Picture this: You’re an assigning editor at a magazine, and your inbox regularly overflows with pitches from freelance writers. Because freelancers write the bulk of the magazine, a good story idea is like gold. But when you’ve got 50-plus pitches to sift through, it’s hard for that gem to shine.
That’s the challenge I’ve faced in five years as an assigning editor at a monthly magazine. But here’s the good news: Using these easy tips, your idea will stand out from the rest.
Tip No. 1: Pitch!
It’s fine to ask editors how they prefer to assign, and if they’d rather you pitch or if they prefer to assign. But “let me know if you need anything” comes across as asking for a handout.
I receive so many pitches that I can’t possibly fit them all into the magazine. If someone’s pitching great ideas, they’re way more likely to get an assignment than the person who is waiting around.
Tip No. 2: Follow websites such as “Who Pays Freelance Writers?”
It’s a great resource and will also help you identify possible outlets for your work.
Tip No. 3: Every time you’re reading a publication and think, “Man! I’d like to write for them!,” find their writers guidelines online. If you can’t find them, email an editor there and ask. (Associate level or higher will often be your best bet, as they’re more likely to be assigning editors, but editorial assistants may also have that info.)
Tip No. 4: Get your website up already! Make it easy for potential clients to find you. This is also a benefit because you can showcase your best work without jamming their inboxes with unsolicited clips.
Tip No. 5: Never send large, unsolicited files. If you’re attaching clips, fine, but make sure they’re not 5 megabytes plus. Here’s a hint: If the files are too large and you have to resend them attached to several separate emails, you’re clogging the editor’s inbox.
Tip No. 6: Read, read, read, read. Know the publication and its voice before you pitch. But don’t obsess to the point where you don’t actually pitch. I don’t expect my freelancers to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the publication. That’s my job, and I’m not going to look down on them for pitching something we’ve already done unless it’s in the current or immediate past issue. Then they’re just being lazy.
Tip No. 7: Keep it simple. Don’t send a multi-page pitch. If I want more info, I’ll ask for it. Something that detailed is likely to fall by the wayside because I’ll save it for when I have time to properly digest the email—and that may not be for weeks.
Tip No. 8: Unless it’s a time-sensitive piece for a publication that publishes frequently, do not follow up in 24 hours. And never follow up to say, “Hey, did you get my email?” I receive about 75 emails daily. I will respond to yours, but likely not within 24 hours.
Tip No. 9: Do follow up. I try to respond to every sincere pitch (that is, something that came from a person, not a mass email). However, things slip through the cracks. Following up in a week or two is perfectly appropriate.
Tip No. 10: Value your time and your work. You’re a professional writer, and the payment you receive should reflect that. If you work for free or cheap, be sure that it’s worth it to you. For example, I’m working on a low-paying piece for a site where the reader is the target demographic for my books. I’m getting more than money out of that.
Tip No. 11: Establish your boundaries, and respect those of the editor. It irks me to get pitches on my personal email account and text message.
Likewise, know that it’s OK for you to say no to an assignment. If you don’t have time, be honest about that. A good editor isn’t going to avoid using you in the future because you weren’t at his or her beck and call. That’s part of the deal with freelancing. You aren’t on staff. We don’t have the high overhead of having you on staff. And you have the flexibility to work on other projects.
Tip No. 12: Negotiate. The terms of most stories are negotiable, and as long as you’re professional, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Rates, deadlines, word count, even rights and sometimes payment terms (upon acceptance or upon publication) can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.