November 18, 2018 (Updated )
Pitching is tricky at the best of times. Once you’ve got an idea, you need to work out who might be likely to run it, find sources, stats and case studies to back up, and then you still need to craft a concise and compelling pitch that explains why it works for that publication, why it’s relevant now, and why you’re the best person to write it.
To throw even more complications into the mix, different editors like different things, and while they might take your work one time, that doesn’t mean they will in future.
That said, it’s a skill that you can put into practice both as a freelancer and a staffer. So, we’ve decided to put together a selection of successful pitches from some of our lovely freelance friends – and we’ve got some basic guidelines and advice too.
The Basic Guidelines of Pitching
Although there’s rarely a definitive right or wrong way of doing things, there are a few things that generally hold true:
• Cold Pitching Is Harder: Editors receive a lot of emails every day, and the sad truth is that they don’t have to open them all. They’re more likely to open yours if they know your name. Obviously, it’s not always possible to meet editors IRL, but you can share insight on your topic area online, join in Twitter conversations and generally seem like a good egg. If you can convince them to go for a coffee or catch them at a networking event, that’s great)
• Stress Why You Should Write The Story: It’s one thing to have a great idea, but why are you the best person to write it? Whether you’re a specialist or have previously done pieces on the topic, it’s something that’s affected you personally, or you’ve got great access to case studies, make sure to tell editors why you’re the best person to write the piece.
• The Email Subject Is Vital: Yes, we know, you’ve heard it before – editors are busy. That means you need to make your email stand out so it has the best chance of getting read. Keep it simple: use the most attention-grabbing line, and make it clear the email is a pitch. The easiest thing to do is follow the format ‘PITCH: Attention Grabbing Thing Here’.
• Do Your Research and Tailor: A pitch for the same story sent to The Guardian would be very different to the angle you might go for at The Daily Mail. Make sure you tailor your response to the publication’s style, and research if they’ve done anything similar before – you don’t want to suggest something they’ve already covered. You want them to know why it works for them, as well as why it works now.
• Keep It Concise: No matter how tempted you might be, don’t send the entire article! The whole idea of the pitching process is that an editor is given the chance to feedback and give pointers on how they’d like the piece to work. Plus, as you know, they’re busy people. Keep it to a couple of paragraphs at most. You want to give them a flavour of the story, not the finished piece.
Want more pitching resources?
You can see loads more information on how to pitch by looking at our pitching guidelines from publications themselves.
Sian Meade’s excellent fortnightly freelance writing newsletter is also a great shout, and often includes a pitch clinic, while Anna Codrea-Rado’s weekly newsletter is worth your time, plus she runs some pretty cool events too. Jessica Reed also previously ran an excellent and still useful project where she rated pitched from freelancers.
The Niche Publication One
Don’t be put off by the fact I’ve labelled this as a theatre pitch. It works for any kind of story and is also really useful if you’re looking to wing an audience to a slightly niche publisher.
You’ll notice how this pitch goes straight in with the story – and then brings the introduction in a little bit later when you’re already hooked.
After seeing the National Theatre’s 2017 production of Barber Shop Chronicles, Tobi Kyeremateng was inspired. Though the play was “a very black story”, why did the audience she sat with at the Dorfman Theatre not reflect this at all?
The South London theatre producer wanted to take action, and saw lots of talk about encouraging more diversity in theatre audiences, but not much real change. She bought 30 tickets to the Barbershop Chronicles and gave them out through social media and youth groups. From here, the Black Ticket Project was born.
Hi [Editor’s First Name],
The Black Ticket Project is run by Tobi Kyeremateng and Damilola Odelola, and aims to offer young black people free tickets to theatre shows, giving those at a disadvantage the chance to explore the arts and see the industry as one that isn’t closed off to them simply through their societal circumstances.
The project has so far been run through crowd-funding but has already provided hundreds of BAME youngsters the chance to be part of arts audiences, with backing from the National Theatre.
