Is it wrong for freelance writers to pitch the same story idea to multiple publications? For some people, sending simultaneous pitches is heresy. But for others, it’s simply a way of boosting the odds in your favour. I’ve never sent a simultaneous submission on purpose (though I have pitched the same story by accident, but that’s another blog post), but I was curious to know the pros and cons. So I asked freelance writer Roy Stevenson whose modus operandi is sending the same pitch to multiple publications to share his experience. What he says may just change your mind.
Roy is one of the most prolific travel writers I know. He also has a great (free) weekly newsletter for aspiring travel writers that’s well worth signing up for.
The benefits of sending simultaneous pitches to editors
“One of my favourite mantras about today’s freelance magazine writing arena is that it’s a numbers game,” says Roy.
“You have to send out numerous queries to boost your chances of getting your stories into print. The more queries you send out, the better.”
Roy says that he reckons about 95% of magazine editors don’t bother responding to queries from freelance writers.
“They simply delete the pitch if they are not interested in the story, without even bothering to send a rejection email,” he says.
With such a low response from editors, Roy says the pitching process has been reduced to firing out pitches to as many appropriate publications as you can track down.
“If you send out enough pitches, simultaneously, your statistical chance of finding an editor somewhere who’ll accept your article for publication increase dramatically,” he says.
Developing a mass pitching approach
“I evolved my mass distribution system through trial and error during my first two years of freelance writing,” says Roy.
“I can happily report that this technique is very successful.”
Roy sells 90 per cent of all the stories he pitches.
That’s an impressive strike rate, is it not?
“Most veteran freelance writers I know believe they’re doing well if they sell 25 to 40 per cent of the stories they pitch,” he says.
“Most novice writers are lucky to sell 10 per cent of their stories.”
With a 90 per cent hit rate, Roy’s biggest problem is keeping up with his assignments.
“I’m usually facing a dozen or more article deadlines, and am constantly scrambling to get my stories out the door,” he says.
But, surely that’s not such a bad problem to have!
Roy says there are no drawbacks to pitching the same story to multiple publications.
“If you’re not sending out simultaneous queries, you’re not selling anywhere near the number of stories you could be selling,” he says.
But aren’t simultaneous pitches too generic?
Most freelance writers are told that we should carefully tailor our pitch to each individual publication.
As I’ve written about before, I don’t necessary agree with this, but Roy takes it a step further.
“Every magazine editor would like to think their magazine is unique, but the reality is that there’s a huge overlap between many travel publications,” he says.
“The concept that you can craft a compelling pitch that many travel editors will be interested in seems to be beyond the grasp of many travel writers. A “generic” query letter does not have to be of poor quality.”
I think that’s a really important point.
“The assumption amongst writers who don’t use simultaneous submissions seems to be that “generic” query letters will be poorly written,” says Roy.
“I disagree completely. It’s very possible to create an enticing, high quality query letter that you can send out to multiple magazines. I do it all the time.”
Simultaneous pitches vs tailor-made
“I can count on one hand the tailor-made queries I’ve sent out since I started freelance travel writing in 2007, and they’ve met with mediocre results,” Roy says.
“However, using simultaneous queries, I’ve sold more than 1,000 articles to 200+ publications. I simply ignore the long-established rule that we should be crafting tailor-made pitches for each magazine. Tailoring each query takes far too much time. Just remember, editors will never throw away a good story idea if the timing is right.”
Several magazines around the globe have purchased Roy’s articles when he’s used the exact same pitch.
“The writers I coach send out the same query letter to multiple magazine editors, and they’ve had no problems selling their stories,” he says.
Using simultaneous queries, some of Roy’s writers have broken into highly reputable print media in their first 12-24 months.
“One travel writing couple I coached have reached a 60 per cent acceptance rate within 18 months, and their stories have been published in respected paying print media,” he says.
Okay, but what happens if two editors are interested in the same story?
This has happened to Roy about a dozen times in his travel writing career and he says he has turned it around to his advantage every time.
Roy has four strategies to address this issue (he doesn’t like to call it a problem because he says when is having more than one editor wanting to purchase your articles a problem?)
Roy outlines his strategy for dealing this situation here, but basically it has to do with having back up story ideas, pitching to non-competing markets, developing agreements with editors and personalising each story.
Won’t editors be upset?
Most writers I know are worried about getting in an editor’s bad books. So does Roy tell his editors that he’s submitting the idea to multiple places?
“I don’t bother telling editors that I’m sending out simultaneous pitches, because I don’t think it’s any of their business,” he says.
” I don’t think it’s relevant to put this in your queries. Most editors these days probably already know that if they’re receiving your pitch, other editors will also be receiving the same pitch.
If editors were consistently answering our queries, we wouldn’t have to send out simultaneous submissions.”
Feeling nervous about simultaneous submissions? Do this.
“Most of this “problem” is in the writer’s head,” Roy says.
“Having more than one editor accept your story for publication doesn’t occur very often, and if it does there are four effective strategies to help you deal with it.
Using these strategies has, in some cases, led to many more assignments and some serious payouts.”
Roy does have some words of warning though for freelancers who are keen to send the same pitch to multiple publications.
“Please use common sense,” he says. “For example, there’s no point in sending out a budget travel query to luxury travel magazines. Likewise, you wouldn’t send a simultaneous query for a family travel story out to wedding destination magazines. You wouldn’t send a query about millennial extreme adventure travel to magazines for seniors. You wouldn’t send queries to airline magazines where the airline doesn’t land at the destination you’re pitching.”
You get the idea. Sending way-off-base, inappropriate queries will really annoy editors.
“Make sure you’re sending your simultaneous queries out to appropriate magazines that are compatible with your story idea,” says Roy. “If you’re just blasting your query out to every magazine under the sun, without examining each publication’s suitability, then of course you’re going to strike out spectacularly.”
What do you think? Has Roy convinced you to send out simultaneous submissions?