There’s no doubt that pitching is an art, and if I’m honest, despite all the good advice out there, pitching is one of the things that lets so many freelance writers down. Despite what some people may profess, there’s no one single way to make sure your pitches to magazine or newspaper editors hit the mark. But there are definitely ways to increase the chance of your queries getting opened, read and responded to.
How to get an editor to read your pitch
In the past on this blog, I’ve written about the 5 things you can do to get a pitch across the line and the 3 mistakes that freelance writers make when pitching digital publications, but I think it’s really important to talk about the ways you can maximise your chances of getting an editor to open your pitch email and consider your query.
1. Pitch an exclusive
Ok, so this may seem really obvious, but if you have particular access to a person or a story, make sure you mention it in your subject line.
Publications love to run stories that no one else has access to, so increase your chances of having your pitch read by including the exclusive nature of your pitch in your subject line or early in your pitch.
Don’t have an exclusive? Don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to get an editor to read your pitch.
2. Pitch when you submit a story
I was recently on a famil (or press trip as they are also called) with a writer who told me that when she submits a story to an editor, she regularly includes a new pitch.
“I figure that the editor has to open the email to get my story, so I also include a pitch while I’ve got their attention,” she said.
I thought this was an absolutely brilliant idea, and am planning on trying it out this week.
I’ll let you know how it goes!
3. Match your subject line with the publication’s style
I’ve said this before, but I think it’s so important to use your subject line wisely.
When you pitch, always put “Freelance pitch” or “Pitch” at the front of your subject line, especially if you haven’t worked with the editor before.
Otherwise, they can easily mistake your pitch for one of many press releases they receive each day.
You want to show the editor that you know the publication’s style, tone and voice and the best way to do that initially is by using the subject line to your advantage.
If it’s an online publication that routinely publishes listicles, then something like “Freelance pitch: The 10 greatest underground cafes in Berlin” is likely to resonate with the editor.
Or if it’s a publication that uses plays on words in their headlines, follow suit. I once pitched an idea with the subject line: “Romancing the stove” for a Valentine’s Day story about the best dishes to cook for the big day – my idea was commissioned.
Or if a publication uses two-word headlines, do the same. For example, I once pitched a story called: “Listen Up (why podcasts are so popular)”
4. Keep it short
A few months ago I was on a press trip with an editor of a popular online travel site.
We got chatting about what she does and doesn’t like in pitches and she told me that she regularly gets pitches from writers that are three or four paragraphs long.
You know what she does when she opens up an email and sees a lengthy pitch?
She deletes it immediately.
This editor told me that she was so time poor that it made her feel anxious to have to read a long pitch, and that it was much easier just to delete it.
And you know what was most surprising about this conversation?
That some of the pitches she deletes are from award-winning, experienced travel writers who she has told time and again about her preference for short and snappy pitches, but they don’t oblige.
Listening to her talk about how frustrating it is when she’s given clear directions to writers who choose to ignore it, was a big lesson.
If an editor tells you they want a pitch delivered in a particular way, it seems like a no-brainer to do it, right?
5. Pitch after you’ve connected with the editor on social media
I always think that editors are more likely to open and respond to your pitches if they know you or if your name is familiar to them.
Before I pitch a new editor, I’ll have try to connect with them on LinkedIn, or follow them on Twitter or Instagram – whatever platform they seem to be active on.
I have a quick look through their feed to see if they’ve given any hints about the kinds of stories they are looking for or are interested in, or if I can tie my pitch into any of their recent posts.
Not so long ago I connected with an editor on LinkedIn, without any immediate intention of pitching him, but then a great story came up and I pitched.
In his response to my pitch (which was a yes), he mentioned that he recognised my name from connecting on LinkedIn.
So my experience is that it does work to be actively engaged with editors on these channels.
6. Pitch for a specific issue
Don’t forget that many publications will have contributor guidelines as well as an editorial calendar.
You can either email the editor (or the editorial coordinator) to request these.
An editorial calendar is a super useful document to use when you’re pitching (and another way of finding it is by searching for the publication’s media kit).
In the media kit, you’ll often find that if a publication (usually print) has a particular focus in a certain issue, (such as a cruise issue, or a luxury issue) they will mention it in their media kit, because they’ll want to attract advertisers in that space.
