How to get an editor to read your pitch
There’s no doubt that pitching is an art, and if I’m honest, despite all the good advice out there, pitching is one of the things that lets so many freelance writers down. Despite what some people may profess, there’s no one single way to make sure your pitches to magazine or newspaper editors hit the mark. But there are definitely ways to increase the chance of your queries getting opened, read and responded to.
How to get an editor to read your pitch
In the past on this blog, I’ve written about the 5 things you can do to get a pitch across the line and the 3 mistakes that freelance writers make when pitching digital publications, but I think it’s really important to talk about the ways you can maximise your chances of getting an editor to open your pitch email and consider your query.
1. Pitch an exclusive
Ok, so this may seem really obvious, but if you have particular access to a person or a story, make sure you mention it in your subject line.
Publications love to run stories that no one else has access to, so increase your chances of having your pitch read by including the exclusive nature of your pitch in your subject line or early in your pitch.
Don’t have an exclusive? Don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to get an editor to read your pitch.
2. Pitch when you submit a story
“I figure that the editor has to open the email to get my story, so I also include a pitch while I’ve got their attention,” she said.
I thought this was an absolutely brilliant idea, and am planning on trying it out this week.
I’ll let you know how it goes!
3. Match your subject line with the publication’s style
I’ve said this before, but I think it’s so important to use your subject line wisely.
When you pitch, always put “Freelance pitch” or “Pitch” at the front of your subject line, especially if you haven’t worked with the editor before.
Otherwise, they can easily mistake your pitch for one of many press releases they receive each day.
You want to show the editor that you know the publication’s style, tone and voice and the best way to do that initially is by using the subject line to your advantage.
If it’s an online publication that routinely publishes listicles, then something like “Freelance pitch: The 10 greatest underground cafes in Berlin” is likely to resonate with the editor.
Or if it’s a publication that uses plays on words in their headlines, follow suit. I once pitched an idea with the subject line: “Romancing the stove” for a Valentine’s Day story about the best dishes to cook for the big day - my idea was commissioned.
Or if a publication uses two-word headlines, do the same. For example, I once pitched a story called: “Listen Up (why podcasts are so popular)”
4. Keep it short
A few months ago I was on a press trip with an editor of a popular online travel site.
We got chatting about what she does and doesn’t like in pitches and she told me that she regularly gets pitches from writers that are three or four paragraphs long.
You know what she does when she opens up an email and sees a lengthy pitch?
She deletes it immediately.
This editor told me that she was so time poor that it made her feel anxious to have to read a long pitch, and that it was much easier just to delete it.
And you know what was most surprising about this conversation?
That some of the pitches she deletes are from award-winning, experienced travel writers who she has told time and again about her preference for short and snappy pitches, but they don’t oblige.
Listening to her talk about how frustrating it is when she’s given clear directions to writers who choose to ignore it, was a big lesson.
If an editor tells you they want a pitch delivered in a particular way, it seems like a no-brainer to do it, right?
5. Pitch after you’ve connected with the editor on social media
I always think that editors are more likely to open and respond to your pitches if they know you or if your name is familiar to them.
I have a quick look through their feed to see if they’ve given any hints about the kinds of stories they are looking for or are interested in, or if I can tie my pitch into any of their recent posts.
Not so long ago I connected with an editor on LinkedIn, without any immediate intention of pitching him, but then a great story came up and I pitched.
In his response to my pitch (which was a yes), he mentioned that he recognised my name from connecting on LinkedIn.
So my experience is that it does work to be actively engaged with editors on these channels.
6. Pitch for a specific issue
Don’t forget that many publications will have contributor guidelines as well as an editorial calendar.
You can either email the editor (or the editorial coordinator) to request these.
An editorial calendar is a super useful document to use when you’re pitching (and another way of finding it is by searching for the publication’s media kit).
In the media kit, you’ll often find that if a publication (usually print) has a particular focus in a certain issue, (such as a cruise issue, or a luxury issue) they will mention it in their media kit, because they’ll want to attract advertisers in that space.
So be savvy when you pitch and say (for example) that you are pitching knowing that the publication’s “animal welfare” issue is coming up.
I know some freelance writers who have installed email trackers so they see if and when and editor opens their pitches, but for me, that knowledge would be crazy-making.
I’ve found that cultivating relationships with editors and getting to know the kind of content they are looking for is the best way to ensure that my pitches get opened and read.
Oh, and don’t forget that following up with editors in another great way to get your pitches read.
If you’re after more information about how to pitch a magazine or newspaper editor, this blog post of mine has a link to a free resource that lots of writers have found useful.
You can see sample pitch letters and download 10 of my successful pitches (including articles published in The Guardian, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, The Age/Sydney Morning Herald and many more).
* * *
I did this course in feature writing back in 2011 when becoming a freelance writer was a bit of a pipe dream.
Within a few weeks of finishing the course I had my first article commissioned for $400.
I know it sounds hyperbolic, but the course changed my life.
And it undoubtedly taught me what needs to go into a pitch to make it catch an editor’s attention.
Do you have any other strategies you use to increase your chances of editors reading your pitch?