When I started out as a freelance writer it never occurred to me that editors might come to me with articles they wanted me to write. It was a dream to think that I could get writing work without pitching. That editors would actually come to me with commissions. But almost since my first year freelancing, I’ve had multiple editors come to me over and over again with commissions. And let me tell you, this isn’t unique. There’s nothing particularly special about me. If editors are approaching me to write stories for them, they’ll come to you too. Here are four factors that are crucial to getting writing work without pitching for it.
Get freelance writing work without pitching: How to get editors to come to you with commissions
After reading some of my previous blog posts, a fellow freelance writer got in touch and asked what I was doing to get editors coming to me with writing assignments.
It was the first time I’d really thought about how it had happened.
Was it was strategy or sheer luck that I landed repeat writing work without pitching or sending out query letters?
It might not last forever, but getting writing work without pitching is a godsend in the feast or famine world of freelancing.
So after that question, I looked at the publications and editors who regularly come to me with commissions.
I realised there are similarities with each of them.
Here are my recommendations for how to get freelance writing work without pitching for it.
1. Look for publications that have a strong content or editorial calendar
Over the years, I’ve had between 6 – 10 different editors regularly coming to me with commissions.
The similarity between all these publications is that they have a strong editorial direction.
I don’t mean that they know their readers, and are publishing content that is exactly in line with their publication’s ethos (although of course they do and are).
I mean they either plan their content for each quarter or they have relationships with advertisers or brands that they need to feature or be cognisant of.
I write regularly for one digital publication and they rarely accept pitches from freelance writers.
This is because their content team plans, schedules and writes briefs for articles according to in-house research, topical events (such as end of the financial year) and the ways their business can be helpful to those readers (always with the view of establishing themselves as a source of valuable and trustworthy content).
But just because they rarely accept pitches doesn’t mean I didn’t initially send off queries.
Quite the opposite.
To get my foot in the door, I researched what they had covered, what they hadn’t and pitched some ideas.
While the editor didn’t take me up on all the ideas, by pitching succinct, timely articles, I showed the editor that I was super keen to write for them.
Before the pandemic, I was writing four to six articles for them a month (paid at over $1/word) and now I’m writing two or three a month.
While I don’t need to pitch ideas to the editor, I still let her know that I’m engaged in the content they are producing.
I do this by replying to her tweets, commenting on articles or sending the editor links to recent research on the topics they cover that I think she might find interesting.
Is there an opportunity for you to do this with some of your editors, too?
2. You need to prove yourself
When I say you need to prove yourself, know this:
This doesn’t mean that you have to have been freelancing for years before editors approach you to write stories for them.
I had filed two stories with a big magazine here in Australia when the editor came with me with a commission.
So have faith that it will happen, BUT you do have to prove yourself.
This may mean that you are established as an expert in your field.
You may be the go-to freelancer for health technology or you may be established within a particular publication so that editors know your name and your reputation.
Or you may “just” be a solid beginner who turns in clean copy on time, every time.
I say “just” but believe me, after years of talking to editors, freelance writers who turn in clean copy, on time every time and are easy to work with are like gold dust.
Like I said, I had only been freelancing for a short time before an editor for a national magazine I had written for twice before asked me to write a story for her.
Looking back I think it was a bit of a challenge – a freelance writer had already been assigned the story but she couldn’t find enough case studies and so had pulled the plug.
The editor approached me and asked me to find two more case studies and write the piece up.
Of course I said yes.
But the first freelancer had given up for a reason – compelling case studies were incredibly hard to find!
Eventually I did find great case studies and that was a gateway to that editor asking me to write many different stories for her.
If you have been freelancing for a few years and write consistently for a particular publication, and editors aren’t coming to you with work, then it’s time to approach them.
You have history of being published with that publication, so ask them if there’s anything you can help them with.
Are there any stories they’d like to run but they haven’t allocated yet or any topics they want to cover but can’t find the right freelancer?
I regularly file articles and when the editor writes back to say they’ve received it, I asked if they are looking for more pitches in any particular areas.
Often they’ll reply and say they’re looking to assign a story on a certain topic.
And more often than not, will ask if I’m available.
So let editors know you are keen and available for more work.
But choose your publication carefully …
3. Go for trade magazines or publications that produce sponsored content or content marketing
If you want editors to come to you with commissions, you’re more likely to have success with certain types of publications.
In my experience, digital publications that are fairly responsive to news trends are unlikely to approach you to write content for them unless they know you are available and can turn stories around in a timely manner.
That said, I regularly write quick turnaround pieces (within two or three hours) for an online outlet because the editor knows that I can deliver.
Look at the publications you write regularly for – do they do sponsored content?
If so, then they will have partnerships with brands that they want to highlight.
So who are the editors or content managers assigning those jobs to?
In-house writers or freelancers?
Your task is to get onto the list of freelancers who can write those articles.
My experience has been that when editors come to you, it’ll usually be because they have a partnership with a brand and need to highlight a particular product or experience.
Or it might be because they are the brand and their blog or publication is part of their content marketing strategy (inflight magazines were a perfect example of this).
This does not mean that you will only be writing sponsored content or advertorials.
One magazine where the editor regularly asks me to write articles for them, has lots of brand partnerships.
Around 50% of the articles I write for this publication may use a brand as one case study in amongst three or four others, but the rest of the articles are simply features that the editorial staff want to run.
[Writing a column is another way to get regular gigs with a particular publication – three established freelance writers share how they landed a column in this post]
4. But the most important thing to getting editors to approach you with work is …
I almost didn’t put this last point in, but I actually think it’s the most important way you can get editors repeatedly coming to you with commissions.
You don’t have to be an award-winning writer, but you do have to put yourself in an editor’s shoes.
They want to have reliable, pleasant and trustworthy freelancers that deliver what the publication needs every time.
I believe you have to go out of your way to show the editor that you won’t disappoint them and that they can count on you.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t any room to make mistakes – I’ve made some clangers, believe me!
So be the dream freelancer – be responsive, helpful, polite and conscientious.
Conscientious was the word regularly on my school reports and I always resented it.
It always sounded so boring.
But now as a freelance writer I can see that it’s a good trait to have.
And a crucial one if you want to get writing work without pitching.
Do you have editors approaching you with work? What has made that happen for you?