feature writing

How to move from corporate writing to writing for magazines and newspapers

By August 12, 2020 4 Comments

I know that moving from corporate writing to writing articles for magazines, newspapers and online outlets may seem like an unusual topic. Especially given I’ve written so many posts about how freelance writers can find high-paying corporate work. But a few months ago a lovely reader got in touch and asked if I would write about how to move from the corporate world and into pitching editors and writing feature articles.

So, how can corporate writers pitch magazine, newspaper and online editors?

The easiest way to transition from corporate writing to feature writing

While many freelance writers want to know the secrets of landing high-paying corporate clients, there are others who want to break into mainstream publications.

You may have loads of experience in corporate communications or in PR, but you might also have ideas bubbling away that you want to see in a newsstand publication.

I know one prolific corporate freelance writer who pens articles for some top Australian and international companies, but she really wants one thing.

To have her byline in a national newspaper.

So, what is the best way to pitch editors of these publications and move from corporate writing to writing feature articles?

And what can you do if you don’t have any previous articles to show editors or the only clips you have are communications like press releases, annual reports or company profiles?

Back yourself

I know this first point may seem like a weird thing to say, but hear me out.

You can write, right?

You’ve been writing content for corporate organisations, universities or non-profits, so you have skills.

Just because you haven’t been published by magazines or newspapers doesn’t mean you lack the skills you need.

So the first thing you have to do is back yourself.

You need to know that it’s absolutely possible to get a commission from an editor at a magazine, newspaper or digital outlet even without experience.

I know so many freelance writers feel their lack of confidence holds them back.

I get it.

I’ve had to deal with lots of mindset blocks and issues throughout my freelance career.

And I know there are many more challenges on the horizon that I’m not even aware of yet.

So one of the best things you can do when you’re thinking about pitching afresh or for the first time is this:

Reflect on where you feel confident with your writing and where you don’t.

Then, when you think about pitching an editor, what thoughts go through your mind?

Is it:

“I don’t want to pitch because they’re going to ask for examples of my published work and I don’t have any.”

or

“I’ve never written a feature article for a magazine before. I’m not sure if I can do it correctly.”

or do you think:

“I’m going to write such a strong pitch that leaves them in no doubt that I can deliver this story.”

or

“I can do this. I have 10+ years experience writing content. I know what people like to read.”

Notice your thoughts (especially the repetitive ones) you have about pitching to editors.

Just notice the thoughts. Notice the worries. Notice the questions.

That’s all.

You don’t have to do anything about them – yet.

The three things you need before you pitch an editor

You only need three things to pitch an editor:

Simple, right?

So let’s break it down.

You need to know the angle for your story

Sending editors topics rather than stories is one of editors’ most common complaints about pitches from freelance writers. 

Your idea has to be more than a topic.

This means you need to have a specific idea that you want to explore within a topic.

This is called the angle.

For example, remote learning/home schooling is a topic, but it’s not a story by itself.

The angles you could pitch an editor might be:

How to keep your kids safe online while you’re home schooling

How remote learning is impacting vulnerable children

The home schooling set up that saves you time, stress and your relationship

What if you’re not sure if you’ve got a topic or an actual angle?

Think about having a conversation with your friends.

If your conversations are anything like the ones I’m having at the moment, you may well be talking about home schooling.

We tend to start our conversations in a broad and general way, but pretty soon you get to the nitty gritty of particular issues.

Such as how to manage your temper while home schooling or how you’re over eating while being at home helping your kids with remote learning.

These are angles that take the idea of home schooling but drill down to a particular issue.

So have a think about a topic you’re interested in and ask yourself what about that topic is particularly newsworthy or interesting.

My litmus test is usually this:

If I’d talk about my idea with friends and they’re interested in it, then I can be pretty sure that an editor is likely to be interested too.

What makes a great pitch?

There are lots of elements that make an irresistible pitch, but you want to make sure that:

  • Your email has a great subject line (look at #3 in this post)
  • The editor knows immediately and clearly what the angle is and why it’s timely
  • You tell them why you’re the person to write the story (perhaps your corporate background helps you understand a particular industry)

There is no one right way to pitch, but generally, if your pitch is well-written and engaging (not to mention free of typos) the editor is going to assume you can write copy in a similar way.

Pitch to the right person

When I started out as a freelance writer, I made the mistake (more than once) of pitching to an editorial assistant.

I figured I wouldn’t pitch to the editor because they would be too busy.

Instead, I’d send my query to the editor’s assistant.

Makes sense, right?

It does, except it wasn’t the right person to pitch.

In my experience, editorial assistants have very little to do with the editorial side of things.

Instead they help with administrative processes like processing invoices, answering phones and managing the editor’s calendar.

So you want to make sure that you are pitching to the right person – the person who is in charge of commissioning.

You can use this post to help you find the right person.

But what if I don’t have any clips to show editors?

It’s normal to feel jittery when you want to pitch but you don’t have much to show the editor in terms of past work.

But remember this: everyone starts somewhere.

Unless you are a seasoned journalist, you’re unlikely to have a whole portfolio of impressive clippings to show editors.

And even if you are an experienced journo, I know lots who transition, say from real estate reporting to travel writing, so their clips aren’t in the same niche they want to move into.

I don’t have a background in journalism, and when I sent my first freelance pitch I had exactly 0 articles to show an editor.

But you know what I think?

If your idea is good enough, most editors will take a punt.

Especially if you can show them your style of writing in blog posts or corporate pieces.

And if you really want to close the deal, you can always offer to write on spec.

This means the editor is interested in your idea, but wants you to write the piece first.

Then they will decide after you’ve written it if they want to buy it or not.

I don’t suggest offering writing on spec straight away though.

Try to get a commission first and if the editor hesitates, you can offer to write the article without any obligation on their behalf.

It’s not as scary as you think

I promise, it’s not.

The more you build up your pitching muscles, the stronger you (and your ideas) get.

So many of the skills that you use in your corporate writing are only going to help you when pitching and writing feature articles.

You can write to a deadline, follow a word limit, you can incorporate research and interviews, and you know what makes a good read.

Remember those thoughts I got you to notice?

I want you to remember that they are just thoughts, they are not evidence that you can’t break into feature writing.

It can help to write them all down and get them out of your head.

Then get pitching.

You can do it.

And if you don’t try, how will you ever know?

Are you looking to move from corporate writing to writing features? What else would you like to know?

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There’s never been a better time to be a freelancer. But how do you make the leap from writing as a hobby to full time freelancing? The Freelancer’s Year has all the tips and tricks you need to be a successful freelance writer.