With the latest round of funding, it’s hoped that the organisation can roll out nationally, with talks currently underway to form partnerships with theatre makers across the UK.
I’d like to pitch a feature piece with Tobi, exploring diversity, outreach, audience development, and how their Black Ticket Project sees the current landscape and is aiming to change it.
I think it’s a really interesting project, with two inspiring young people at the helm.
Let me know if this would be of interest – Tobi’s keen to chat, and they’re looking to launch their website in August, and roll-out nationally later in the year.
The Quirky Travel Ones
To confess straight up on this one, I’ve edited the intro – it included the line ‘I hope you don’t think they’re shit’, because I know the editor very well, but obviously that’s way too informal for most situations. That said, I was really pleased with these two ideas and tried to write each pitch in the tone of the piece I imagined writing.
I had two ideas I wanted to run by you for CityMetric, hopefully you’ll think they’re a good fit!
How Does Life Work When You Live On A Rock In The Bristol Channel?
Lundy Island is just 11 miles off the coast of north Devon, but takes just over two hours to reach by boat and has a population of fewer than 30. It couldn’t be further from life on the mainland, with islanders unable to drink the tap water, just one pub and shop, no bank, doctors or police, and an electricity supply which switches off at midnight.
Unlike most other remote island communities though, the population of Lundy isn’t shrinking – taken over by the National Trust in the 1960s, it’s filled with people who’ve made a conscious decision to move there. While visiting last month I decided to investigate just how society functions with so few people and amenities – and the decisions behind moving there. I’ve got a number of interviews and photographs which I’d be happy to use with the piece.
X Reasons Lisbon’s Metro Blows The London Underground Out of the Water
As you may or may not know, I was in Lisbon this weekend. I know you like lists, and well, I thought the metro was great and I have a long list of what I think are quite witty reasons their metro puts the underground to shame. Here are a few:
- They’ve embraced naming lines by colours (how many times have you had to explain to a tourist to take the red line then the dark blue one? None of this nonsense in Lisbon, where they all-out embrace the colour scheme, so can just legitimately call it the green line without sounding like a massive tourist.)
- Day tickets last for a full 24 hours… in London if you’ve had a few too many gin and tonics and you grab a day ticket at 6pm you’ve essentially paid seven times for two journeys. No such hiccups in Lisbon though – a day ticket actually means a glorious full twenty four hours of travel.)
- Beeping doors? No thanks. This underground transport system has a chime like the grandfather clock of your dreams (or your nightmares)
Ps. Of course I took pictures of the Metro.
The Supplement One
This pitch (which ended up in Fabulous magazine here) came from the wonderful Franki Cookney, and it’s the perfect example of why the idea at the heart of a story is key.
She explained: “This was an interesting exercise for me as well because I realised that in the first case the final piece looked quite different to what I pitched.
“I think that shows that you don’t necessarily need to worry about absolutely nailing it in terms of your suggested format as long as you can show that you’ve thought hard about what would work for the publication and – most importantly – you have a really solid, well-researched idea.”
The secret to romantic bliss? Sync your smartphones
If you thought staring at your phones was a guaranteed romance-killer, think again! Technologies such as Simply Us, Wunderlist, Kindu and Fix a Fight help couples do everything from negotiating mutual engagements and divvying up househouse chores, to resolving arguments and spicing up their sex lives.
And with a recent report saying that couples who shared housework equally had more sex, there’s never been a better time to digitally synchronise your relationship.
As someone who recently embraced the “shared to-do list” app (baby steps!) I will join three other couples who will be assigned different apps to try out for a week and keep a diary on whether and how it improved their real-life relationships.
I will also speak to:
• Chris Wetherell and Jenna Bilotta, the real life married couple behind relationship-syncing app Avocado to create a box-out on what led them to create the app and how technology can improve IRL relationships.
• Peter Fraenkel, family and relationships psychologist and author of Sync Your Relationship, Save Your Marriage, for a box-out on how each couple did and what he would recommend to each as an alternative or next step
• I will also compile a sidebar of the best apps for couples
The Foreign Reporting Ones
If you’re going further afield, there are a whole range of stories to be found – here are just a few successful pitches we received.
