Lizzie is a writer based in London who is interested in politics and visual culture. She has been published by Rewire News Group, The American Aspect, The Appeal, and BOMB Magazine, among others.
May 10, 2023 (Updated )
Simultaneous pitching, also known as simul-pitching, can be divisive. The practice of sending a pitch to more than one editor at the time is a question that often sets freelance journalism chats alight.
Some freelance journalists have integrated simul-pitching into their work pattern to an extent where it is second nature; others take a stance against it, and avoid the practice entirely.
So, does simul-pitching present an opportunity for freelance journalists, or a risk? And, on a more basic level, what is the journalistic etiquette around simul-pitching?
Should You Send The Same Pitch To Different Publications?
On the one hand, simul-pitching makes simple sense. As investigative journalist and anthropologist Scott Carney wrote, journalism is distinctive in the way pitch exclusivity tends to operate by default. In other industries such as book publishing and film, a writer will bring their script to the market and choose the best, competitive offer and negotiate a contract accordingly.
“Silo pitching,” or offering pitch exclusivity, “violates any attempt for a writer to receive a market value for their work,” Carney wrote.
Moya Lothian-Mclean (L) and Tasnim Nazeer (R)
Freelance journalism can be a financially insecure line of work; simul-pitching accelerates the process that ideally ends in a commission and, ultimately, a paid invoice. As Amy Booth, a Buenos Aires-based freelance journalist covering social issues and politics, puts it: “We gotta make rent.”
Simul-pitching may also be an especially useful option for some journalists more than others.
Tasnim Nazeer, an award-winning journalist who covers human rights, Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) news, and social justice, tells Journo Resources that pitch exclusivity can be difficult “especially if you are an early-career journalist or someone from a diverse background.” When Nazeer started freelancing about 10 years ago, she would simul-pitch because she did not want to “lose” a story, especially if it was time-sensitive.
Moya Lothian-Mclean, currently a contributing editor at Novara Media, says that “of course, [there are] legitimate grievances people can have about simul-pitching” — for instance, that simul-pitching “doesn’t show any research or tailoring to a specific publication, that the writer might just care more about firing off content than actually taking their time to match up to the right outlet.”
But for the most part, editors — Lothian-Mclean included — understand and accept the need freelance journalists have to simul-pitch.
“Having freelanced, I know how difficult it can be to get a story placed and the time the process can take, so I totally understand if a writer wants to send the same story to several outlets,” Claie Wilson, features director at Metro.co.uk, says assuringly.
The Cons Of Simul-pitching
Yet some freelance journalists vow not to simul-pitch, arguing that avoiding the practice brings the longer-term benefit of strong, reciprocal relationships with editors.
Donna Ferguson, a freelance journalist who runs workshops on pitching for Women in Journalism, says that she never simul-pitches because she would “rather pitch lots of different ideas to one editor than pitch lots of different editors the same idea.”
This is a more intensive route in terms of time and effort, Ferguson admits, but “ultimately it leads to a really good working relationship with the editor, and a good understanding of what the editor wants and what works for the audience.”
• Even if you’re pitching the same story to multiple editors, make sure it’s tailored to the specific publication and that you’ve spent time reading their output.
• Think about your relationship with an editor beforehand — it might be more appropriate with some pitches than others, or at different points of your career.
• Consider where you really want the piece published. This will give you a priority list and a strategy when pitching. Perhaps you try for your top-tier home first, and then go on to pitch more widely.
• Be transparent with editors where possible. There’s nothing wrong with sending your ideas out to multiple people, but you shouldn’t be writing the same story twice.
Nazeer shares that, although she simul-pitched early in her career, she would avoid doing so to an editor with whom you have established a rapport. “I think it would be best to pitch one at a time if possible. [This] builds a relationship and a reliability element with the editor,” she says.
On the same side of the coin, only simul-pitching story ideas “can be an indicator that you need to work on deepening your relationship with a few select editors,” Booth muses.
In short, simul-pitching may best be considered as a tool to deploy in certain contexts, instead of an end in and of itself. It can be especially useful for journalists who are at an early stage in their career, more so than for a seasoned journalist with an established network of editors that have a track record of commissioning their work.
Being Transparent About Simultaneous Pitching
So, if you choose to simul-pitch a story, should you tell an editor as much? Like simul-pitching more broadly, there are no predetermined rules here; you do not have to communicate the fact that you are pitching your story to multiple outlets.
In fact, “if you’re savvy, the editor won’t be able to tell if you’re simul-pitching,” Lothian-Mclean says. “I’m only really able to discern when someone’s simul-pitching if they tell me themselves, or if the pitch is formatted in a manner that gives it away” — for instance, if the pitch is either unaddressed, untailored, or includes another publication’s name by mistake.
That said, including this information in the pitch letter can serve as a useful piece of insurance if more than one editor does respond with interest in your story. While an editor may be less inclined to formally decline a simul-pitched story, neglected to actually tell you it’s a no, the same cannot be said for an editor who is interested in the same story. In other words, if more than one editor is interested, you’ll soon know about it.
Adding in a line such as “I also wanted to note that this is a simultaneous submission” alongside the more logistical section of your pitch — including the proposed turnaround time, estimated word length, clips, and so on — is a fitting way to reference the fact that you are pitching to other outlets as well. As another example, Booth tends to include the following line: “Just to let you know, I’ve offered this piece elsewhere, but I haven’t had any interest yet, so if you’re interested, let me know!”
Donna Ferguson (L) and Claie Wilson (R)
“My main bit of advice would be [to] always be transparent when pitching the same story elsewhere,” Wilson insists.
Lothian-Mclean explains that one tactical way of simul-pitching is to first ask yourself, where do I really want this story to be published? You can pitch your story to the publication you have in mind and give yourself a deadline. If you do not receive a positive response by that time, you can then move on to simul-pitching the story.
This method balances the long-term goal of getting published in your target outlet and cultivating editor relationships with the more near-term need to get paid.
Simul-pitching can be read as a response to an industry that poses a number of challenges for those who derive a source of income from it — from low pay (both per word and flat rate), late invoices, unresponsive editors, and barriers to entry. “I think simultaneous pitching is a symptom of an industry that has become so massive and anonymous that editors think nothing of ignoring pitches,” Booth says.
Still, simultaneous pitching can be particularly useful to those who experience these hard edges the most, including early-career journalists and journalists from diverse or non-traditional backgrounds. Above all, as a practice, it does not deserve to be shrouded in doubt or cast aside with judgement: it is simply one mechanism that freelance journalists can use to help tilt the odds of a pitch becoming a story.