The Art Of The Pitch

The Editors Session has been a mainstay of the Freelance Forum since it began, with commissioning editors from a wide range of disciplines and publications outlining what they are looking for from freelancers. But not everyone can make it to Buswells Hotel on a Monday morning, and so one editor in consultation with some colleagues drew up this list of things to keep in mind as you pitch. Good luck.

Be informed. Read everything you can and make sure you are pitching the right person and that you’re not offering something that’s already been done in that publication. Know what’s routinely covered by someone. Tailor the pitch to the publication.

Be brave. It’s okay to contact an editor directly, whether over Twitter or email, and introduce yourself succinctly. Better to do that than send a generic mail to a busy team. But be warned: most people will not wish to take a call from an unknown freelance. Don’t pester.

Be practical. Have a relevant and interesting idea and an outline of how you would deliver it. Don’t get in touch and say you are “available” for commissions. Chances are you’ll get nothing. There just isn’t time for most editors to test newbies out in this way. But a solid idea
will attract attention. And then later on, when you are known, you’ll get contacted more regularly.

Be succinct in first contact: A headline and one or two lines of elaboration per idea is enough. An editor can get back to you for more.

Don’t over-promise. If you pitch an interview – for instance – with someone, make sure you have that interview nailed down. This is especially important if it’s your first pitch to someone. Things fall through all the time but it’s best if this does not happen early in the relationship with an editor.

Be smart about imagery. You may want to focus your attention only on words but the visual aspect of every story is important so think about how that element is going to work. This will differ according to medium of course, so think about that too. Often an editor will have his or her own ideas but you also should be proactive. If you can deliver words and a decent idea for an accompanying image, you are worth more.

Be reliable and predictable. Do not file late.

Be contactable. Some freelances have other gigs going on and can’t reply immediately to emails etc. If that’s the case with you, make sure editors know this up front. That’s ok. But mysterious silences from freelances are not helpful.

Be accurate when you do file your copy. Fact check. Know media law. The less time an editor has to spend on your copy, the more they will recommission you. And editors have less and less time to correct copy.

Don’t file your copy in a weird format that takes an editor ages to access. Ask what format the editor would prefer at the outset and use that.

And finally: If we can’t use you right now, please don’t be huffy or take rejection too personally. It could be just a tight budget matter, your timing might be off, there could be any number of reasons. Ask if the person would welcome more pitches and remain in friendly contact if the answer is yes.