4 Creative Ways Freelance Writers Can Break into Tough-to-Crack Markets

Carol Tice

Pliers cracking a walnutBy Rosella Eleanor LaFevre

You’ve been dying for months, maybe years, to write for your favorite magazine. You know the one. You read it every month.

It’s one of the reasons you wanted to freelance.

But how can you get in the door? You don’t know anybody there.

Maybe your current clips aren’t that stellar. And you know that magazine gets a ton of pitches, because they pay so great.

Still, you can break into those tough, better-paying markets, even if you don’t have a lot of clips as yet.

Here are four approaches you can use to crack your dream publication:

The Shared Values Approach

What it is: We already know social media is important. You can use it to relay a magazine’s message — and grab that editor’s attention.

Retweeting and sharing links and status updates from the magazine show that you’re a reader and that you get the magazine’s message. Interacting with editors on Twitter is a painless, non-invasive way to get noticed.

How-to tips: Once you’ve been active for a while sharing the magazine’s social-media posts, reach out to the editor through a direct message or tweet and ask if they’re open to pitches. If the editor invites you to pitch her, you should make your email subject line something like: “Pitch From Twitter user and writer @handlehere.”

The Big Fish, Small Pond Approach

What it is: My favorite social media site, LinkedIn, is a great tool for finding experts and keeping up with industry news. In some cases, it’s the first place you’ll discover regime changes.

And the beauty of LinkedIn is that an editor’s inbox on LinkedIn is much less full than her email inbox.

How-to tips: If you don’t have a mutual acquaintance, send the editor a well-written, thoughtful pitch in an InMail message. Be sure to avoid these newbie writer pitching mistakes.

The Cold Call

What it is: Some editors respond only to email and hardly ever answering the phone, while others never seem to check their inbox. Sometimes the best way to get a response is to make your pitch over the phone.

How-to tips: Once you’ve got the editor on the phone, begin by saying, “Hi, I’m a freelance writer and I was wondering if I could take up a minute of your time to pitch an idea.”

If she says yes, be prepared to introduce yourself and your idea as succinctly as possible. If she expresses interest, say “thank you” and have a pitch letter ready to email off as a follow-up. (If she bites your head off, say, “Thank you for your time,” and hang up.)

The Love Letter Approach

What it is: Marissa Hermanson, whose piece about looking young at work appeared in the February 2013 issue of Cosmopolitan, has a piece in the March issue of Southern Living, a notoriously tough market. She broke in by sending an email about how much she loved the magazine to its editor-in-chief.

How-to tips: Keep it to a few paragraphs that show you’re a long-time reader who understands the mission of the magazine. Mention a story in a recent issue that you particularly loved.

Add a post-script saying, “P.S. I’m a freelance writer who has written about a, b, and c for x, y, and z. I’d love to write for yours!” If your email signature links to your writer website, you’re good to go.

How have you broken into new markets? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.

Rosella Eleanor LaFevre is a freelance writer and the editor-in-chief of M.L.T.S. Magazine. Check out her blog on the world of magazine, newspaper and online editing at Vision and Skill.


    • Carol Tice

      What the heck? I’ll go take a look.

      I did block one writer off Facebook yesterday, after she made her 4th consecutive “Please give me some writing work!” post…maybe it’s related to that somehow.

      Huh, I’m not having any trouble bringing it up directly…but I see what’s happening from your site…I’ll investigate.

  1. Robert Jennings

    I recently scored an assignment from a kick-awesome magazine by pitching an article on a non-standard topic. The piece really has very little to do with the pub’s usual subject matter, but I’m hoping that I can use it to build a relationship with the editor and break into that pub on a regular basis.

    • Rosella E LaFevre

      Hi Robert,
      It’s definitely great that you got your foot in the door. Keep pitching the editor and/or asking if they have ideas they’d like you to cover. Don’t lose that foothold!

  2. Terri

    I have executed all of these routes, but only two of them have resulted in an assignment. Cold calling and the love letter approach never proved to be successful for me, but I certainly won’t give up trying them.

    However, contacting editors via Linkedin and Twitter have proven to be gold for me. I’ve made many connections with editors via Twitter. What I noticed is that, sometimes I don’t even realize I’m engaging in Twitter conversations with an editor until I send a pitch and the editor says, “Hi, Your TerrificWords on Twitter. I’m x on Twitter. We just chatted a few days ago!” Oddly enough, this conversation has happened on several occasions with several different editors. Not too shabby for not even having 400 followers! It definitely says a lot about the promise of engaging in social media.

    • Carol Tice

      I find Twitter is a great place to connect with editors, too. Great way to become visible and humanize yourself so you’re not just another pitch in the pile when you send it in to that editor.

    • Rosella E LaFevre

      Thanks for sharing your experiences! I’m sorry you haven’t had luck with two of those methods, but it’s great you’ve had luck with Twitter and LinkedIn!

  3. Anne Michelsen

    Great tips! I’ve been freelance copywriting for four years but am just starting to get into more journalistic writing. LinkedIn has worked well for me so far, but I’ll give these other methods a try, too.

