The ultimate guide to making your writing dreams come true!
Want to write a novel or earn an income as a freelance writer, but not sure how to go about it? Authors Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo – co-hosts of the popular So You Want To Be A Writer podcast – will give you the steps you need to make your dream a reality.
In this book, you’ll discover everything you need to be a successful writer, including how to connect with people who will help your career grow and productivity tips for fitting everything into your already busy life. You’ll also explore how to keep your creative juices flowing and where to find other writers just like you.
This book lays out a blueprint to help you get started and thrive in the world of words. With advice from over 120 writers, you’ll tap into proven wisdom and find the path that will lead YOU to success!
Here’s what five of Australia’s favourite authors have said about the book
‘Practical, grounded and inspiring. When a thousand voices tell you that you can’t, you need a voice to make you believe you can. This book is that voice.’ Candice Fox, #1 New York Times bestselling author
‘So many pro tips in here from working writers. This is like Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans but exclusively for writers. I loved it.’ Tristan Bancks, award-winning children’s author
‘Perfect for the person who wants to write but doesn’t have the confidence or the know-how to start.’ Pamela Hart, award-winning historical fiction author
‘Essential reading for any aspiring writer.’ Graeme Simsion, international bestselling author
‘Val and Al were a godsend to me before I was published, offering a guided tour to the world of publishing that was otherwise closed to me. Their advice is highly, highly recommended.’ Dervla McTiernan, international bestselling author
And here’s a picture of the co-authors on the day (nearly a year ago) we decided to write a book
We are thrilled to bring this book to our podcast audience, our writing community and to new and aspiring writers everywhere. It will be available through a range of online booksellers, here and overseas, so stay tuned for more details.
If you’d like to read more about So You Want To Be A Writer the book, or register your details to receive notice as soon as the book is on sale, you’ll find all the details here.
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 pitching an editor – and getting 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.
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.
I wrote this post on how to pitch a few years ago. The thing with pitching is that the basic premise never changes – you just get better with practice.
When I tell people I’m a freelance writer, the first question they ask me is “Do the magazines tell you what to write?” My response: I wish.
The next question is: “Where do you get your ideas?” I think that’s the wrong question. It should be: “How do you sell your ideas?”
Being a successful (and I define successful as “working regularly, not having to sell your children on eBay”) freelance writer is not so much about crafting words in the most artistic way – although this can help – but more about taking a commercial approach to words.
If you are a writer, you have ideas. It’s how you get those ideas to your potential market that makes the difference to how much work you get. There are many factors at play – a professional attitude, diligence, reliable delivery – but the single most important is the pitch. Get the pitch right, and chances are you’ll get the job.
Get the pitch right
There are a couple of things to bear in mind when it comes to pitching:
1) You have to pitch all the time. If you don’t like the idea of pitching, or your ideas being rejected, it might be time to consider another field. A 95 per cent rejection rate is normal, particularly when you’re starting out. Heck, any time. I remember patches where it seemed that every single idea I sent out was rejected. It drove me nuts. It depressed me. But it also made me think long and hard about where I was going wrong with my pitches.
2) Email is excellent. Most editors prefer this form of pitching. But you have to grab their attention up front – and leave them wanting to see more.
3) There is no point in sending your pitch to the editorial assistant. Find the right person for your pitch. Larger publications have different editors for different sections, smaller publications will have one, but you need to find out if it’s the features editor, the deputy editor or the editor who makes the decisions. Ring up and find out.
The actual pitch for a story idea should be precise. If you can’t explain it in a paragraph or two**, you haven’t refined your angle enough. Tell them:
•What the story is about (snappy one-liners work well here – think about what kind of heading the publication would put on the story and try to write it)
•Who you will interview for the story, or where the source will be
•What the ‘hook’ is
•If you’re planning to have case studies, have an idea of who these will be – there’s nothing worse than being asked to turn a story around in two weeks and realising you need to find four couples willing to discuss their sex lives in detail (with photographs) to make it happen.
•If you haven’t written for the publication before, tell them who you are and why you’re the best person to write this particular story.
