Get writing work without pitching: how to get editors to come to you with commissions
When I started out as a freelance writer it never occurred to me that editors might one day come to me with articles they wanted me to write. In the past, I’ve had the occasional editor ask me to write a specific article for them. But this year, I’ve had multiple editors come to me over and over again with commissions. In this post I share the five key factors that are crucial to getting editors to approach you with commissions.
Get freelance writing work without pitching: How to get editors to come to you with commissions
After reading some of my posts, a writing friend got in touch with me and asked what I was doing to get editors coming to me with writing assignments. It was the first time I’d really thought about how it had happened. Was it was strategy or sheer luck that I landed repeat writing work without pitching or sending out query letters?
It might not last forever, but having editors approach you with work is a godsend in the feast or famine world of freelance writing.
After my friend asked me that question, I looked at the publications and editors who regularly come to me with commissions, and realised there are similarities with each of them.
1. Look for publications that have a strong content or editorial calendar
I have six different editors regularly coming to me with commissions. The similarity between all these publications is that they have a strong editorial direction. I don’t mean that they know their readers and are publishing content that is exactly in line with their publication’s ethos (although of course they do and are).
No. I mean they either plan their content for each quarter or they have relationships with advertisers or brands that they need to feature or be cognisant of.
I write regularly for one digital publication and they rarely accept pitches from freelance writers. This is because their content team plans, schedules and writes briefs for articles according to in-house research, topical events (such as end of the financial year) and the ways their business can be helpful to those readers (always with the view of establishing themselves as a source of valuable and trustworthy content).
But just because they rarely accept pitches doesn’t mean I didn’t initially send off queries. Quite the opposite. To get my foot in the door, I researched what they had covered, what they hadn’t and pitched some ideas. While the editor didn’t take me up on all the ideas, I really believe that by pitching succinct, timely articles, I showed the editor that I was super keen to write for them.
I write at least one or two articles for them a month, and while I don’t need to pitch ideas to the editor, I still let her know that I’m engaged in the content they are producing. I do this by replying to her tweets, commenting on articles or sending the editor links to recent research on the topics they cover that I think she might find interesting.
2. You need to prove yourself
This doesn’t mean that you have to have been freelancing for years before you will get editors approaching you to write stories for them. But you do have to prove yourself.
This may mean that you are established as an expert in your field. You may be the go-to freelancer for health technology or you may be established within a particular publication so that editors know your name and your reputation. Or you may "just" be a solid beginner who turns in clean copy on time, every time.
I had only been freelancing for a short time before an editor for a national magazine I had written for twice before asked me to write a specific story for her. Looking back I think it was a bit of a challenge – a freelance writer had already been assigned the story but she couldn’t find enough case studies and so had pulled the plug.
The editor approached me and asked me to find two more case studies and write the piece up. Of course I said yes. But the first freelancer had given up for a reason – compelling case studies were incredibly hard to find!
Eventually I did find great case studies and that was a gateway to that particular editor asking me to write many different stories for her.
If you have been freelancing for a few years and write consistently for a particular publication, and editors aren’t coming to you with work, then it’s time to approach them.
You have history of being published with that publication, so ask them if there’s anything you can help them with – any stories they’d like to run but they haven’t allocated yet or any topics they want to cover but can’t find the right freelancer?
Just this week I filed an article and when the editor wrote back to say she had received it, I asked if she was looking for more pitches in any particular areas and she replied saying she was looking to assign a story on a certain topic and asked if I would like to write it.
So let editors know you are keen and available for more work.
But choose your publication carefully ...
3. Go for trade magazines or publications that produce sponsored content or content marketing
I know lots of journalists and freelance writers are not that keen on sponsored content or content marketing and I fully appreciate that. But I will say that if you want editors to come to you with commissions, there are types of publications that are more likely to regularly approach freelance writers to write articles for them.
In my experience, digital publications that are fairly responsive to news trends are unlikely to approach you to write content for them unless they know you are available and can turn stories around in a timely manner.
Look at the publications you write regularly for - do they do sponsored content? If so, then they will have partnerships with brands that they want to highlight – who are the editors or content managers assigning those jobs to? In-house writers or freelancers? Your task is to get onto the list of freelancers who can write those articles.
My experience has been that when editors come to you, it’ll usually be because they have a partnership with a brand and need to highlight a particular product or experience, or because they are the brand and their blog or publication is part of their content marketing strategy (inflight magazines are a perfect example of this).
This does not mean that you will only be writing sponsored content or advertorials. One magazine where the editor regularly asks me to write articles for them, has lots of brand partnerships. Around 50% of the articles I write for this publication may use a brand as one case study in amongst three or four others, but the rest of the articles are simply features that the editorial staff want to run.
[Writing a column is another way to get regular gigs with a particular publication - three established freelance writers share how they landed a column in this post]
4. Keep editors in the loop
I have recently started writing for an inflight magazine and in my original pitch to the editor I mentioned a couple of other places I was travelling to this year. After my initial commission and subsequent submission of the article, the editor got back in touch and asked if I could write a further two articles for her one of the other destinations I was travelling to.
Once you have a relationship with an editor, it’s always worth letting them know if you have particular access to a case study, story or a destination. You want to help them unearth great stories – so start the conversation.
5. But the most important thing to getting editors to approach you with work is …
I almost didn’t put this last point in, but I actually think it’s the most important way you can get editors repeatedly coming to you with commissions.
You don’t have to be an award-winning writer, but you do have to put yourself in an editor’s shoes.
They want to have reliable, pleasant and trustworthy freelancers that deliver what the publication needs every time. I believe you have to go out of your way to show the editor that you won’t disappoint them and that they can count on you. (This doesn’t mean there isn’t any room to make mistakes – I’ve made some clangers, believe me!)
So be the dream freelancer – be responsive, helpful, polite and conscientious.
Conscientious was the word regularly on my school reports and I always resented it. It always sounded so boring. But now as a freelance writer I can see that it’s a good trait to have. And a crucial one if you want writing work coming to you.
Do you have editors approaching you with work? What has made that happen for you?