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.
A generic pitch doesn’t have to equal boring or poor quality.
“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?
Wow. Now here’s a post that’s set the cat amongst the pigeons!
Caveat: I’m new to freelance writing, but I think I know enough how business works.
The freelance writing rule that you should tailor your pitch to one publication at a time does seem to put the proverbial handcuffs on the poor writer finding a buyer for his or her idea. It seems rather unrealistic to expect that a writer with a great idea for a story would not be trying to maximise their chances of finding an interested publication.
Unlike in Australia, Roy’s American (European?) market is bigger and therefore you can get away with this dirty little secret. Although I think Roy’s approach is valid and warrants more consideration. Is it really an editor’s business who else I sent my pitch to?
Is it all that different from a first-time novelist sending a manuscript submission to more than one publisher?
Of course, as a writer, you still need to do your homework in understanding what sort of writing each publication is looking for. You can’t just send out the same pitch to all and sundry. Very unprofessional.
Anyway, thanks again for the post. I’ll be raising it next week in my freelance writing class. Sarah … in case you catch this.
Thanks Richard, yes, it’s controversial I know! I’ll be interested to hear what your writing class mates think 🙂
Hi Richard Gilzean, Thank you for your comments. Just wanted to correct an assumption you seem to have made; that I only pitch U.S. publications. When I pitch simultaneously to magazines, I pitch every publication I can find, in the English speaking world, that I think is a good match for my story idea. This includes publications in the U.S.A, the U.K, Australia, New Zealand, & Canada. If I believe my story would be a good fit for an international publication, I include it on my pitch distribution list. This also explains why my work has been published in all those countries. So far, for example, 23 U.K. magazines have published my work, and several of them continue to publish my stories. I’m happy to take $U.S, $Australian, $Canadian, $New Zealand or the British pound! Hope this helps! Regards, Roy Stevenson
Hi Roy. Thanks for clarifying this point. Most encouraging!
This is really interesting – I’m one of those writers who was taught never to do it; ie, I’d wait for the rejection then re-angle and re-pitch, but I think that’s because we’re in a fairly small pond here. If I was pitching overseas as well, I’d have no problem with it.
Another great strategy if you’re not keen on this (and one I’m sure you use Lindy) is to carve up your stories in such a way that you can get 3 stories out of a hotel stay, for example – all for different markets. Ie, a story about the restaurant’s chef could go in a food mag, a story about the gorgeous design could go to a homes mag, and so on…
That’s a good point Rach about Australia being quite a small market. I once accidentally pitched the same story to an Aus and NZ publication and got commissioned for both, but was too anxious to write for both of them, so I pulled out of one. In retrospect, I think I would have written two different articles about the same thing.
And that’s a great tip about getting as many different stories as you can out of the one idea. When I’m travelling my rule of thumb is one story for every two days I’m away. My best effort was four stories from a three day trip, but that’s rare!
I’m currently in a pitching course by a veteran journalist and she advocates for simultaneous submissions. I’ve been the cautious newbie freelance writer “following the rules” of this controversial concept. I’ve started to send a few of the same pitches but I do get nervous, especially since I struggle with angles and I’m not always sure how’d I’d spin the story around if I were to be in such a predicament.
I’m also tired of the waiting game. I’ve been pitching some story ideas since October and waiting on rejections before I send it out again. It’s not helping my bank account nor my portfolio so I may just start fully implementing this technique.
Oh Lauren, I hear you. I like what Roy said about if editors replied to our pitches then we wouldn’t have to pitch simultaneously. I’d be nervous too, but I think it’s probably the way to go in the current climate. My feeling is that we just have to do it in a way that feels comfortable and respectful.
While not a travel writer, I’ve always found your newsletters very helpful. I am a newbie freelance writer and have been pitching individually to magazines. I was struggling with this question just this week (if you can believe it!) and your mail popped up in my inbox with this link. This information has come across at a really right time. I think I will try pitching simultaneously. Might inform the editors that I am doing so though. Thank you! 🙂
I like that approach Drashti. Letting an editor know that you’ve pitched the idea elsewhere sits well with me. If you do start implementing this technique, don’t forget to check back in and let us know how you go.
Hi Drashti, Thank you for being open minded enough to try simultaneous queries. I still do not think it necessary to inform each editor that you are querying other publications. I don’t see this as being relevant. Good luck with your writing! Regards, Roy Stevenson
I reckon if you pitched simultaneously and had interest from more than one, selling it to the first editor to jump on board (so long as one wasn’t paying lots more than the other), then (politely) telling subsequent editors who were interested in it that another editor had already snapped it up would make you look like an in-demand writer and that’s a good thing. Then offer them a different take on it, which might be one of Roy’s 4 strategies anyway (I haven’t read them yet).
It shouldn’t be any different to any other marketplace, unless the editor commissioned you, it’s supply and demand. Not a bad thing to change the power paradigm. Depending on the publication or media channel, editors have to bid against each other for the pics and exclusives they want to buy – they’re often shopped simultaneously. Plus if you’re sending it out to many, you probably don’t have a personal relationship with the editors anyway. If you had a good relationship with an editor a story particulary suited, maybe do them the courtesy of giving them first dibs on it – and let them know they’ve been given priority – but if they’re not interested in this one at this time, you’ll be offering it to other outlets and set a short but reasonable window for them to give you a response.
I think that’s such an important point Deborah – I don’t think I’d ever consider doing simultaneous submissions with an editor that I had a good working relationship with. And that’s such a great point too about editors bidding against each other for exclusives … food for thought. Thank you!
Is this strategy just for print publications? What about the situation with online articles? You could pitch to non-competing markets but if they both run the same article online, they will likely each see that and be annoyed. It may also impact their reputation with Google eg penalising one for duplicate content. What are your thoughts on this Robert?
Oh that’s an excellent question Katrina. I’ll leave that to Roy to answer!
Ooops, Roy, not Robert! Sorry. Would love to hear Roy’s response 🙂
Hi Katrina, it would not be wise to send your entire article simultaneously to more than one travel website, for the reasons you have stated above. However, you can send the same pitch/query letter to several travel websites simultaneously without any problems. Travel website editors & curators tend to not pay for articles, so if more than one editor is interested in your story, you can then pick and choose which editor you will send your story to. Travel websites are insatiable beasts & constantly require new content..And because they generally don’t pay, these editors are not likely to be disgruntled if you tell them that you have sent your story to another website. Hope this helps! Good luck with your writing!
Did you actually answer Katrina’s question? Wasn’t she referring to the difference between submitting for online versus print? Or did I misunderstand something? What are your thoughts regarding multiple submissions to online publications?
I’m in a bit of a pickle regarding this. I’m an unpublished writer, so I sent my whole article to two publications, and both of them are interested. I haven’t gotten info about pay or a timeline yet, so I asked one to please get back to me with that in a week, and the other that there were still some edits to make. That was my boss’s suggestion, who’s an experienced and published writer. I should have gone with my gut about only pitching one at a time, but this article makes me feel a lot better! What should I say to the one I don’t end up going with, if and when the other gets back to me with an offer?
Thanks for your question. It’s a tricky one to navigate. I would be upfront and honest with the editor and tell them that you have sold the piece elsewhere. You could then suggest to write another piece for them on the same topic but from a different angle and see if they go for it. Hope that helps?
Hi, does this also apply to non travel articles?
Hi Tracey, yes it sure does.