What kind of success rate should freelance writers be aiming for when pitching editors? I got asked this question recently and it’s not easy to answer because it depends on if you’re sending pitches to editors you have a relationship with and the quality of your query letters. But I think if freelance writers get 60% of their pitches accepted they’d be doing exceptionally well. There’s lots of advice out there about how to pitch, but there are five particular things I have found that freelance writers can do to help secure a commission.
The 5 things that can help freelance writers get a pitch commissioned
From my experience and what I’ve heard anecdotally, many freelance writers tend to hover around a 40-50% acceptance rate of their pitches.
That’s a decent rate, but amongst all the solid advice out there, I have found that there are certain things you can do to get an editor’s attention and to improve your chances of getting a commission.
1. Offer to supply or take images
Editors these days are trying to do more with less, so if you can offer to source or take images to accompany the article you are pitching, so much the better.
If you’re like me and you’re a rubbish photographer, all is not lost.
For some pitches, I’ve attached a couple of low-res images that I’ve taken on my phone to give the editor an idea of the people or the places I want to write about. I know and the editor knows that these pictures are not of publishable quality, but by providing images with the pitch, it gives them a visual sense of how the article.
I had an editor who would regularly ask me how photogenic my proposed case studies were, so never underestimate the power of a good image.
If you can source or take images, always let the editor know. And if you already have images attach a couple to your pitch.
I know from experience that this has helped me get several stories across the line.
2. Write the article quickly
If you’re pitching a story to a digital publication with a news hook, then it definitely pays to tell the editor if you can turn the story around quickly (I’m talking 24 – 36 hours).
Even if you don’t have a newsy element to your article, it’s still worth telling the editor if you can get it to them quickly. I’ve had experiences where editors have had a ‘slow news’ day or have had a vacant spot in their magazine for a particular story and have appreciated me letting them know that I can submit the piece promptly.
And even if you pitch an article that is rejected, always let the editor know if you are available for quick turn around pieces in the future.
One of my regular gigs last year was from an editor who knew he could call on me in the morning with a story idea and he would have a finished (short) piece by the afternoon. That arrangement came about because I mentioned in an email that I was happy to take on pieces that needed a fast turn around.
3. Tie your pitch in with advertising
It’s important not to underestimate the role that advertising is playing in many publications (especially digital ones). I know some writers feel uncomfortable about this, but there’s little doubt that if you can tie your pitch in with a publication’s advertising goals, you’re more likely to get a commission. I’ve found this to be particularly true if you’re writing online in the travel, food or health sectors.
So how can you do this?
Look at the ads that are running on the site you want to pitch to – for example, if it’s a parenting site that is advertising family-friendly cruises, think about pitching an article about the top 10 things parents should look for when choosing a cruise, or how to ensure kids eat well on a cruise.
If you want to pitch a travel story and the publication seems to be running ads promoting Europe, now is the time to pull out your great ideas about destinations in Europe.
4. Spend time crafting your subject line
If an editor doesn’t know you or your writing, the first chance you have to create an impression is with the subject line of your email.
Mimic the publication’s style of heading – if you’re pitching a story for an online publication, make your subject line snappy and clickable (such as: “How to travel in luxury in Italy for less than $20 a day” or “The real reason why employees quit their jobs”).
If you’re pitching an idea for a print publication, reflect the headline style of the publication. If they like plays on words follow that in your subject line (e.g. “The Santa Clause”) or if they tend to play it straight, use a subject line that is similar to what they would call your story (e.g. “The truth about going gluten-free”).
In my experience editors really do judge pitches by their subject line, so this is when you can play to your strengths.
You’re a writer – use it to your advantage and make sure you nail your subject line.
5. Write your pitch as you would your article
Don’t rely on a great idea but a sloppy pitch to get you across the line (can you tell I’m speaking from experience?!)
Put the good stuff at the top of your pitch and write your query letter to the best of your ability. It may take time to craft a great pitch, but if you get a yes, then you’re also more likely to be able to use lots of your pitch writing in your article itself.
By writing your pitch as you would your article, you can convince the editor that you have a great idea and that you are the right person to bring the idea to life.
In short, your aim is to make your pitch irresistible to an editor.
As I’ve mentioned, there’s loads of great resources on the Internet about how to pitch freelance articles to editors and this blog post of mine has a link to a resource that lots of writers have found useful where you can download 10 of my successful pitches (including articles published in The Guardian, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, The Age/Sydney Morning Herald and many more).
What has helped you get a pitch across the line? Do you have any other tips?