According to the Metro report, over 4 million people in the UK (just over 10 per cent of the working population) are classed as self-employed working, not just in media, but in a variety of industries from banking to retail.
Therefore, the art of the cold email pitch is an important skill to have in your journalistic arsenal because chances are for at least a part of your career you are going to have to go it alone.
For the majority of people reading this, 50% of this article will seem obvious. However, the knack of writing a great pitch is still not as easy as it looks and while I’m still not sure I’ve even mastered it yet, I’ve had quite a few people coming to me to ask how I’m doing it over the past few months.
With that in mind, here are a few of my tips for getting your foot in the door.
1. Keep it short and to the point: Editors are easily distracted. The temptation is to read one line and say ‘bored now’. Therefore try to condense your pitch into a maximum of 150 words. If you can’t explain your article simply in a paragraph you won’t be able to explain your ideas succinctly in 800 words.
2. Have a USP: USPs, or unique selling point, are a term used ad nauseam in the business and entrepreneurial world (you may have heard the phrase overused on The Apprentice) to describe the hook that makes your product or service essential. Newspapers and magazines are not there to give you a platform to write what you want, they exist to give a platform for content that people want to read. Therefore, why should they publish your article over someone else’s? Why will their readers want to read it?
3. Do not send speculative articles: Most magazines probably won’t even look at them. Why waste all that time and energy? The pitch is only the start of process and an editor wants to be able to shape the article into what they want. An article will be different depending on where you pitch it too, every individual editorial will interpret it differently and will want to put their newspaper or magazine’s stamp on it.
4. Do not start and finish with Comment is Free: The Guardian’s CIF editors probably get hundreds of pitches a day from commentators and experts the world over, how likely do you think they are to pick your piece out? Start with something smaller, perhaps a specialist blog or magazine who are more likely to respond (and more likely to pay you) so you can develop a portfolio and in a few years come back to CIF as an expert.
5. Take it seriously: You may see freelancing as a stop gap until you find something more permanent but it’s a business. The people who commission you are your clients, you are providing them with a service, not the other way around. Act like it. Set yourself realistic deadlines about when you can deliver, accept criticism and adaptations to your original idea and do not overpromise and under deliver.
6. Be creative: When I started doing this properly 5 months ago I didn’t really know anyone in the industry; I got my first commissions for the Independent and the Guardian by working out who the editors of the relevant sections were and pitching cold. From their website contact details you should be able to work out the email formula for most of the staff (for example the Independent is first initial dot last name at independent dot co dot uk so for Joe Bloggs it would be firstname.lastname@example.org) and you can work out the editor by going through the newsfeed, working out who posted the most content and checking their own profiles for their title.
7. Use Twitter: 70% of my first contact with my clients comes from Twitter. They sometimes post asking anyone if they want to write or have a comment on anything or even sometimes just engage in conversation enough for you to say ‘do you want an article on that’? If it wasn’t for social media and the internet I could have never become a journalist but now it’s possible to do it in my bedroom at my parents’ house.
8. Stop whining: Freelancing takes time and effort, you will get rejected more times than you can blink and no-one is going to fall over themselves to let you write. Saying you can’t freelance without a contact is foolish because you can’t expect everything to fall into your lap. Your uncle could be Editor-In-Chief of The Times, if your idea is no good, you still won’t get commissioned. If one place rejects your pitch, adapt it and pitch it somewhere else.
9. If you want to get paid, ask for money: It’s that simple. I know this is something I’ve struggled with over the past couple of months but I’ve made a breakthrough since I got back from the conferences. Do not set out a list of payment demands in your first email, if they respond casually ask how many words they would like and how much the freelancer rate is. If they can’t pay anyone, fair enough (there are a lot of blogs out there who genuinely can’t) but if they refuse to and clearly can afford it, take your article elsewhere. If you’re good enough to write, you’re good enough to be paid. I think once you’ve been paid for an article you have a lot more confidence to ask for it again.
What do you think? Are you a freelancer that could offer any more advice? Are you a wannabe that stills has any questions? Tweet us or comment below!