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3 reasons why your pitches aren’t getting commissioned

By October 26, 2022 6 Comments

Are you wondering how to write the perfect pitch to a magazine or newspaper editor? Most of the writers I support in my online courses and communities tend to fall into two categories:

Those who want help with their pitches

and/or

Those who want to find high-paying corporate clients

I’ve found that freelance writers pitching magazines, newspapers or online outlets, make some common mistakes. Here are what I see as the top 3 reasons why freelance writers aren’t getting their articles commissioned.

mistakes in pitching

The first thing I want to say is: there’s no such thing as a perfect pitch.

But, there are a number of elements that you need to have in place for an editor to commission you.

This is where I see freelancers going wrong.

1. You’re pitching an idea they’ve already covered

This may seem really obvious, but make sure you are familiar with the content that the publication has recently covered.

This can be tricky if it’s a print publication that doesn’t put all its content online.

And I know I’m not the only one who has used the search panel on a publication’s website and assumed that it covers all their content.

It doesn’t.

I’ve also assumed that searching in Google with the publication’s name and the topic will capture all the results.

It won’t.

The best way to search an entire website is by using this formula in Google (or whatever search engine you use):

site: [newsoutlet.com] [your keywords]

Using Google site search is the easiest way to go through a publication’s online archive.

You can also use this to find out if an article of yours has gone live on a website.

For example if I wanted to see which of my articles were published on delicious.com.au I’d type in:

site: [delicious.com.au] [lindy alexander]

(And holy moly, I kid you not, when I did this search, I discovered a story that mentions me that I never even knew about! It’s about 20 female travel writers to pay attention to. So there you go!)

2. You’re pitching a subject rather than a story

This is another common mistake I see freelance writers make.

They pitch a subject rather than a story.

So, what does that mean?

You might have a particular interest in say, floristry, but that’s not a story idea.

It’s a subject.

A story idea is how women are staring to wear beautiful blooms as wedding dresses.

(I have no idea if that’s a trend, by the way, I just made that up).

But can you see the difference?

A story needs to be focused on a specific idea like a trend, people, a place or a news event based on interviews, research or an experience.

Most of us start with broad subject ideas – we want to write about food, travel or social issues, but you need to be able to pull out your story angles from your subject.

And I’m not going to pretend that this is easy, because often it’s not.

Often you have a germ of an idea and you’re sure it’d make a great story, but it’s hard to know exactly what angle you need to take to sell it as an article to an editor.

What I found helped me was reading other people’s pitches (like Marissa Higgins generously shared successful pitches) and really interrogating my ideas.

3. You haven’t optimised your subject line

Your pitch doesn’t start after “Dear editor”, but it begins before they even open your email.

And an editor is unlikely to open your email if you haven’t caught their attention with your subject line.

So, how can you use this valuable piece of real estate?

Start by putting “Pitch” or “Freelance pitch” at the front of your subject line (and if you’re following up make sure you add “Follow up: Pitch: XXX).

Your subject line is the first impression you make, and it’s a chance to show the editor that you know the publication’s style, tone and voice.

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)”.

By tapping into the voice and style of the publication beginning with your subject line, you’re signalling to the editor that you know what they want.

As you can see, these are relatively simple (and easy to remedy) reasons why freelance writers don’t get commissioned.

Most of the writers I support have great ideas but can’t always translate their spark of brilliance into a pitch that an editor commissions.

Start by making sure you’re pitching something unique (that the publication hasn’t covered before), a story idea not a topic and optimising your subject line.

And if you’re wondering what a successful pitch looks like, I’ve created a downloadable resource of 10 sample pitch letters to magazine editors – all of which were commissioned and published by publications such as The Guardian, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, Sunday Life, The Saturday Paper and more.

What is your pitching success rate? Do you think there are other mistakes writers make when sending query letters?

6 Comments

  • Zach says:

    Hi Lindy,

    I’m new to the freelance game and was recently referred to your site… and am so glad I was! I’ve probably made all of these mistakes as a rookie, but am really enjoying how you put all of your tips into layman’s terms. I’ll definitely be re-thinking how I pitch and approach editors from now on (even though it’s probably the worst time to try and make it as a freelancer). Thanks!

  • Ivy says:

    As always Lindy, your blog is solid gold. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge.

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