What happens next
So far, so good. Before you press Send and start fretting about whether your pitch is successful, however, there’s one more consideration. Have you pitched the story to this particular publication? It’s not enough to have a great story idea, it has to be tailored for the publication you’re targeting. Think about the audience the editorial team is targeting. Think about the ‘voice’ of the magazine, newspaper or website – the words they use, the attitude they convey. Your writing needs to be your writing, but it also needs to fit within the publication’s voice.
An example. I had a call from a magazine aimed at younger women asking me to ‘look into’ a story on egg donors. They had seen an overseas story on how young women were selling their eggs to get through uni, and wanted to know if it happened here. Great idea – except that women in Australia aren’t paid to donate eggs, and they like you to have completed your own family before you do so. The mag decide they didn’t want the story.
But I’d done enough research at that point to almost have the story in place, including finding a couple of case studies (always the hardest bit), so I pitched it (with permission) to a different publication with a new angle. I thought the really interesting thing about egg donors was why they did it – what’s in it for them? The other publication bought the story and it worked out really well.
Moral of the story? If one editor says no – and they do, you know – take another look at your idea, try a different angle and think about where else you might send it. Then start all over again.
**Note: it takes a while to master this. When you first begin, you will need more words to explain your ideas. Finetune with experience.
In the last issue of my newsletter, I shared my thoughts on the three common mistakes new freelancers make – and what to do about them. Because I currently find myself dealing with the Holy Trinity of publishing all at once, and thereby incapable of complete thought, I have decided to share it here as well.
These are three common mistakes made by new freelance writers that I see regularly.
•Pitching a ‘subject’ rather than a feature. ‘The difficulties that working mothers face’, for instance, is a subject – not a feature. An editor needs you to find the angle in that story that makes it fresh and now. It might be a news angle (childcare costs set to rise). It might be a lack of suitable flexible working hour positions (mums can’t get back into the workforce). Find the angle, and then mine it!
•Not selling the pitch. It’s not enough to send an editor an outline of your story – you need to sell it to them. Why this story? Why right now? Why are you the person to write it? All of these questions need to be answered – in about two sentences. Which is why you need to consider point three…
•Not thinking in cover lines. Putting a compelling, succinct heading on the story is a shortcut to the sell. When you write the headline, think of it as a ‘cover line’ – if it’s a piece for an online story this is possibly even more important because the editor needs to believe that readers will click through for your piece.
A few weeks ago, I had a freelance writing piece published in a weekend supplement. It was a good story, about whether it’s better to live in the city or the country. I enjoyed the interviews, I enjoyed writing the story, it looked great in print.
Today I realised that I don’t have a copy of that story. Any more than I have a copy of the 80 million (round figure) other stories I’ve written over the past 20 years.
Oh, I have some. My filing cabinet bulges with bits and pieces, including the article I wrote about the time Mr10’s favourite teddy went to bear hospital (he was two at the time, and it remains one of my favourite stories ever).
I still have the first travel article I ever wrote, when I was working at Homes & Gardens in London and they sent me to stay in a six-star honest-to-goodness castle in Ireland. I have some of my best work from CLEO, buried at the back where my boys won’t see it until they are much, much older.
But so much of my work is not there.
Partly, it’s practicality. My study would look like something out of Hoarders if I’d kept every word I’d ever written.
Partly, it’s pure laziness. I used to keep entire magazines, convinced I would clip my articles from them and file them in folders and… yeah, that never happened.
Partly, I think, it’s pragmatism. Freelancing is as much about relationships as it is about clippings. It’s word-of-mouth recommendations and references. Never, ever underestimate the importance of maintaining those relationships and never, ever forget that the industry is small, and people tend to move around a lot – carrying their impressions of you wherever you go.
I don’t tend to read my stories again once they’re in print. I’m too squeamish. All I see are the bits I could have done better.
And so I throw them away. All those words. Those sweated over, sworn over words.
And then I start the next one.
In an ideal world, I would have all of my clippings, at my fingertips, filed on my website. (And you should definitely do as I say, not as I do.)
But for now, if anyone has a copy of that Sunday Style story, please send it my way…