This first one shows an in-depth knowledge of the country and politics.
Tech, social media, and in particular, fake news have played a significant role in the campaign, and in a pretty vicious way – so much so that the candidates decided to come together to sign a social media non-aggression pact, facilitated by the country’s main peace-building institution!
Much of it is negative, aimed at stoking fear of the other candidate. But with Colombia’s violent history and regional instability, it takes on an even more sinister edge. Lots of false claims have been floating about, some even swallowed by the candidates themselves (e.g. Petro asking for an official investigation on survey methodology following a fake report on it).
Social media is the second most popular way of consuming information about the campaign (or the most popular for young people) so its effects are far-reaching, but it seems to have amplified the ‘old’ way of doing politics. I think there’s certainly a story in this. Do let me know your thoughts.
On a totally different topic, here’s a great example of a cold pitch which leads with exactly why this freelancer is the best one for the job, even if the editor might not have heard of her before. Mel got the (excellent) piece published here.
I’m a freelance reporter and I have a story in which you might be interested. I’ve previously been published in Middle East Eye, Al-Monitor and The National, amongst other publications.
Most historians believe that soap originated in the Levant, travelling to Europe via the Romans. In this region, there are two cities famed above all others for their production of soap – Aleppo, Syria and Nablus, Palestine. In Jordan, female refugees from Syria and Palestine are reclaiming these traditions as a way to earn their own living.
Many of the women involved in these soap-making collectives are the sole earners in their families, which is where their stories diverge from tradition into the 21st century world of displacement, poverty and camps. In Zarqa, we meet Najwa, better known as Umm Mahmoud. She calls herself a mother of two, but her son, from whose name she takes her moniker, was killed by regime forces in the first year of the Syrian revolution. Her husband was later arrested for inquiring into Mahmoud’s death. The injuries he incurred from four months in prison leave him still unable to work.
So Umm Mahmoud has taken the helm of the family, alongside her friend Wafa, whose soap-making is a lifeline for her family, plagued by chronic illness. In a Gaza refugee camp in Jerash, we meet Palestinian women whose stories of finding independence through soap are not so different from the Syrians in Zarqa.
I look forward to hearing back from you. I hope this story is something Women and Girls Hub would be interested in.
One more for luck: here is another piece that, while focused on travel, came from an expert on Colombia and linked to the situation there.
I was wondering if you might be interested in the following for your travel section. I’ve been speaking with a fascinating new travel company, Justice Travel. They see themselves as entirely unique, and are run by ex-humanitarian/NGO workers. Their tours focus on promoting justice and human rights in challenged parts of the world, beginning with Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico this summer/autumn (though with plans for global expansion).
They are marketed at socially conscious westerners who seek to deep dive into countries, and consist of visits to reconciliation projects, peace/social activists, indigenous communities etc. They set out to create lasting dialogues between host communities and visitors to encourage positive change for both parties, and have strong links to the activists they work with and civil society.
They say these factors distinguish them from normal ‘social’ travel companies. This is particularly interesting in these countries, where social activists are still being murdered in large numbers (particularly Colombia). They say their tours are both a reflection of the progress made by the peace process and also a tool for peace-building.
This comes at a time when, in Colombia, tourism is booming, and the country is changing rapidly. Justice Travel see themselves as active in the conversation they say Colombia needs to have about tourism and role models to encourage responsible models (as opposed to the ‘black tourism’ which Colombia is sadly often known for).
The company can accommodate me on one of their early short tours in June, which could give me some great material for a piece. Date depending, this will be prior to the second round of elections, or when the country has a new president and is in the spotlight. Do you think a piece on this company’s approach and their tours could work for you?
The Science-y One
Science doesn’t have to be about big long words and reports which don’t make any sense – as this pitch shows, it’s about making reports relevant to normal people. It’s worth noting the links the author has added through to supporting information.
