By now you’ve probably read a million and one tips on pitching. Most writers can recite the key takeaways by heart: Start with an eye-catching subject line, keep it snappy, and wait at least a week before following up.
While those tips are still true, they don’t account for recent changes to pitching norms that have taken hold over the last decade. And much like any other profession, you can either keep up and try something new or stand by as a new system takes hold.
For the last 10 years, I’ve aimed to send one pitch every business day. I’ve seen the art of the pitch evolve a lot due to technology, and I’ve learned to tweak my methods to increase my chances at getting a story accepted.
Because of the coronavirus crisis, the stakes are higher than ever for freelancers who rely on good ideas to get work. From using social media to reach editors to getting on board with quick turnarounds, here are my tips to land work in today’s ultra competitive pitching environment.
Twitter is where many editors call for pitches
Turns out there’s more to Twitter than political bickering. I ended up writing for two big-name clients in my portfolio, The Guardian and Playboy, by responding to tweets. Their editors put a call out for ideas on Twitter; I reached out with a simple email, which eventually led to years of work.
Editors are always looking for talent on Twitter, and an easy way to sift through who’s accepting ideas is to simply search for some variation of the phrase “looking for pitches.” When the results materialize, you’ll unlock a virtual job board. Many editors go into helpful detail—linking to story samples, highlighting what they don’t want, suggesting particular topics or angles, and sometimes even laying out what rates to expect.
Here are a few recent examples:
Observer is still accepting (and more importantly, paying) freelancers. I’m looking for entertainment, art, books, and tech pitches. Email in bio.
— Hex Manning (@von_owie) April 14, 2020
Opening up my inbox to accept pitches for MAY and JUNE
-Entertainment (commentary on films/movies/interviews)
-Books (author interviews for books dropping in May/June)
**I am NOT looking for anymore COVID pitches**
— Britni Danielle (@BritniDWrites) April 16, 2020
Now that we’re in Q2, I have some freelance budget again!
Pitch me your game-related stories, profiles, interviews, analysis, unheralded indie game review, etc.
email@example.com. Include “Pitch” in the subject line.
— Kyle Orland (@KyleOrl) April 15, 2020
You may have to slide into an editor’s DMs
When you don’t have an editor’s email, DMs—or direct messages—on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn might be your best shot at introducing yourself to editors you’d otherwise have no access to.
Some editors make it clear in their profiles whether DMs are an appropriate way to reach them. Barring any “no pitches, please” language, send an intro. Explain who you are and what you write about, and ask how they like to receive ideas. You can tease your pitch, but it’s probably best to stop short of delivering the full idea until you receive a signal that it’s welcome or instructions on where and how to deliver it.
After almost a year of collaboration, I still communicate with one of my editors through Instagram, going back and forth about ideas and updates. (For them, it’s easier than sifting through an overflowing inbox). However, I’ll warn you: If an editor explicitly says direct messaging isn’t the way to go, believe them or risk landing on their black list.
The news cycle has sped up, so pitch accordingly
With most pitches destined for the web, lead times now range from two weeks to as short as a few hours. If a publication is hungry for a piece on a hot topic (like breaking news or a recent death of a public figure), they are likely to accept your idea only on the condition that you can fast-track it. Best to signal your willingness to do so in your pitch.
I can think of numerous instances when news broke in the morning and I’d pitch an idea and get it approved, penned, and published by late afternoon. When comedian Don Rickles passed away in 2017, for instance, I pitched and wrote a retrospective for The Guardian in the span of a few hours.
That said, many publications employ full-time staff to handle the quick turnarounds tied to the news cycle. Do some detective work on your prospective outlets by asking editors about the nature of their freelance coverage. You can also learn a lot by researching which bylines come from staffers and which come from freelancers.
Sync with sources quicker
I know a lot of editors who ask freelancers to include potential sources in a pitch before they can give the go-ahead. Years ago, if you were brainstorming an idea that suddenly called for an expert on 1800s veterinary medicine or Tahitian fruit farming, that used to be more of a time-consuming obstacle. In some cases, you wouldn’t be able to find any contact information.
Today, however, writers have a global directory of experts at their fingertips on Twitter and LinkedIn. My advice: Go there first.
By and large, most experts are eager to hop on the phone or send a quote. Even if interview plans are still tentative, you can at least let the editor know that you’ve made contact and are discussing next steps.
Hashtags and geotags on Instagram are a gold mine for local story ideas
I frequently pitch a local paper hungry for human interest stories. I find ideas by searching hashtags and geotags on Instagram. They unveil a web of local activity that would otherwise be hidden from public view.
What’s there? Business announcements, sports news, and juicy tales of personal strife and aguish—any one of which may be stories begging to be told. Instagram even does some of the sifting for you by placing the most-liked and -commented content toward the top of search results.
Good ideas aren’t going anywhere
Technology and culture will always change, and the norms of pitching along with them. The trick is using those changes to your advantage, not only as a source of new ideas but to get those ideas in front of the right eyeballs, on the right channels. These tips can help you land work in the fast-moving freelance age of 2020.
Rob LeDonne is a culture and comedy writer who has written jokes for Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno and frequently writes for Billboard, GQ and TIME. He resides in Brooklyn, New York.
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