If you’re a freelance writer who wants to get article and blog post bylines, you need to know how to write a pitch.
A pitch is a letter or email you write to an editor or site owner, explaining your story idea for the publication. A successful pitch moves the editor to say, “Yes! Go ahead and write this piece for me” (and get paid, if it’s a commercial publication).
Not too long ago, you’d write a pitch in a query letter. You’d type it perfectly, then print it and hand sign it. Before you folded the letter into equal thirds, you’d slip in a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). This ensured that you’d hear back from the publisher. Then after a quick lick of a postage stamp, you’d send off the query with prayers. And it was on to the next one.
But “the days of mailing in pitches are (mostly) gone,” says freelancer and editor Leigh Shulman. “Email will be your primary way to contact editors.” And while writing a print query letter is quite similar to emailing a pitch, there are a handful of additional tips that are important to know when you write a pitch email.
The key tip to remember when you write a pitch by email? Be as specific as you can — not just in the body of the email, but in all the elements of your pitch. Write tight.
See what I mean with these five tips that put you in the shoes of an editor.
Imagine you’re Eddie Editor. You oversee a parenting publication whose primary readers are parents with teenagers. As your day starts, you click open your email application and see 157 notifications.
You’re an editor, so a pile of emails doesn’t scare you. It’s part of your job. That’s one reason you are not enticed by sensationalized clickbait headlines. In fact, you have been “sold” before and you are put off by subject lines that promise too much. Instead, you are impressed by a question that intrigues you … a statement that arouses your curiosity … wording that creates a sense of urgency or timeliness, or a fear of missing out.
If you’re Eddie, think how helpful it would be to see a subject line titled, “PITCH: These Colleges Are Looking for Your Student-Athlete.”
The subject line specifically indicates that the email is a query about a potential article or post. And the headline is enticing. Your readers are parents of teenagers. Naturally, they are looking for ways for college to be affordable for their kids. Yes, you are eager to click on this email and read this pitch.
Eddie stares at his screen, clicking through emails one by one. Some open with, “To Whom It May Concern.” Others have no salutation at all.
But then, your email catches Eddie’s eye. You’ve used his name. That means you took the time to find out who he was and then personalize your content. Yes, he appreciates the fact that you see him as a person and not just a paycheck.
You appreciate email that gets right to the point, don’t you? So does Eddie. That’s why you won’t bother Eddie with throwaway opening lines like, “I know you’re busy …” or “I was browsing online and found your site …” Eddie doesn’t need currying up. He needs to know if you’ve got the goods for him.
And you won’t tell Eddie, “I want to write an article about college sports.” That’s not even a pitch or even an idea — it’s a broad topic. Suggesting an idea that is too general is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when you write a pitch email.
Instead, drill down your angle and be specific in your opening line. Frame your pitch with an engaging question … fascinating statistic … attention-grabbing story … a bit of personal information. When the opening hook reveals your article’s slant, Eddie will take notice.
Specify further. Summarize your proposed story and how you’ll develop it in a couple of sentences or a couple of paragraphs. Do it in 500 words, tops — preferably much less. Here’s an example ...
“My daughter’s soccer dream had come true the day she signed a college commitment letter. And our dream as parents had come true, too: her scholarship package provided for more than half her college expenses. I’d like to write a 1200-word article for Parenting Teens titled, “Your Kid Can Pay For College By Playing Her Favorite Sport” that explains how parents can walk with their children through the process of becoming a student-athlete in college, even if they’re not superstar Division I material.”
Include a sentence that specifically acknowledges Eddie’s readers such as, “Like other parents of teenagers, I wondered if my children would be able to continue playing sports in college.” You need to show Eddie that you’ve done your homework in understanding who reads his publication: parents of teenagers, not firefighters who are looking for safety training in multi-unit buildings, or activists who are seeking funding for a nonprofit startup.
Why should you be the one to write this piece? Here’s the place to insert your quick, one or two-sentence bio.
But as you write a pitch, you also want to explain your connection to the story: “You can find my byline in more than twenty publications. And for this article, I’ll draw on my own experience guiding my two children through the process of earning athletic scholarships to Division II colleges.”
One or two sentences about you are all you need for Eddie to be intrigued enough to say “Yes, I’d like to see the completed article.” That’s because Eddie can learn more about you online, especially when you …
Once you’ve thanked Eddie, continue to respect his time. Take a cue from freelancers of yesteryear who always included a self-addressed, stamped envelope with their submissions. They made it easy for editors to get back to them.
You do the same. Make it easy for Eddie to get back to you digitally when you give him a range of specific contact options. Include an email signature in your pitch — one that offers your phone number, your mailing address, your website or blog address, your social media accounts — even your author page if you’re published on Amazon.
Naturally, Eddie can respond to your pitch simply by hitting “Reply.” But an email signature marks you as a pro. When you tell Eddie where he can find you online, you give him the chance to see your other work. He will click on those links. He will see you’re a writer with experience.
And since you’ve included your phone number in your email signature, Eddie may just pick up the phone and call you to talk about your pitch. You’ve demonstrated that you respect him. He has the feeling that he can trust you. And that makes Eddie much more likely to say “Yes” … and offer you the gig.
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