The Freelance Creative

5 Lessons I Learned Tracking My Pitches for a Year

5 Lessons I Learned Tracking My Pitches for a Year

When I first started freelancing, I saw pitching as an unpredictable part of the job. The pitch itself mattered, of course, but I always felt that I was more lucky than smart when one was accepted. But now I know that’s not true—pitching is just as much science as art.

For the past year, I’ve kept a log of all the queries I’ve sent and editors’ responses (I have to give credit to fellow Contently contributor Julie Schwietert Collazo for suggesting the idea during her pitch class). With this data, I now better understand my own habits. Best of all, I’m using the information to plan out my future freelancing goals.

A pitch log can be simple. Mine is a Google spreadsheet. Every time I send a pitch, I open the spreadsheet and write the outlet name, story title, date I sent the pitch, and mark the status as “waiting.”

When an editor gives a definitive response, I mark the pitch as “accepted” or “rejected.” I mark pitches as “some interest” when an editor responds positively to the idea but doesn’t assign it in the end. If I don’t hear back after a follow-up, the pitch gets marked as “no response.” In the few cases where I’ve sold a story elsewhere or could no longer work on it, I marked the pitch as “withdrawn.”

In the past year, I sent out 148 pitches to 47 publications. In total, I had work published in 20 of these publications, including The Daily Beast, Vice’s Broadly, Al Jazeera, Roads & Kingdoms, Fusion, BBC, and others. My overall acceptance rate was about 26 percent.

Here are my five biggest takeaways from the experience.

1. Pitching is a numbers game

If I have a 25 percent acceptance rate and I want to sell six reported features each month, I have to pitch 24 times (including sending revised pitches to new editors). That may seem like a lot, but some freelancers send out 25 pitches in one week.

When going over my yearly finances, I saw that I didn’t sell much in September, when only three pitches were accepted. But this shouldn’t have come as a surprise since I only sent 13 pitches. Without my pitch log, I might’ve blamed the quality of my pitches rather than the quantity. With it, however, I could identify the problem immediately.

It seems simple, but pitching more equals selling more. With a pitch log, I know just how many queries to send to reach my target article quota each month.

2. Rejection means growth

One of my goals for 2017 is to improve my acceptance rate so I can work smarter, not harder. I did just that in May and June of the past year, when my acceptance rate was 50 percent (10 pitches sent, five accepted). But in those months, instead of expanding my contacts, I only worked with editors I already knew.

Breaking into new markets usually comes with some rejection. It takes a few tries to find the right editor for a piece and figure out what they’re really looking for. In fact, half of my rejection emails came with a word of encouragement from the editor. And some of those conversations led to work. So even though my acceptance rate was temporarily lower, pitching new outlets led to positive outcomes down the line.

3. You can always pitch more

Freelancers all have self-doubts holding them back. I irrationally worry about sending out too many pitches, nervous that I won’t be able to complete the work if they’re all accepted.

Experienced freelancers know it’s rare to get all of your pitches accepted. Some pitches just won’t get picked up, even if the pitch itself is solid (maybe it’s not right for the publication, maybe there is another similar story in the works, maybe the editor has a full editorial calendar, etc.).

My pitch log showed that there were points in the year when I held myself back because I didn’t pitch enough. Yet if there’s one thing I’ve learned, there’s no such thing as sending out too many queries.

4. Editors are a variable

Keeping a pitch log is great for understanding my own methods and tendencies, but it’s not a crystal ball into the mind of editors. Some editors accept my pitches more often than others, but there are no guarantees. My editor at Broadly accepted 4 of the 6 pitches I sent this year, but I can’t tell you why she rejected two of my ideas that I thought were a good fit for the publication. Some ideas will fall flat, and you won’t always know why.

The purpose of the pitch log is to understand my own processes as a freelancer and reflect on how to improve them. Editors will always be a variable in the pitch process, and there are parts of any publication’s editorial process that a pitch log can’t reveal, such as cuts to a freelance budget, a change in staff, or a shuffling of roles. Don’t stress yourself out trying to guess what an editor is thinking.

5. You’ll never get all your pitches accepted, and that’s normal

It can be a little discouraging to look at all the rejections I racked up in the past year. For me, it was 48 straight out rejections where the editor replied and explicitly said “no,” plus 37 pitches that were ignored. But it’s important to remember that although I can work on increasing my rate of acceptance, no one gets all their pitches accepted.

When a freelancer gets a piece published in their dream publication, everyone else sees their success. But they rarely see all the rejected pitches they amassed on the way there. Thanks to my pitch log, rejection isn’t discouraging—instead, I know it’s all just part of the process.

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