So be savvy when you pitch and say (for example) that you are pitching knowing that the publication’s “animal welfare” issue is coming up.
I know some freelance writers who have installed email trackers so they see if and when and editor opens their pitches, but for me, that knowledge would be crazy-making.
I’ve found that cultivating relationships with editors and getting to know the kind of content they are looking for is the best way to ensure that my pitches get opened and read.
Oh, and don’t forget that following up with editors in another great way to get your pitches read.
If you’re after more information about how to pitch a magazine or newspaper editor, you can download a free resource that lots of writers have found useful.
You can see sample pitch letters and download 10 of my successful pitches (including articles published in The Guardian, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, The Age/Sydney Morning Herald and many more).
Do you have any other strategies you use to increase your chances of editors reading your pitch?
I’m only now beginning to use the subject line to my advantage, so thanks for the reminder! That’s also an interesting remark about length, certainly to be taken on board.
I was commissioned for an article recently and the editor told me she was stockpiling articles for her leave. My alarm bells went off. I sent an email back asking her whether she’d be open to more ideas and she said yes. I pitched another two ideas and while I haven’t heard anything back yet (I’ll do a quick follow up soon) strike while the iron is hot I say.
Oh I love that you are thinking about how you can help the editor with her desire to stockpile articles! I’m sure she’ll appreciate you making her life easier by pitching and writing stories that she can use while she’s away.
I think it’s easy to underestimate the power of a good subject line, but time and again, I’ve found (especially with pitches to ‘new’ editors) that the subject line is super important.
Go well and keep us posted on how you go –
Hi Lindy, just a quickie. The two other ideas were commissioned. Also learning the gentle but persistent art of follow ups – I can’t believe I never used to do them.
Thanks again for your support!
Hooray! Well done.
Yes, I reckon loads of my pitches are commissioned as a result of a follow up email.
I’m preparing to submit my first pitch in the next week or two, so this article was on right on time for me! Your tips are practical and doable. Thanks for another great article!
Thanks JoAnna, best of luck with your pitch!
Another fabulous post.
I keep hearing about how important it is to build relationships with editors is.
I’ve been connecting more on LinkedIn but hesitate to send invites/ connections to editors I haven’t worked with before and as a fairly new freelance writer.
( Though I guess the worse that can happen is being ignored)
I’m guessing you’d suggest to go for it.
Anything particular you say to an editor you haven’t worked with before connecting on LinkedIn?
Thanks for your comment. I totally understand your hesitation, but I look at LinkedIn as such a great way to softly introduce ourselves to editors and potential clients.
I’d just send a simple message with your request to connect like, "Hi [editor], my name is Lauren XX and I’m a XXX freelance writer based in X. I love [publication] and wondered if you’d like to connect here on LinkedIn. Kind regards, Lauren."
You’ll definitely get some who won’t accept and that’s okay (I once had a big name travel editor view my profile after I sent a connection request but he never accepted! I guess I didn’t impress him 🙂 You win some you lose some!
I am writing about contacting the editor for their contributor guidelines as well as an editorial calendar. Unfortunately I have already sent a pitch to the editor before asking these details. Is it too late or awkward to ask for this after I’ve already sent a pitch? It’s actually for The Age, who doesn’t seem to have any media kit or contributor guidelines on their website?
Is your pitch for a particular section of The Age? My experience is that they don’t tend to have contributor guidelines, but you should be able to find the media kits for the particular sections (e.g Sunday Life) here – https://www.nineforbrands.com.au/brands/#digital-&-publishing
I wouldn’t ask for the guidelines/calendar if you haven’t got a reply from the editor, but if you get a reply, I would then ask if they do. Does that help?
Yes Lindy, thank you so much!
Is having a large social media following important to pitching, getting an agent, getting a publishing contract?
I do FB, Twitter, but only for myself and don’t have a large following, 2 hundred FaceBook (privated to the max and only for friends), 500 Twitter (latter which I use mostly for connecting to writers, agents, editors, publishing.
Do you mean a contract for a book? I’m not sure about whether you need to have a large social media following for that. You definitely don’t need a big following to pitch and have articles published by magazines, newspaper and online sites.