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ASK US WEDNESDAY: “Where am I going wrong with my pitches?”

by Rachel Smith
17 June 2015

Ask Us Wednesday NEWI’ve been freelancing part-time for 8 years but am now in a position where I can work full time. Up until now, I’ve only had one main client. I’ve tried to expand my portfolio but pitching to various editors has been unsuccessful – by that I mean, no rejections; just no replies at all. I have 8 years worth of feature articles under my belt but this seems to have made no difference.

I’m always very targeted in my pitches – read the publication, understand the type of stories they publish and pitch accordingly. What am I doing wrong? Am I getting lost in the inbox mountain of emails? How long before I can send a follow up? Can I ring an editor to ask for feedback on why a story idea was not accepted (or even just ask if they received it – no response means I don’t even know if they received it let alone rejected it!)? HELP! K

We’ve written a lot about pitching before, which you might have spotted – if not, read this blog post on pitching do’s and don’ts and this one, about what to do when you never heard back after sending a pitch. However, as we get asked variations of this question a fair bit I put yours to an editor I know who runs a leading weekly magazine, just to get a perspective from someone on the other side of the fence. She said the following:

“To be honest, if you’re pitching and not getting replies at all, your idea is just not hitting the mark. It’s either not good enough or your execution isn’t right. I usually try to send a thanks but no thanks email, but often there’s just too much inbox overflow these days for editors to handhold people and give them feedback. Most just don’t have the time – especially on a weekly. If the idea is right, if it’s good, new and fresh, we’ll grab it. We’ll get straight back to you with a yes. Or at least, within a couple of weeks. (Maybe a bit longer if you’re pitching a monthly mag).

Other reasons you might not be having luck is if you pitch ideas we get over and over (like yoga stories, for instance. I get SO many). If you’re a writer we’ve worked with before, we’ll always look at your ideas but it is harder for new writers. And while this may sound a bit harsh, if you haven’t got print credentials or clippings you’re probably going to struggle. We’ll always look at writers who’ve been published in print, not just online. That’s what I want to see. It’s like with bloggers – they’ve got loads of words published online, sure, but they usually don’t have the skillset we need to put a print feature together, so we’d rather work with print journalists.

It’s also about how you pitch. Every time you pitch, you’re basically asking for a job so you have to put a bit of effort into it. Some of pitches we get, we can’t believe are from published writers. We like to see a good headline – think in coverlines, make the editor’s job easy – and a sell, and a stand-first. Plus a few dotpoints on who you’d speak to. Even better if you can hang your pitch off a recent study. And if you say, ‘I saw you did a story on x, and following on from that, here’s another angle…’ that’s good. Often it’s hard to get fresh new angles from stories we do a lot.

The other thing is… well, attitude. If you’ve got a bit of attitude in your email or we suspect you’ll be difficult to deal with, you might also be put to one side. We do find sometimes that freelancers who’ve been out of the workplace for a long time can forget about workplace niceties so your tone when you pitch is something to consider too.

From my perspective, I’m not sure about the follow-up phone call after a pitch. Everyone will just end up feeling awkward, but that’s just me!”

So there you go. Some editors are okay with a follow-up phone call, but others aren’t. It’s trial and error, but if you’ve put a LOT of effort into your pitch and you still haven’t heard back within a couple of weeks (for a weekly) and a month (for a monthly mag), we reckon a quick buzz to the editor in question would be okay.

What do you guys think? Have you got any extra tips for K?

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Rachel Smith

As a kid, Rachel used to carry around a little suitcase of pens and paper so she could stop and write stories whenever inspiration struck. These days, she writes for a living, in between running the show at Rachel's List. Some of you may actually believe she looks like a megaphone in real life, but it's not the case. Honest.
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6 responses on "ASK US WEDNESDAY: “Where am I going wrong with my pitches?”"

  1. Jenn Jay says:

    I understand the need to not bombard an editor’s inbox with emails – but it would be great if they can see the effort you have gone to – just to acknowledge with a “no thanks.” I have a different question about once the pitch has been commissioned will send this into your question link.

    Thanks

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Hi Jenn. Got your question – thanks. We’ll schedule it for an upcoming Ask Us Wed column.

  2. Gabe McGrath says:

    My suggestion to the writer would be to super-finetune their email subjects.

    If your email subject doesn’t make them open the email – it doesn’t MATTER what they’ve written in the message.

    Part 1:
    If you send something like “Story idea… ”
    then the editor may think you’re a PR person flogging a product.

    I recommend “Story pitch… ” instead
    as that means you’re a writer, not a PR.

    Part 2:
    Re your …

    Don’t put a clever title (like a headline) if it’s cute in the context of an article but makes no sense on its own.

    eg If new research shows that people who play boardgames during their lunchbreak are 23% more productive at work, don’t put “Story Pitch: All work and no play makes Jack a less productive boy”. Instead, something like “Story Pitch: New research shows boardgame players 23% more productive” sells it in one subject line – and then you can include your ‘cute’ headline suggestion *inside the actual pitch*.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Fantastic tips Gabe. Subject line is so important when editors have to trawl through so many emails these days.

  3. Petra O'Neill says:

    I have been freelancing for some years now and pitching is the toughest. Editors tend to use terms that I don’t know – as I’m not a journalist by trade – even the Ed above refers to coverlines, standfirst etc. It may seem straightforward to those in the industry but guidelines provided by some magazines rely on such terms and it would be awesome if you or someone in the know could explain what they mean in plain english in a future email.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Great idea Petra, we’ll do something in a future Ask Us Wed.

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