In a perfect world, editors would salivate over your every word, begging you to write more frequently for them. In the real world, freelance writers have to get comfortable hearing the word no.
If you’re anything like myself, you likely juggle multiple gigs, all of which pay differently. For example, I work with a few recurring clients that make up the bulk of my income. Some of these clients have contracted for a set amount of hours each week, whereas others pay for a predetermined number of articles each month. I also maintain relationships work with a variety of different editors and pitch story ideas regularly.
Editors respond to pitches in four different ways: yes, no, maybe, or my personal favorite, no response.
Of course, landing a great freelance job is fantastic, but all of the time you spend writing, prospecting, and pitching is unpaid until you get a signed contract. To maximize your earnings and stop running in circles, you need to majorly streamline your pitching game.
Ready to get started? These are the steps I follow to ensure every word I write finds a buyer.
Here We Go Again…Define Your Niche
Yup, this is a no brainer for about a million different reasons. Defining your niche helps you land better paying jobs, build authority, and compete with other hungry freelancers. If you work predominantly within a particular niche, however, you can also eliminate time wasted writing pieces nobody wants to buy.
So, what does it mean, in layman’s terms? Basically, pick the subject areas that relate to your background and passions and keep a tight focus on your work.
Brainstorm New Ideas Constantly
I don’t care what method you use, but find a system for brainstorming new ideas and keep fastidious notes. A lot of novelists carry notebooks around with them, so that they can immediately scribble down inspiration when it strikes. Whether you use an app on your iPhone or litter your bulletin board with Post-it notes, document new ideas to give yourself plenty of source material when it’s time to work.
Figure Out Which Editors to Pitch
So, you have a killer idea—now what?
First, consider where this piece makes the most sense. Assuming you’ve narrowed your particular niches to a few great areas, you should have no shortage of editors who would be interested in your idea. Once you’ve settled on your top choice, brush up on the submission guidelines for the publisher in question. For example, many blogs and digital magazines prefer to see a complete article when you pitch, whereas a print publication may be happy with a detailed outline.
Write the query in the body of an email and shoot it off to the editor.
Forget About It
Immediately after pitching, put your work to the side and focus on other tasks. I use a Google Sheet to keep track of my recent pitches, simply so I know what pieces I have floating out in the ether. Other than that, I don’t make any moves with an editor unless I hear a response.
Following up is a hotly contested subject. Some freelancers argue that editors are overwhelmed with submissions, and a simple phone call may result in a positive response. In my case, I feel like following up on an article I’ve pitched is normally a waste of time. I would rather spend my working hours focusing on generating more pieces and connecting with editors who are actually interested.
As freelance guru Carol Tice puts it, “No follow-up means more pitches. More lines in the water mean you catch more fish.”
Repurpose Rejected Work
I like to pitch ideas to publications on a time delay. If you pitch the same pieces to multiple editors simultaneously, you could find yourself in a bit of a pickle. I give busy editors juggling a large number of writers up to four weeks to respond to my query, while smaller bloggers generally get about a week or two. At that point, I pitch the idea to a new editor, reworking it so it’s relevant for the new editor.
If you try this approach multiple times and still can’t find an interested buyer, ask yourself if the piece is any good. Hey, it happens to the best of us—sometimes a particular article is just not that great.
As a last resort, consider using your work as a guest post on another blog (if it makes sense) or post it on an article marketplace. The very first time I used a content marketplace was for this very reason. A client contracted with me to write a detailed blog post, and after three revisions, he still wasn’t happy. At that point, I was losing money and feeling frustrated. I suggested mutually breaking the contract and he agreed.
The article was on a highly specialized topic I couldn’t see pitching to any editors, so I posted it on Constant Content and forgot about it. A few weeks later, I received a notification that it had sold for $75. I’d much prefer that to simply letting it die on my hard drive.
A Real World Example
So, there you have it, my article pitching blueprint. This is the same process I follow for pretty much any story I write. Here’s a great example:
A few weeks before Christmas, I experimented with something new, visiting my healthcare practitioner online. My digital doctor visit cost me $40 and I received a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan, along with a prescription. I was excited about the cost and convenience, and I thought, “Hey, this would be a great story idea!”
I frequently contribute to small business blogs and personal finance sites, and I knew this idea would resonate with others on a tight budget. I pitched an editor for one finance site and didn’t hear anything back for a few weeks. I still thought the idea was great, so I then pitched it to The Penny Hoarder. One of their editors got back with me the same day and my story ran a few days ago.
What does your article pitching process look like? Do you have any tips for better organizing your time or repurposing rejected work?