A year after I graduated I quit my reception job because after watching an episode of Friends I decided that I, like Rachael, needed “the fear”. What actually happened was that I panic-pitched every publication I could, and I did a pretty terrible job. So in order to help other equally hapless newbies, here are the 5 biggest mistakes that I made, both as a freelancer and once I became a Daily Telegraph writer:
All publications work to different schedules, and unfortunately the only way of knowing the ins and outs is to work there. But there are some useful basic rules that you can follow. Don’t pitch on a Monday or a Tuesday (your editor will still be dealing with their back catalogue from the weekend.)
Don’t pitch at 9AM, because that’s when all the press releases come in, and it might well get lost.
At About Time we like to commission on Thursdays and Fridays. We’re in a good mood because it’s nearly the weekend, we’re thinking about content for the next week and we’ve fought all the fires that came in over the weekend.
As a general rule you’re going to have more luck if you pitch someone too junior than someone too senior.
Junior people have slightly less bursting inboxes, and they were in your position more recently, so it stands to reason they might be more likely to help you. If they forward your pitch on to their boss, it’ll have their name on the email, which means it will be way more likely to be read.
It’s super tempting to pitch a tell all interview with Hillary Clinton, but realistically, can you provide it?
More realistically, can you turn around the story with the deadline? Can you get access to the people involved (think seriously about this: people can be nightmares to get hold of, whether they’re celebrities or not.)
I get about five emails a week asking me if I’ve read their pitch. The honest truth is that if you haven’t had a reply, it’s because the editor didn’t like it and isn’t going to run it.
I regularly get ignored by the people I freelance for, and whilst it’s annoying, it’s the nature of the beast. Editors are busy people and if you make their life harder by chasing again and again then it’s very unlikely that you’ll eventually get commissioned.
Not literally everything, but as much as humanly possible. Read anything you can find that was written by the person you’re pitching too. What are their politics? Are they formal or informal? Do they like a list format or a longer piece?
If you know what you’re aiming to end up looking like then you’re a lot more likely to do it. Sometimes your creative integrity has to be shelved here. You might write beautiful lengthy prose, but if it’s an online newspaper which publishes 20 times a day then you need to keep it pithy rather than ponderous.
If you’d like to learn more about freelance pitching to online publications then come to Pitch Digital, hosted by Angelica Malin & Rebecca Reid, who will be speaking on everything from getting a digital commission, getting paid for your writing, to growing making your social media work harder.
Wannabe Hacks readers get a 15% discount on tickets using the code WANNABEHACK.