You can read the final piece – which was remarkably similar to the pitch below – at Refinery29.
Your period can change the way you experience illness, so why don’t scientists take it seriously?
A report out this week shows that periods have a significant impact on a person’s experience of disease, drastically affecting the severity of their symptoms.
The authors of the report, entitled also called for scientific research to focus more on female hormones saying: “Both female health and autoimmune health are vastly under-researched, and even less is known about how menstrual cycles play into autoimmune diseases.”
The fact that the prescription drugs are not tested on women is surprisingly little-known despite being the norm. But in cases where researchers have looked into the effects of disease and drugs on menstruating animals, they have discovered startling differences.
I will talk to the report’s authors about their findings why the hormonal cycle has been disregarded, what this means for women’s health, and what needs to change and write this up as a news feature.
The Opinion One
Whichever way you fall on Brexit scale, or even if you really couldn’t care less, there’s always the scope to make money from your thoughts. This pitch leads with a snappy title to sums up the author’s overall thoughts, before digging deeper into why.
Vote Leave shames us all
Prior to the referendum, I was a ‘Brexiter’, although I could not vote in the referendum. This was due to a letter from Downing Street full of politicised ideology, designed to convert me as a voter, being full of falsehoods. However, I was at Parliament the day after Jo Cox died, and all I can remember is the sadness on all sides.
An MP showed me around Portcullis House, and offered me the parliamentary briefing for her memorial. With the latest allegations about Vote Leave, I am renouncing my Brexit beliefs; that campaign shames us all. This would be an opinion piece, about leaving those views behind, quoting from the reporters involved.
The Personal One
We’ve all probably had experiences we thought would make a good piece – after all, that’s where most story ideas start. Here Franki leads with her own personal experiences to tell a story, before backing it up with some interesting case studies and research. You can read the piece here in The Establishment.
On being “game”: What happens when sex positivity feels like pressure
Recently I had a sexual encounter with some friends that, although enjoyable, involved a few moments I wasn’t super comfortable with. Afterwards, I mentioned these and they were taken on board (or so I thought). “Overall, I had a really good time,” I said. “Yes,” agreed my friend. “Thanks for being so game.” As a sex writer and podcaster I definitely think of myself as sex-positive but suddenly I felt like that was being used against me.
I’m not the first person to experience sex-positivity as a kind of pressure.
The mainstream definition of sex-positivity suggests that sex is something we should treat as something to constantly work on and buy products and services in order to have an ‘amazing’ sex life. This not only alienates demisexual, asexual and people with a low sex drive, but leads to self-doubt among those who do wish to have regular sex.
Even in sex-positive subcultures, where “mainstream” sex is rejected, other kinds of sex and sexual practice often take its place in the sexual “hierarchy” (as explored by Gayle Rubin). Not to mention the extra layer added because participants are also expected to be knowledgeable, confident and “game.”
In these situations the pressure to be “sex positive” is almost as damaging as the sex negative messages it is supposed to challenge. But what can we do about it?
- I will outline the history of the sex-positive movement, its original purpose, and how it has changed.
- I will look at some of the writing on the subject, including academic work from Gayle Rubin and non-fiction such as 2017’s Enjoy Sex: How, when and if you want to.
- I will talk to sex and relationships therapist Meg-John Barker, and activists from FUCKED, all of whom have written and talked about the negative side of sex-positivity, as well as the founders of The Vaginismus Network and Elle from low sex drive blog Sexponential ,who speak and write about how it feels to go against the grain in sex-positive circles.
- Finally, I will draw on my personal experience and talk to other people to add relatable anecdotes to a 1000-word report on how ideas about sex positivity can create negative situations and how we might do a better job of defining it – and ourselves.
This piece was put together with the help of several supporters of Journo Resources. In particular we’d like to thank Franki Cookney, Mel Plant and Will Worley. If you’ve had a successful pitch you’d like to share with other freelancers, drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.