I’ve been a freelance journalist for nearly six years and am entirely self-taught. As of June 2020, I had a pitch acceptance rate of around 36 percent. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive more assignments and thus pitch less but I usually send between 25-100 pitches a month, depending on my workload. I’m an idea machine and send an exceptionally exorbitant amount of pitches—this won’t be sustainable for everyone.
About half of the pitches I send are recycled ideas that other publications have rejected or ignored and the other 50 percent are new ideas I’ve generated. Generally, a fifth of the pitches I send go to editors with whom I’ve previously worked and the other 80 percent are cold pitches or are in response to calls for pitches from editors with whom I haven’t yet worked. This format has worked for me and most months I end up writing up to 20 articles.
Think quality over quantity, if it suits your schedule, and aim to get out 3-5 pitches a week. Here’s the pitch checklist I use and share with my consultation clients.
- Determine if your story idea is pitch-worthy. News cycles spark many of my ideas, as do trends I see on social media in addition to my own interests.
- Find an angle that hasn’t been widely covered.
- Make sure the reader can identify with the story, learn from it or be entertained.
- Think about which publications would be a good fit for your story. Consider if your story idea applies to the publication’s typical coverage.
- Become familiar with the publication's tone to ensure your writing voice will be a good fit.
- Do your due diligence to ensure the publication hasn't already published something similar to your proposed article. If they have, and you’re determined to pitch them, spin the angle to focus on a facet that wasn’t previously covered about the topic.
- Once you’ve selected a publication to pitch, read their style and pitching guidelines. (These documents outline the types of pitches for which the publication is looking and the tone of their publication). Read these materials carefully, some editors may ask you to use a specific format or to use keywords in the subject line. Make a note of any relevant prompts regarding how the editor prefers to be pitched.
- Get familiar with the publication’s media kit to learn about the demographics of their readership. (This is usually available on a publication’s website under the section for advertisers.)
- If you have a specific idea in mind for which vertical your piece could be a fit, make a note of that in your pitch and be sure to send your idea directly to the editor that oversees that section of the publication.
- The subject line of your pitch should be intriguing and eye-catching and should peg the story. Your proposed headline should be crafted to fit the style of the publication. (This is your chance to hook the editor.)
- Always include ‘Writer Pitch:’ at the beginning of your subject line so the editor knows you’re not reaching out as a publicist.
- Is your pitch an evergreen idea that isn’t linked to the news cycle or is it truly timely and tied to the news cycle? If it’s the latter, be sure to also include ‘Timely’ in the subject line. (Timely news-hooks are often in demand, but may be more competitive to place.)
- What type of story are you suggesting? Is it a round-up, feature, guide, how-to, profile, interview, service piece, personal essay, reported essay, etc? Make it clear in the first sentence in your pitch what format you had in mind.
- If you're pitching a hybrid reported/narrative piece, focus on how you’ll use your lived experience to support the article.
- Now it’s time to write your pitch! Remember, these aren't stuffy cover letters—they're a writing sample and should hook your editors so that they’ll want to commission the story and continue to work with you
- Start with the story idea and the desired vertical: Would you be interested in a <example: reported or narrative> article about <topic> for the <vertical>?
- Pro Tip: Keep pitches under 300 words. A pitch serves as an elevator speech for the article idea. Editors get dozens, if not hundreds, of pitches a day, so keep them short, sweet and directly to the point to be effective, memorable, and garner a better response. You don’t want to lose the editors’ attention once they've opened your email by having a pitch full of fluff.
- Follow with a few sentences about the story aka the lede.
- The overall tone of your pitch should be casual yet professional, use ‘Hi’ instead of ‘Dear.’ Be concise and conversational as well as polite, but not a pushover. Thank them for their time and consideration, but don’t beg them to commission your idea. You should bee confident in your approach based on the value of your story idea.
- Note in the first graf if you're sending a simultaneous pitch for something timely or newsworthy and request that the editor respond to you at their earliest convenience.
- Always cover the who/what/when/where/why of the story you’re proposing.
- Include a sentence about your plan for sources/research if the piece is going to be reported.
- Don’t create extra work for the editor. Link to relevant references, sources, business and always cite facts/claims.
- Your pitch is a sale, close it like one: Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your feedback!
- Have a professional email signature with your name, phone number, email, portfolio, and social media links. Again, this creates less work for the editor if they have clickable links in the pitch rather than having to find your social media pages and published clips, which is quite time consuming.
- Spell check and actually read your pitch out loud to make sure the flow is good before sending it off to the editor.
This advice is unique to my experience and what I've found to be the best pitching practices, but. My advice is not meant to be the be-all and end-all! So take what lesson you can and then figure out what works best for you! The more you pitch, the more you’ll perfect your craft and establish your own best practices to find what works for you when corresponding with the editors with whom you work.