Today’s addition to the Industry Insider series is a guest post by Maxabella – managing editor of Mumtastic Australia, experienced blogger, freelance writer and, full disclosure, related to me from birth. She works with freelancers and bloggers every single day and has some tips for getting your pitch over the line – and repeat work.
I’ve been an online commissioning editor for almost five years and am currently the managing editor of lifestyle website Mumtastic. My job involves building a crack team of regular editorial writers as well as hunting down ‘perfect fit’ writers for campaign work. I work with freelance writers and I’d prefer them to also be bloggers because bloggers tend to write in a more personal tone that suits our website. Bloggers also generally have a more engaged and influential social media offering – valuable for editorial work and pretty much critical for campaign work.
I get asked a lot (like A LOT a lot) if people can pitch a story my way and I generally say, “I’m not commissioning from unsigned writers right now.” This is usually quite true, but it’s also an excuse because 99% of the time cold pitches are just such a waste of my time. Not because the story ideas are 99% awful (although I’d say at least 75% of them are boring, unoriginal or poorly written and generally all three at once), but because I don’t know you. And if I don’t know you, I can’t trust that you’ll deliver what you say you will when you say you will.
Tips to get your cold pitch read
Maybe your pitch idea is so good that it shouts through the general noise in my inbox. We’re talking a really, really loud pitch because I receive upwards of 25+ cold pitches and 100+ media briefs with story ideas a week. Combine that with all the general inbox noise and only the brightest, shiniest cold pitches are going to get heard. Some things help:
- Get to know me before you pitch me – most editors have a fairly strong social media presence and even if they don’t, the publication they work for will. If you think that editors of bigger publications won’t see you on their business Facebook page, think again. Any online editor worth their salt is all over Facebook page mining the comments for story gold – and that includes the big guns like Fairfax and News Life.
So, I’d expect to see you over on the Mumtastic page commenting your little heart out weeks before I see your name in my inbox. Not only does it show me that you are genuinely interested and engaged with the website you want to write for, there’s something else right in your favour: I’ll know your name in my inbox so I’m going to pay it some attention.
- The subject line is critical – “I’d like to pitch a story idea to you” versus “PITCH: I’m in Love with My Best Friend, Should I Leave My Husband?” versus “PITCH: Trust me, you don’t want to miss these stories”. Or something like that. I’m sure you can do much better – that’s why I’ll want to read your pitch.
- Be professional, not ingratiating – maybe some editors love a good suck-up, but I am definitely not one of them. I’d rather hear why you think YOU are so great than empty words about myself or the publication. Let the pitch do all the selling for you.
- Structure your pitch – this is a fantastic opportunity for you to show that you can structure an article, so give me a headline (plus an alternative if you’re feeling creative); a 2-3 sentence outline; and a basic takeaway. What’s the hook that’s going to make them want to read? What is the reader going to feel / do after reading your article?
- Showcase your capability – pitch your work as above, then wrap it all up with an estimate for how quickly you can turn the article around. Add a brief bio with links to at least three online articles you’re proud of – make it easy for me to view your writing. If you’re feeling brave, put your rate in the email as well, knowing that it will be negotiated based on what the editor has to offer.
- Make me curious – above all else, make an editor want to find out more. The perfect pitch is one that leaves an editor gagging to read the actual story.
Moving from pitch to commission
Once you’ve had your pitch accepted (and yay for you, that’s big news indeed), what happens next? Well, you can either deliver the one article, send your bill and then start the whole thing all over again as per the above, or you can make your editor so happy with you that they knock on your door and say, “hey, Joe, can you write me this?” or “hey, Joe, what can you pitch me this month?” Here’s how to make your editor THAT happy:
- Support the publication – if you are writing for someone (or you really want to), be all over their social media. Be an enthusiastic advocate for that publication. It will get you noticed and it will be deeply, deeply appreciated.
- Pitch well – see above. Remember, you want to make an editor’s job easier, not harder.
- Write to your pitch – If you’ve pitched ABC, don’t write DEF (let alone 123… believe me, it happens). Write exactly to the pitch because that’s what the editor is paying you to do.
- Match the tone – Has the editor asked for a specific tone? If she has, write like that. If she hasn’t, it pays to know the publication that you want to write for and match its tone. Is it authoritative? Is it friendly? Is it outraged? Is it personal?
- Write the details – your pitch is your basic outline, now it’s time to go deep into your topic – the interest is in the details. I find a lot of good writers aren’t good investigators and if you’re writing any kind of article, you need to put your detective hat on. Examine every angle and look on top of and under every word. This isn’t about investigative reporting (unless that’s what you’re actually doing, of course), it’s about covering a topic with absolute clarity. Don’t ever make your reader guess and don’t leave them feeling unsatisfied.
- Give a little extra – whatever you’re writing, offer something unexpectedly extra. This will be different for every story, but you’ll know the offering when you see it. In print, it’s the little call-out box that has bulleted points about an aspect covered in the general article. In digital a good way to learn how to do it is to offer 3 excellent links embedded in your article: 3 links to fast recipes to cook for dinner when you’re writing about work-life balance for women; 3 links to meditation ideas when you’re writing about the pace of modern life; 3 links to how to grow your confidence when you’re writing about cold pitching to an editor.
- Freelance Writing: Creating the Perfect Pitch
- 5 Ways to Fake Confidence in Your Article Pitch
- How to Pitch: Outreach Tips from Journalists
- Write well – grammar, spelling, punctuation… your command of the English language matters a great deal. The less a sub has to do, the more they are going to like you. I wouldn’t give my car to a mechanic that couldn’t tell me what a spark plug was nor would I trust my money with a banker that asked me whether shares or housing was a better investment. Know your craft. I can’t tell you how off-putting it is to an editor to have to change ‘there’ to ‘their’ in an article. To be completely frank, it makes me think less of you as a writer and that doesn’t give me confidence to work with you again.
- Meet your deadlines – I can’t stress this enough. If you are a freelancer and you can’t meet your deadlines, then no matter how good your product is, it’s faulty and I won’t buy it. It goes beyond the deadline too – if you’ve got commissions out from an editor and you see an email or missed call from that editor, respond as a top priority.
So, there you have it. Everything I reckon would make me happy as an editor. Working this way makes the editorial process smooth and satisfying for everyone – especially the reader.
If you’d like to get to know Maxabella better, visit her blog here and say hi on Facebook. If you’d like to do your research on Mumtastic, visit the site here, and you’ll find the team on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.