Shop Talk: Firing From The Hip (Don’t Shoot Yourself)

A few more quick tips and strategies for pitching

Competition is fierce in the freelance world, and editors deal with an endless deluge of awful pitches each day. Their inbox is filled with half-cocked ideas and slapdash e-mails from writers seeking work. Simply put: time and patience are in limited supply. It takes less effort for an editor to hit DELETE than it does to respond to each and every inquiry that hits their desk. Differentiate yourself from the pack by taking a little extra time to polish your pitches until they are shiny and sexy. A touch of added strategy never hurts either.

Use spell check like your life depends on it. Because your career definitely does. This seems like it should be a no-brainer. It’s more of a golden rule than a strategy, though you’d be surprised how often folks skip this crucial step before firing off their ideas. Also, never entrust your hard work to spell check alone. Take the time to re-read it with human eyes to scan for non-spelling boo boos before firing away. Nothing screams amateur like a pitch that is sloppy, typo-ridden, and rife with grammar mistakes. Pitches containing any of these things are destined for a short and pitiful life in the trash bin. Don’t be that writer.

Making a good impression with new editors is very important. View your first pitch as a key to opening up a door that could lead to untold riches. The reality is far less dramatic, but the importance of clean copy and making your first contact shine like a beacon of glowing awesomeness amidst a sea of dull, roiling crap is very serious indeed. Editors value writers that can turn in clean copy on a consistent basis, because it saves them time and energy.

Take The Scattershot Approach. Lead in with your main pitch but include a few shorter secondary article ideas to give your prospective editor something else to chew on in case your big sell flops. This increases your odds of seeding a pitch while saving time. An editor may like your pitch but already have something similar running or booked to run. Having backup ideas on deck lets you take a few extra swings, possibly knocking one out of the park in the process.

These mini-pitches should be very short and to-the-point – a short paragraph each at most. Don’t include more than two or three at a time, and try to make each one centered on a different topic. Offer to flesh out any of the proposed ideas in greater detail, if they’re interested. This is a good technique to use every once in awhile. Don’t overdo it.

Target your pitches to a specific editor. Do your homework. You have a much better chance of getting a response to your inquiries, if you direct your pitches to the appropriate editor rather than a general correspondence slush-pile e-mail address. When pitching new outlets, you don’t always want to aim at the top of the masthead either. For larger publications, the editor-in-chief isn’t necessarily the person who manages freelancers directly. They’re often busy overseeing the publication as a whole and are less involved in the day-to-day freelance workload. They’re less likely to get back to you too, and waiting for a response that never comes is frustrating. Set your sights a bit lower: managing editors and feature editors are good people to hone in on. Figure out who they are and how to reach them.

Stay On Your Editor’s Radar. Once you do break-in to a new outlet and deliver some good work, be sure to ping your editor on a regular basis with new article ideas or possible games to cover. That doesn’t mean you need to e-mail them five times a day and crawl up their backside – just check back in with them from time-to-time. This is important for both new freelancers and well-established pros alike.

Since editors are swamped with their own routines and often manage large numbers of different freelancers, they’re not always going to take the initiative to get in touch every time they need something covered. Remind them you’re out there and eager to scarf down any assignment the feel like chucking your way. If they don’t have any scraps, offer up some ideas to see if they’re interested. It’s important to keep the work flowing.

Deal With Rejection Gracefully. Not every idea you fling at the great editorial wall is going to stick. Sometimes the idea just isn’t right for the publication you’re pitching, there’s already someone else working on something similar, or the timing just doesn’t jive. Other times it’s just a lame idea. Everybody has them. Instead of flying off the handle when your hard-crafted pitch gets turned down, take a second to analyze what went wrong. Take a deep breath, and open your mind to criticism.

Assuming your editor offers any feedback on your failed pitch, pay careful attention to see what they did or didn’t like so you know what to avoid next time. Also be on the lookout for subtle cues to jump on. Some editors are nice enough to drop hints like “well, I didn’t like that idea, but if you could work up something similar on this other topic I could see us running that.” When you see such opportunities, grab them by the balls and SQUEEZE until they explode money and success. Or something like that.

Want to read more Shop Talk? Why not scope out the archive for past installments!

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