    Just one thing – when cold calling, don’t ever ask to “take a minute of your time.” Better to just say that you have an article idea you think might interest her readers and then ask if this is a good time for her.

    • Rosella E LaFevre

      Thanks for your take on cold calling! This approach seems the most tricky to me. Some editors won’t even pick up their phones and the ones who do might balk at your word choice — no matter what you say.

      • Carol Tice

        I personally have never gotten anything but voicemail from editors…but I know other writers who get all their assignments talking editors up on the phone.

  4. Erica

    I’ve thought of pitching to magazines but have never done it. There are a couple on my wish list and this post gives me a great starting place to get an idea in front of them. Thanks!

    • Rosella E LaFevre

      Why haven’t you pitched magazines? Did you think you would have no luck and thus never tried?

      • Erica

        I’m a copywriter who went freelance in June 2012 and I’ve been focused on building that part of my business. And until recently, I’ve usually considered magazine writing so different (something for a next level of “pro”) that I wouldn’t know where to even start.

        • Carol Tice

          Well, now you do!

  5. Coco

    I like this article. Sometimes I see articles and blog posts with a title like this and it turns out to be the same ol’, same ol’. In fact, I almost didn’t click on this one, but the endorsement from Carol was what sold me.

    I’m encouraged and inspired by these suggestions and tips- they seem fresh, simple, and not-too-overwhelming.

    Getting going and staying going in the freelance world is such a mystery sometimes. It’s as though I’m standing on the ground looking at the zillions of stars, saying, “Where do I start, Luna?”

    Even with my foot in the freelancing door, I find that it’s fabulous to hear fresh ideas that keep me optimistic and ambitious, lest I get lulled into imagining that the jobs I currently have will last and satisfy me for infinity.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Coco —

      Glad you found this useful! I work HARD on bringing quality guest posts to this blog. They have to offer something fresh, actionable, and that the writer found really works, or I pass.

      At this point many of the posts I run are success stories I saw inside Freelance Writers Den, where I ask the member if they’d be willing to share their technique or strategy for earning more on the blog.

      The number of junk guest post pitches I get from link-seekers is amazing, so I’m glad the work of screening the losers out is paying off!

      You may know Kristi Hines from Kikolani just announced she is ceasing to take guest posts because it’s such a pain to wade through the junk. Your feedback makes me want to keep going with them.

      I’m only one writer, and the more different ways to earn more I can feature here, the better I think this blog fulfills its mission. And that leads to including other voices. Stay tuned for an announcement about my guest post policy though — I am changing how I do it.

  6. Peter D. Mallett

    Thanks for taking the time to find great posts. I appreciate your hard work as well as all the posts that you write yourself. This is the second time in only a few days that I have heard about using LinkedIn in this way. I guess I need to stop lurking there, and start working it. 🙂

  7. Tom Bentley

    Hi Rosella. Good tips in the post. Another one is to pitch to the front-of-book (FOB) sections of publications. Lots of magazines, big and small, have openings for 200-400-word pieces on all manner of subjects, and often those sections look for lively writing, which can be fun. Editors are much more willing to take a chance on a short piece if you are unknown to them.

    I’ve written three pieces for The American Scholar mag’s FOB section, after a gracious editor there turned down my pitch for a long article and suggested a 250-word piece instead. I’m working on my fourth one right now.

    • Rosella E LaFevre

      I’ve often heard that tip. I’m glad you’ve had success with it!

  8. Rob S

    In 2003 I read a negative travel article about Bali in the Sydney Morning Herald that infuriated me. I wrote a paragraph-by-paragraph “rebuttal” to the editor, who got back to me and said they’d print it in the letters to the editor if I shortened it to 2 paragraphs and toned it down a little. 6 months later, I went to Bali and took a short side trip to the Gilis, a group of small islands off the coast of Lombok. Armed with the editor’s email address and an introduction (“I’m the guy who was so annoyed . . .”), I knocked out a story and a few pics and got the cover story in SMH’s Sunday travel mag.

    • Rosella E LaFevre

      Hahaha. That’s a great story! Congratulations on turning your negative opinion into a cover story!

  9. Amel

    While doing research for one article, I kept finding all this information about a completely different topic that was just begging to be written into an article of its own. On a whim, I wrote the article I had in mind and sent it off to the editor of a trade publication I was interested in working with. The editor was thrilled and accepted the article the same day. Turns out they were short on material that month, and my article was on a topic they had not covered before. I rarely write on-spec, but this is one time it paid off for me – to the tune of $400.

  10. Kevin Carlton

    Rosella and Carol, as with some of the other readers here, I haven’t so far ever pitched an article to a magazine (or indeed anywhere else), although I really should.

    Only wish more writers read tips such as these, so that they stop wasting editors’ valuable time and hopefully get the work they want in the process.

    One thing, however, that I’m not particularly keen on is too much of the ‘please and thank you’ approach.

    Surely, when you’re pitching an idea, it is you that is doing the favour by offering something valuable and useful to the editor NOT they doing you a favour by giving you the work.

    Of course, this assumes that you’re providing something that may be of value to them in the first place.

  11. Chrissy Das

    Great post! I’ve used Twitter for years but never considered using RT to gain exposure to editors.


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