Another request post!
My creds: I used to hire freelance writers as an acquisitions editor for a publishing company, I have freelanced for various publications from local to national for five years now, and I make my living freelancing as a writer/editor/managing editor currently. It has it’s ups (meeting famous people!) and it’s downs (no insurance), but it’s rewarding and fulfilling creatively.
Whether you want to make a living freelancing or just want to see your name in print, here are a few tips I’ve learned personally and from hiring writers.
So, you’ve got this amazingly perfect story, and you really want to get it published. First do your market research to find out where it’s going. Somewhere local is much more likely to look at you if you’ve never been published or just published online, and they’re good contacts to have! Once you pick a magazine, pore over their latest issue. Find things you like, things you don’t, and pay attention to the tone and length of the stories.
Know Your Audience: This may sound like a no-brainer, but it is one of the biggest things you can push in your pitch. It takes time to delve into a publication and learn what they are, and are not, interested in publishing. By demonstrating you’ve spent that time and know exactly why their readers will find your piece interesting goes miles. Also, make sure they’ve never covered that piece before. If they have, don’t despair, you can always suggest a follow-up article. By doing so, you demonstrate that you know the publication and it’s readers interest.
Be Timely: This is one I’ve been guilty of before. I had a great profile piece on a person and a great angle, but there was no timeliness to it. Sometimes you can get away with pitching “ever green” articles, like “Top 10 ways to brush up your resume,” but try and give it an angle of time, like the current recession. It’ll make your article more arresting as well as give the editor a reason to get back to you quickly!
Get It Right: This is an old school journalist motto and it’s one that will sink you if you miss it. I’ve received emails from freelancers with a Mr. to me, or my name wrong or our publication’s name wrong. I didn’t disregard them just for that (some editors do!) but they were the last ones to get reviewed and looked over. Vanity goes a long way.
Watch your Scope: Make sure that the story you want to cover can be written up in an article length format. The worst thing is having a wonderful story, getting the green light to write it, and realizing you have an entire book’s worth of information. A good idea for brainstorming is to have your main idea and figure out where it is in a library. Is it an entire section? A shelf? A row on a shelf? Narrow it down to one book, then to a chapter in that book. It will help you keep your main topic in mind as well as make sure your story is contained.
Weird Sells: This is one I stick to a lot with my more mainstream publications. While you may not think your coverage of the local anime convention is weird, your local paper definitely will. Instead of playing down the weird, live it up in the pitch. Drama sells, and people want to read about something different. Always treat your subjects with respect and you can take any tone you want in your actual piece, but a pitch should be short and punchy.
Brevity is . . .: Although you’ve should have done enough research to talk at length about your article idea, don’t weigh your pitch down with all that information. Your job is to take the most interesting aspects of all your hard work and turn it into something that can be relayed in a page or less for your pitch.
Have your Sources Ready: If you’re newer to the writing field, a publication may ask you to write “on spec,” which means they want to see your finished article before they decide to publish it. While you may spend a lot of time and then get nothing for it, it can be a great way to have finished clips. If your editor does want your story, make sure you have access to the subjects you’d like to cover. Sometimes a publication can help with press passes, sometimes they can’t.
Be Prepared for Silence: Publications get a lot of pitches. While it used to be customary to at least send rejection letters, now you may just get nothing. Be patient and pay attention to how long writer’s guidelines say the response rate is. But be prepared for rejection. It happens a lot. When it does, take your awesome story idea and find a new home for it. That will mean tweaking your pitch to the new publication of course.
Writers! What are your tried and true pitching rituals?