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3 reasons why your pitches aren’t getting commissioned

By May 13, 2020 6 Comments

Are you wondering how to write the perfect pitch to a magazine or newspaper editor?

As lots of you know, I’ve re-opened my 1-1 coaching sessions and so far the writers I’m working with tend to fall into two categories:

Those who want help with their pitches


Those who want to find high-paying corporate clients

I’ve found that freelance writers who want to write successful pitches to magazines or newspapers, make some common mistakes.

I’ve even recorded my feedback on one of these pitches in a short (8 minute) video clip that I’m going to share with you next week.

But in the meantime, I want to go through the top 3 reasons why freelance writers aren’t selling their articles (that isn’t related to COVID-19).

Why freelancers aren’t writing the perfect pitch

Okay, so I know this heading above may be a little misleading because the truth is, there’s no such thing as a perfect pitch.

But there are a number of elements that I see freelancers getting wrong.

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

This seems like a really obvious point, but you need to 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, but if the magazine or newspaper digitises lots of its content, then there’s an easy way to search their archives using Google site search.

I know that 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]

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 one of the most common mistakes 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 (recently Marissa Higgins generously shared successful pitches) as well as workshops (Tim Herrera, the editor of the NYT Smarter Living section is running some (free) “how to write better pitches” sessions for freelancers) 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?

Well, 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)”

These are the three most common reasons why I see freelance writers not getting commissioned.

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

Next week I’m going to share with you exactly how I worked through one writer’s pitch and gave her feedback.

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?


  • 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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