Looking to land your first byline? These tips might just get your story published.
Last year, I was asked to be part of a program through FReeZA/The Push as a mentor helping an aspiring journalist with all facets of the media biz. One specific query that comes up time and time again is how to pitch as a freelancer to editors of publications.
As may know, I have written for Rolling Stone, Australian Penthouse and FHM Australia (as a freelance contributor for each), and I also deal with freelance inquiries on a daily basis as editor of my own “little magazine that could” Soot Magazine.
So I thought I’d pop my advice here and you can pick and choose what you’d like to take away from it. Please be aware if you are a young up-start writer there are fewer opportunities these days for journalists and freelancers. A lot of publications have their proven, tried-and-tested freelancers on board and will seldom commission writers who are unknown or unproven, regardless of how good their writing or pitch may be.
This is because ad revenue is dwindling thanks to free online publications, and their job may be on the line, and really, there is more safety in having a writer whom you know and can trust do the work rather than banking on an unknown.
But with these tips, you may just get that byline that you crave.
1. Be professional
I have had a few doozies come through to Soot that I’ve given a chance to, and some have cancelled last minute on interviews and others can’t follow instructions and when I give them feedback as editor – as you should know each publication has a particular house style and format – I’ve received emails back from freelancers arguing with me. Yes, arguing with me about the publication I edit. Needless to say, that is a huge no-no.
2. Get to know the publication you want to write for
People contact me all the time expressing interest to write for Soot. And as an editor, which is the same as the editors I used to work with for Rolling Stone and The Weekly, I look for writers with engaged interest in the magazine or publication I represent. If you haven’t had a look at the magazine and don’t know the style or tone of the publication, the editor wouldn’t bother with you to put it bluntly. You need to spend some time getting a sense of the magazine and its style as well as its readership.
3. Make the introduction via email
For pitching to editors as a freelancer, it’s better to make the initial introduction via email to see if they are taking on freelancers (some publications don’t any more as they have budget restrictions). You’ll have to bear in mind that editors, in addition to their work-related emails (in-house emails), they will also get hundreds of press releases and similar requests, so your email will be one in about 600-700 emails they get PER WEEK. As I type this, I have about 145 unanswered emails waiting for my attention.
In the initial email, you can send through a brief summary of your experience and attach the best examples of your work. In addition to this, a lot of writers also send me their blog which shows me how regular they have been writing and what topics they cover. If you decide to send attachments, make it under 5mb – you don’t want to crash the editor’s inbox.
4. Send a polite follow-up if you don’t hear back within one week
If editors don’t reply within one week, I’d send a polite follow-up email to see if they received your email. Try to send the email on a day when you know the editor is not on deadline. Don’t be offended if the editor is abrupt – they have many emails and deadlines to meet, as well as the added pressure of editorial jobs being on the line in today’s financial climate. If they are interested they will email you back, if not, after three to five weekly emails you’ve sent checking on your pitch, I’d move on to the next.
5. Don’t pitch until you know for sure they want new freelancers
You don’t need to pitch ideas until you get given the go-ahead that the publication wants new writers, and welcomes freelancers. Some publications list their contributors’ requirements on their site, so this takes out the guesswork, but if you’re looking to break into print, this isn’t always so clearly signposted. But not pitching first, they can’t take your idea and give it to someone else and say they had the idea before you contacted them (happened to me with Grazia and Grazia no longer exists – wonder why?!). Remember there is no copyright on ideas. Some recommend to do the “cold” pitch via email. I’d say wait until you know they want freelancers then by all means, do a clear, short and concise teaser of your pitch.
6. Start small
Each publication has a specific style and brand, so you need to know this when approaching them. Also if they have a solid team of proven freelancers that they trust, they may not take you on anyway. So don’t overlook the smaller publications (like Soot!) that will give you a go so you have a chance to build a portfolio and meet people. Don’t ignore local publications like Leader or The Weekly either, as they may be able to offer you work experience instead of a freelance role. That looks great on your CV, but please be aware you are one of one hundred other writers that the editor could hear from daily.
7. Be polite – and awesome!
Finally, be polite. Say THANK YOU. If an editor has given you advice or given you a go, thank them. It doesn’t hurt and it could just make their day.
Now, take what you’ve learned and put it into play. Let me know how you go – I love to hear your success stories.