Looking to land your first byline as a writer? Let me unlock my vault of tips to help you get your name published.
A few years ago, I was asked to be part of a program through a local government initiative 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.
I have written for Rolling Stone, Australian Penthouse and FHM Australia (as a freelance contributor for each), and I also dealt with freelance inquiries on a daily basis as editor of my own “little magazine that could” Soot Magazine.
As a general rule, remember that if you’re a young writer there are fewer opportunities these days for journalists and writers.
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.
But with these tips, you may just get that byline that you desire.
1. Be professional and follow the house style
I have had a few doozies come through! As an editor, I’ve given a chance to a few young writers, and some have cancelled last minute on interviews while others won’t follow instructions.
Each publication has a particular house style and format. I’ve received emails back from freelancers arguing with me about house style and format. Yes, arguing with me about the publication I edit.
So remember to be professional in all correspondence. Show up. Commit to submitting your work on time, and for the love of pen ink, please read and follow the house style.
Ask questions if you don’t understand the house style!
2. Get to know the publication you want to write for
As an editor, I look for writers with engaged interest in the magazine or publication I represent (which is the same as the editors I used to work with for Rolling Stone and my time at Fairfax Media as a staff journalist).
If you haven’t had a look at the magazine and don’t know the style or tone of the publication, the editor will know right away.
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.
In the initial email, you can send through a brief summary of your experience and attach the best examples of your work.
👉 If you’d like a free template on how to nail your intro, I have created one that you can use for free! Go here and my chatbot will deliver my “Icebreaker: Pitching to Editors Email Template” to you (via Facebook Messenger).
A lot of writers send across their blog which shows how regularly they write, and what topics they cover.
If you decide to send samples of your work, send a Dropbox or Google Drive link — you don’t want to crash the editor’s inbox with 20mbs of attachments!
4. Send a quick follow-up if you don’t hear back within one week
If editors don’t reply within one week, I’d send a short, one-line 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, phone calls, meetings and deadlines to meet, as well as the added pressure of editorial jobs being on the line (basically, their job is no longer secure).
If they are interested they will email you back eventually, 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 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.
Some writers recommend to do the “cold” pitch via email right at the beginning.
I’d say wait until you know they want freelancers then by all means, do a clear, short and concise teaser of your pitch.
Here’s a list of publications still accepting pitches during Covid-19.
6. Start small
Each publication has a specific style and brand, so you need to know this when approaching them.
If they have a solid team of proven freelancers that they trust, they may not take you on anyway because you may not have the experience they’re looking for.
Don’t overlook the smaller publications that will give you a go so you have a chance to build a portfolio and meet people.
Don’t ignore your local publications either — they may be able to offer you work experience instead of a freelance role.
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!
🧊 Get your hands on my free “Icebreaker: Pitching to Editors Email Template” to nail your intro to an editor! Go here and my chatbot will deliver it to you (via Facebook Messenger).
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