Pitching story ideas to new publications can feel like a futile exercise, sending email after email into a seemingly endless void. A lot of work goes into crafting compelling ideas and researching contact information. But as painful as writing freelance pitches can be, it’s also a necessary part of getting work.
Thankfully, editors have taken to Twitter to inject much-needed transparency into the process. As the platform of choice for many media professionals, Twitter functions as a digital water cooler. It provides a direct line of communication among burgeoning freelancers, experienced writers, and influential editors.
Recently, writers may have noticed a growing trend on Twitter: Editors using threads to announce when they’re looking for new pitches and what freelancers can do to break through. Notable publications like Wired and SELF, and prominent editors like the New York Times’ Tim Herrera are using the social media platform to demystify the pitching process.
We explored this trend to find out what writers and editors think of the threads, how you can use them as a resource, and what you can do to find them on Twitter.
The pros and cons of pitch threads
Usually, “how to pitch” threads delineate a specific beat or topic, feature relevant guidelines, and include contact details like an email address or a link to a submission site. Some editors also share links to examples of previously published pieces that started as pitches. Tweets may even include valuable intel on rates.
How to pitch a book review — here's a quick guide for freelance book critics if you aren't sure how to pitch paid publications. (thread)
— Adam Morgan (@adamm0rgan) November 30, 2020
For writers, seeking out these threads can provide direction. “It takes a lot of the interpretive work out of pitching,” said freelance journalist Chante Griffin.
Griffin recently saw a thread by an editor in search of pitches for Black History Month. Instead of having to suss out ideas that would be a good fit, she simply looked at the examples in the thread. Subsequently, her pitch about Black vegan chefs in underserved communities was commissioned. After a smooth experience working with the editor, Griffin was invited to write for a sister publication.
From an editor’s perspective, tweeting pitch guidelines is a win-win for both freelancers and publications because it saves time and provides more transparent expectations. But not all writers feel the same way. One freelance journalist told me the pitches she’s sent in response to calls on Twitter have gone unanswered. “I almost prefer editors don’t do public calls for pitches, since they seem [to get] inundated with emails,” she said.
Some editors tweak open calls on Twitter to mitigate this phenomenon. When Kitchn features director Ariel Knutson requests pitches on Twitter, she sometimes receives more than 100 replies. “I hate making people wait for responses as I go through everything,” she said.
Now, Knutson only turns to Twitter when she’s looking for new writers or people with specific expertise or experiences. “One of my goals when I ask for pitches on Twitter is to expand my writer pool,” she noted.
Using threads as a resource for freelance pitches
While “how to pitch” threads provide an entry point for writers, they can also be educational. When Jessica Johnson, editor-in-chief of The Walrus, tweeted a general thread on how to pitch a magazine, she had no idea it would garner almost 5,000 likes.
How to pitch a magazine: Many people don’t know how to do it so here is a bare minimum template.
— Jessica Johnson (@ejessicajohnson) November 28, 2020
“I was even a bit embarrassed about posting the tips because they seemed so basic,” she said. Her list included advice for writers like noting where they’re based, their usual beats, and a desired deadline—points that seem like common sense. But the overwhelming response to the thread proves that the pitching process remains elusive for many. Johnson plans to tweet more about pitching in the future.
For those looking to make the most of Twitter for finding freelance pitch opportunities, Knutson has a few pointers on timing. While you don’t need to rush to be the first response, try to reply within the first few days after seeing the tweet. She added that writers should be sure to include a specific pitch idea instead of generally noting that they’re open to assignments.
Johnson had a final piece of advice for writers who plan to reply to editors: It’s not the time or place to brag about your connections. “A good editor doesn’t care if you’re famous or if we’ve met,” she said. “[Instead, they want to know]—is a wide audience going to be interested in what you have to say?”
Finding relevant threads
Whether you’re new to freelancing or a seasoned writer, here are some tips for how to find and make the most of these threads:
- Follow editors on Twitter who work at publications for which you’d like to write. When you see a thread that feels like a fit, follow instructions and respond through the method specified by the editor—usually email.
- Use Zapier integrations with platforms like Pushover to receive notifications when certain accounts mention specific keywords (e.g., when an editor you’re following mentions the phrase “how to pitch” or “seeking pitches”). Both Pushover and the core features on Zapier are free.
- Subscribe to newsletters like Study Hall or Sonia Weiser’s Opportunities of the Week, which compile calls for pitches from editors all over Twitter. Study Hall’s basic newsletter costs $2 a month, and the platform offers a subsidized membership program for media workers of color for $1 a month. Opportunities of the Week costs $3 a month. For that price, writers receive two newsletters per week. There are also “sponsored slot” options at checkout for those who cannot afford the fee.