Here’s the hard, cold truth about how I’ve landed some of my most impressive signings and top freelance writing clients: I pitched.
Move back. Sigh. Groan.
I get it. This is the news no one wants to hear – especially since so many writers hate pitches. But I mean it when I tell you that learning how to write a pitch and overcoming my fear of pitching has been a huge boost to my freelance writing business.
8 common questions (and answers) about freelance writing pitches
Needless to say, I am a firm believer in the power of the field. A believer so strong, in fact, that I created “Pitch Pack: 8 Pitch Templates for Freelance Writers. This is a collection of eight different email scripts to help you send arguments that get answers and results.
I love the templates to give you a proven formula to follow, but I also recognize that they may leave some of your questions unanswered. So I’m summarizing some of the most common questions I ask myself about pitching as a freelance writer – along with some hard-earned answers.
1. What should I use as the subject line for my pitch?
Oh, the subject lines. So few words, but so much stress. Fortunately, writing the subject of your pitch doesn’t have to be a snap. I recommend that freelance writers use the same subject line for every pitch they send. It looks like this:
“Freelance Pitch: [Proposed Article Headline]”
What makes it so effective? For starters, using the term “independent pitch” on the front shows editors and content managers exactly what you’re in contact with them about. It helps to list “freelance pitch” rather than “pitch” because it separates you from all the PR pitches that might end up in their inbox.
The next title is your proposed article. We all know that the most effective headlines need to grab attention, which makes them a powerful element to use in the subject line of your email. And bonus? This shows that you have thought carefully about the angle of the story you are proposing.
While I use this as my default subject line when sending out pitches, I always make sure to check the point of sale instructions I run. If they’ve posted submission guidelines, sometimes they’ll ask you to use a specific subject line so your email gets filtered properly. It is essential that you follow these instructions!
2. How long should my presentation be?
Spoiler alert: short.
I understand there is a strong temptation to have small, friendly conversations, explain your background, and share a dozen of your favorite writing examples, but an editor isn’t going to spend time going through it all.
Instead, the bulk of your focus should be on what really matters: your story idea. This means that your introductory email should be no more than a handful of paragraphs, and your pitch itself should take up the most space.
While you’re at it, other email writing best practices apply here at. Using short sentences and paragraphs and even things like bullet points makes your email much easier for an editor to read – and hopefully respond to.
3. Are there good and bad days to pitch?
It’s one of those things that I think freelancers tend to place a lot of importance on. Yet almost every editor I’ve worked with tells me they don’t care what day you submit.
In general, I would avoid sending a pitch on a day when something super interesting is happening (like an election or a major natural disaster), unless your pitch is related to that specific event. But otherwise, every other day of the week is a fair game.
I know a lot of freelancers (myself included) who still have personal superstitions about when to hit “send” on their last pitch. For example, I avoid Mondays and Fridays because I think publishers are either inundated with emails or going out of their inboxes for the weekend.
But again, this is all guesswork on my part – there really isn’t a “better” day to make your pitch.
4. How long do I have to wait to receive a response from an editor?
You’ve submitted your pitch, and now you hear nothing but inbox crickets. Do you need to follow up? If so, when?
Much will depend on your story. If you come up with something in a timely manner (i.e. something that needs to be written and posted in the next few days), you might need to follow up within 24 hours.
If you’re coming up with something persistent without a strict timeline, waiting around a week is a reasonable time. Once that week is over, you can check in with a friendly nudge without sounding annoying or overly annoyed.
Regarding the timing, there is one more thing that I started to do after Tim herrera, editor of The New York Times’ Smarter Living section, to recommend during a panel I attended: including a deadline with my pitch.
I’ll note a line that says, “If I don’t have an answer from you by [date]I guess you are not interested and I will move forward by presenting this story elsewhere, ”at the bottom of my introductory emails.
While you may think it sounds pushy or demanding, I’ve found editors really appreciate it. It takes some of the pressure off them because they don’t to have to respond if your pitch doesn’t match what they’re looking for.
5. Can I submit an editor who previously rejected me?
Absolutely! Rejection always feels personal, but it’s important to remember that your story idea was rejected – not you as a whole person.
If you find another idea that you think might be suitable for this selling point or publication, you are more than free to submit again. I know from experience that sometimes it takes a few lengths before something sticks.
When you decide to introduce an editor who has previously turned you down, resist the urge to explain or, worse yet, apologize for the fact that you were previously turned down. Maybe the story idea lands, and there’s no need to justify why you’re holding your hand again.
6. How do I know which writing samples to send with my pitch?
When I submit a pitch, I also include links to a few writing examples in case the editor wants to get a better idea of my default style and what I’m capable of as a writer. I will also send a link to my full portfolio, but I prefer to manually select more targeted pieces for them too.
How do you decide which ones to send? The most important thing I look for is relevance. If I have a sample that is somewhat related to the article I’m launching – whether in format, style, or subject – I’ll include it (provided I think it’s a solid piece ).
If I don’t have anything relevant I’m going to shoot some of my pieces that I think are the strongest. Note that these are not necessarily those published by the larger publications. Rather, I want the ones that showcase my abilities. This should be your rule of thumb when selecting which samples to send: you want samples that you feel confident in.
7. Can I submit if I don’t have writing samples?
Here is the first question I ask you: Why don’t you have writing samples?
Of course, you might not have written paid articles for clients or publications. I understand – everyone starts somewhere. But there is no reason that you can’t write something for your own website. Or post an article on LinkedIn. Or on Medium.
While it’s more than possible to present without including samples in your email (hey, a good story idea is a good story idea!), It’s helpful to include a few links that show the editor that you are able to string together sentences. If you don’t, it’s quite possible that they can request you for some samples. Then you’ll be stuck explaining that you don’t have any to share.
Keep in mind that the publisher will care a lot more about the quality of your samples than where they are posted. So, at the end of the day, there’s no reason you couldn’t send clips (even ones you’ve written and posted for yourself!) With your pitch.
8. Do I have to present the same story to more than one outlet at the same time?
In general, I will refrain from doing this. What if more than one post wants to publish your story? How will you explain this? And more importantly, how will you decide who will manage it?
That’s why it’s best to present the story to one outlet at a time, and include the deadline for a response that we talked about earlier. If you don’t hear anything by the date you specified, you can move forward by presenting your idea to other outlets.
There is one important exception here: if your story is urgent or timely. In those cases, you might want to throw in multiple places at once so you can run it within that tight time frame. But, when you do, consider including a note that you started the story elsewhere.
Ready to become perfect?
I understand that pitching as a freelance writer is enough to inspire biting, sweaty palms, but it doesn’t have to be as intimidating as you claim.
Need help? My eight different pitch templates for freelance copywriters will put you on the right track. There are copy-and-paste templates for a variety of situations – from presenting an editor who previously rejected you to presenting when you don’t have a lot of clips posted. Plus, each template includes a full sample, so you can see what this email looks like when it’s fully populated.
You’ll be on your way to sending presentations that get results. I encourage you!