors are very busy. In the monthly publishing cycle we can be dealing with any number of fires. If I have been so busy not to have read and filed your pitch, it can get buried under emails. (An editor can get 200+ emails a day.) If I don’t know your name, if you didn’t put pitch in the subject line, I may never find it again. If you don’t hear, it may be that the editor has not rejected it, or even read it, but has no way to find it in the huge volume of material we get. Email and say: “About 2 weeks ago, I sent you this pitch (and send the pitch again) and I wondered if you had time to consider it. Let me know if there is anything more you need.” Be nice!! Be understanding, be patient, but be persistent. We like persistence. It is a good quality in a journalist.
  • If they get back to you and reject the pitch, thank them for their consideration, ask if there was anything that you could have done to make it better, and very soon (a week or two) send another completely different pitch. (Don’t keep pitching a story that was rejected, unless you have a different angle or are fixing up and presenting more of what they said they needed.)
  • If you don’t hear, or they don’t outright reject the pitch, follow up a month later – freshen the pitch if new information has come in (the interview subject is up for an award, a new book will be released.)
  • And follow up again. Even write something on spec to show your talents. (But be damn sure it is good.) A bad spec article will close doors. A good one will open doors. If you think they are not giving you a chance and you really can do it, show us you can. But make it fantastic. No factual errors, no name errors, no typos, make it a story we can see in our magazine.
  •  Pleasant persistence will eventually be rewarded because it shows you are dogged and we want that in a writer.  So we will finally give in and take a chance on you, if not on one of your ideas, on one that we have kicking around that we are looking for someone to do. For writers new to us it will likely be a brief.
  • Do not pitch the same story to another magazine in the same market at the same time. This will seriously harm, if not destroy, your reputation. If you want to take it elsewhere and the editor has not yet responded, ask (nicely!) whether they have decided so that the idea can be released. This will often make the editor decide. Do not say that you have another magazine interested in the idea as that will tell us you sent the idea to another magazine while we were considering it. That is very bad form.
  • If your story is rejected, do not take it personally, Many reasons keep editors from buying stories, including a lack of money to do so, lack of space in the magazine. The story is not your baby and it may not be fantastic just because you wrote it. At all times in this process, “get over yourself.”

Next up, Part Three: Writing the story.



Posted on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 12:14PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

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    Response: lexus88
    Anne Mullens - Journal - How to be a successful freelance writer: Part

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