You take the time to write a solid pitch letter, send it off, and then you wait…and wait some more.
It kind of feels like you’re in the boxing ring, circling, waiting for some action, or a reply.
Maybe nothing happens. What’s your next move? Was there something wrong with your pitch? Should you pitch again? What can you do to engage an editor or marketing director to land an assignment or get a new client?
Long before you step into the ring and hit send, you’ve got to get your pitch letter right.
And that doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve got to learn how to dodge and weave, jab and move, and deliver the kind of punch in your pitch letter that rings a bell for your editor.
If you’re new to freelancing, or you keep getting knocked around when you send a pitch letter, it’s time for a little help.
Want to know how to punch up your pitch letter? Go to your corner and check out this advice from a pro editor trained to show you the ropes.
Punch up your pitch letter with pro editor Peggy Bennett
Peggy Bennett kicked off her writing career more than 20 years ago, and quickly found her niche writing and editing for business publications.
She was a long-time editor for Entrepreneur, and other national magazines.
She’s worked with thousands of freelance writers, read a staggering number of pitch letters, and weathered the storm of the ever-changing world of journalism and freelance writing.
In a Freelance Writer’s Den podcast, Peggy shares her best tips to help you improve your pitch letter and land an assignment.
Q: What should new writers do before pitching?
Peggy: For a writer who has never pitched a publication or website before, I imagine it can be really overwhelming.
My suggestion: Go with your expertise. Pitch and write about what you know best. That will establish you as a strong writer, and help you get some clips and articles.
If you don’t have an area of expertise, choose a few areas and narrow it down. You have to get somewhat specific there, or you’ll just get too overwhelmed to get started.
Q: Is there a way to find out what editors want?
Peggy: Yes. Read writer guidelines, the submission guidelines, or the editor’s page. You can usually find this online. This will give you a lot of information about how to pitch a certain website or publication.
The guidelines can tell you what kinds of stories they’re looking for, whether it’s profiles, how-to stories, or features. It’s a good place to start to help you narrow down your pitch.
Q: How do you study a magazine or website you want to write for?
Peggy: If there is a certain publication or website you want to write for, it’s really important to thoroughly get to know that publication. Read back issues. Study the different channels on the site.
Get an idea of what is assigned to freelancers and what isn’t. That’s really important. If you pitch something that only a columnist writes, that shows the acquisition editor you don’t really know their publication and that’s a big strike.
Q: What’s the pitch volume look like for an editor at a typical consumer magazine?
Peggy: It really varies. But to give you some idea, I used to take all of the pitches for Entrepreneur magazine. I probably got 50 to 150 pitches a week. And that’s not uncommon.
You can imagine how quickly an editor has to go through those to stay on top of them. We would only get in touch with the writer if we wanted to use their story, because it was just unmanageable any other way.
Q: Should you follow up if you don’t hear back from an editor?
Peggy: I don’t see anything wrong with a follow-up email. You know, “I sent this query to you back then. This is what it’s about.” Maybe throw in a slightly different angle, or pitch a different story idea.
If I can tell you’re a great writer, but your idea just doesn’t work for now, a editor might set that aside or file it away and forget about it. Unfortunately, that’s sometimes what happens. Following up in a month with another strong idea is a great way to get an editor’s attention.
Q: What pitch letter mistakes cause an editor hit delete instantly?
- Typos. It seems obvious. But you’d be surprised how many pitches are rampant with typos. All that tells the editor is that this person, doesn’t know grammar, spelling, or punctuation. It’s also a sign you didn’t take the time to read over your own pitch. If there’s a lot of mistakes in your pitch, it’s gone. That’s a big red flag, absolutely in the trash can. I’m going to hit delete.
- Laziness. Let’s say you want to write for Fortune magazine. If you pitch me a topic that’s basically the headline of a story in the current issue, your pitch is going to disappear quickly. It shows you haven’t spent any time getting familiar with the publication.
- Too general. At Entrepreneur, I got pitches all the time about how to start a small business. But that’s what the whole magazine is about. When your pitch is too general, it’s a total turnoff to the editor. You need to be more specific and pitch something like, “Biggest marketing mistakes small-business start-ups make,” or “Profiles of successful entrepreneurs who started their business on $5K or less.”
- A completed article. Don’t ever write an article and send it to an editor as a pitch. That editor is going to want to have their own ideas put in the story, an angle in mind, or something like that. I can honestly say in 20 years of editing, I’ve never accepted a query that was an entire article. Not once.
Q: What does an effective pitch letter look like to you?
To me, the most professional-looking query letter is going to be a couple paragraphs long. It’s going to include an interesting topic, be compelling, very-well written, give me a little bit of your background, and links to a couple of clips. If you’re a totally new writer without clips, just leave that out and let your pitch stand alone.
Q: If you get a rejection with a personalized response from an editor, what should you do?
Peggy: If an editor gets back to you and says something positive, it means they’ve taken the time to read your pitch and liked something about it. They can tell you’re a good writer and you have good ideas. If someone takes the time to tell you “pitch again,” I would pitch again soon, within a couple weeks.
Ready to land your next assignment? Start pitching
If you want to land a magazine assignment or get a new client, start pitching. Study the magazine or website. Read the guidelines. Come with a great idea. Do a little research. Then write a punchy pitch and send it off. You got this!
Need help writing a pitch letter? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
Evan Jensen is the blog editor for Make a Living Writing. When he’s not on a writing deadline or catching up on emails, he’s training to run another 100-mile ultra-marathon.