Dear Freelance Dude,
I struggle with the idea of pitching before I’ve written anything, especially when I don’t know how much time I’ll have to write the commission. Sometimes I’ll come up with an idea, will begin writing it, and realize there aren’t any legs under it or it’s pretty unoriginal. But I also understand that if I don’t send pitches and spend my time developing my ideas, I’ll be losing a ton of time writing content that may be rejected anyway.
How do you find that balance of pitching ideas and making sure ideas are pitchable?
Signed, Anthony S.
Try to think of pitching as a way of sharpening your idea spear before hurling it at the great editorial wall. The process of taking a rough idea and then working it into a concise pitch to send an editor often helps refine the concept and better solidify the angle for the piece. By the time you finish writing a pitch and spend a little extra time tightening it up, there’s a good chance you’ll know whether it has enough merit to pursue. From there, you can either improve on it, send it off anyway to see if it sticks, or let it rest and move on to another idea.
Pitching an article and waiting to lock down an assignment with an editor before you start writing will ultimately save you a lot of time and frustration. By necessity, it’s the way most freelance pros operate. Time is valuable, and you don’t want to waste it on projects that may not get published or bring in a paycheck. Unless you plan on running a piece on your own website or are simply writing it for fun, it’s always best to pitch it first. Unfortunately, there’s no definitive litmus test to determine if an idea you’re pitching will resonate with a particular editor, but you can always try another publication if your first attempt doesn’t pan out.
Taking the time to develop your article ideas — and even conducting some initial research to get material to help drive your writing — is pretty important. Over the course of researching a piece you want to pitch, you may find that there’s not enough interesting information out there or available sources to pull it off. Or you might find that lots of other publications have already covered the subject to death. This is particularly useful, as it gives you an opportunity to try to put a fresh spin on it or decide that it’s not worth pursuing.
Instead of writing a piece before you pitch, I suggest putting a short outline together. Breaking the article down into its various components and arranging them in sections helps to get a feel for the flow of a piece and lets you move things around if they’re not working. This can be a great way to determine if you’ll be able to put together enough content to flesh out a piece, and it also provides better focus for your pitches too.
The balance you’re seeking will naturally fall better into place as you shift your focus away from writing articles up-front and pour more energy into crafting pitches so they shine.
The Freelance Dude
Follow @nmeunier on Twitter for more writing advice, game industry commentary, and freelance shenanigans. Also, keep an eye out for his upcoming book Up Up Down Down Left WRITE: The Freelance Guide to Video Game Journalism launching this August! You can also follow @gamejournoguide on Twitter to stay up-to-date on that.
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