Just getting started as a freelancer? Looking for some really simple and straightforward guidelines?
These should definitely help.
1. Emailing a publication
Never submit a pitch to a general email inbox. Those emails go directly into space, where they turn circles around the stars in search of a home. Always find an editor’s email or, better yet, find the physical address so you can send a basket of fruit and a stuffed Garfield cat programmed to recite your pitch every hour until it’s accepted.
Actually, just submit to the general email address. Some publications only have a general email inbox and want you to use it. It makes it easier for multiple editors to read a pitch and then gather in a conference room to project it on a big screen, point, and laugh.
2. The best day to pitch
Never pitch on a Friday. Fridays are when editors don smoking jackets, kick back at their desks, and sip gimlets. They can’t be bothered to check email.
Never pitch on a Monday. Mondays are a whirlwind of meetings and watercooler recaps—there’s no time for simple trifles like freelance pitches.
The best time to submit is 10:27 on a Tuesday morning, when editors calmly sip macchiatos and need something to read right away. Pitches received at 10:28 will be deleted, unread.
3. Following up
If editors don’t reply to email within two hours, they aren’t interested in your story. Or they’re in a meeting. Or on vacation. Or home sick. Or the email went to junk mail. Or they left their job. Or they’re interested but want to review it at an editorial meeting. Or they saw it but just have a lot of other things to read first.
If you don’t hear back, follow up in two days. If you wait too long, they will get another pitch with the exact same idea about miniature horses that brush their own manes.
A couple days is too soon—give them some time to breathe! Follow up in a week. A week isn’t enough time for some publications. There are editorial meetings and power lunches to consider.
Wait a year before following up. That should be enough time for the editor to forget why she didn’t like your original pitch.
4. Writing on spec
Never write on spec—it’s a waste of time for something that might not sell. Ignore that story you heard on the Longform podcast about the person who wrote that spec article that The New Yorker accepted.
Sometimes you should write on spec, specifically for personal essays, satire, or when your imposter syndrome is at an all-time high. Sometimes these pieces will sell. Sometimes they won’t.
5. Working for free
Never write for free. When you write a thank-you note to your grandma, attach an invoice for $1/word.
Sometimes you should write for free. Maybe you need to build up clips or prove to your parents that you’re doing something with your life after college. Or you maybe you just retired from a lucrative career in investment banking. If a publication can’t pay you in money, ask for something else: IOUs, high fives, or maybe your byline in a special font.
6. Dealing with rejection
If your pitches are rejected several times by the same editor, you should stop submitting. Your ideas probably aren’t a good fit.
Never stop pitching your dream publication! Pitch the editor every day this year. If you find yourself finishing a bottle of champagne next to a pile of 365 rejections at the end of the year, then increase your pitches to twice a day next year.
Or, you could just break a few rules.