This is one of the most important sections on this site if you’re serious about freelance writing. Every writer – whether you write fiction or non-fiction – needs to learn how to pitch to editors. Or query them. Or send them a letter of introduction.
So let’s talk a bit about what each of those terms means.
Letter of Introduction (LOI)
This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s a letter in which you introduce yourself to the editor/publication. And…that’s about it. You say who you are and mention that you have an interest in writing for them, but you leave it at that. In my experience, LOIs are much less wanted than they used to be – most editors would rather jump straight to the query/pitch. (Though most modern queries/pitches have elements of a LOI in them).
Traditionally, this is a letter written to an editor/publication regarding whether or not it’s acceptable to send in a pitch. However, recently, the term “query” and “pitch” can be pretty much interchangeable (with the meaning more focused on the latter).
This is a letter written to an editor/publication essentially attempting to sell your idea for an article/post/book. You say who you are (the LOI element), and offer up a brief outline of what you intend to write. Most importantly, a pitch should cover why the idea at hand is perfect for the publication you’re writing to. (Editors want to know that their readers are going to be happy with what they’re reading).
The most important thing to remember is to follow the pitching guidelines for whatever publication you’re writing to. If they want a LOI, send them a LOI; if they want a pitch, send them a pitch.
But, in general, you’ll be sending in something that looks a bit like this template:
Though, truth be told, it’s not that hard to write an acceptable pitch. If you’ve got a relevant idea, are polite, and know how to write well — you’ve got a pretty good chance.
In my opinion, it’s almost more important to know what not to do.
How NOT to Get Your Article Published
When you’re a freelance writer looking to get published on blogs or in magazines, the process will generally look like this:
- Send in a pitch/query that wows the editor.
- Send in your article/guest post.
- Get published.
Or, if things don’t go as well, it might look a bit like this:
- Send in a pitch/query that doesn’t wow the editor.
- Get rejected.
- Think up a better idea.
- Try again.
One scenario is more pleasant than the other, but they’re both perfectly normal outcomes. Getting published is part of being a professional writer, but so is rejection.
Unfortunately a lot of writers get rejected for really, really dumb reasons.
Despite What You Might Think, Editors Aren’t Against You!
If you look at the scenarios I’ve listed above, Step One is always the pitch/query. Pitches are extremely important! They’re also where most writers either excel…or get it so, so wrong. And usually they only have themselves to blame.
I’ve been working as the Associate Editor and Community Manager for Be A Freelance Blogger for for a few years now. In that time, I have read hundreds of pitches. And I have rejected most of them.
Honestly, it’s the worst part of a nearly-perfect job. I don’t relish rejecting writers. On the contrary, I get so extremely happy when I get a great pitch, I will often call out to my roommate in the next room to say “Someone wrote a good one!!” It’s exciting because, as a writer myself, I know how elated the writer on the other side is going to be when I write back and say “This is awesome.”
I want you to succeed.
But I’m still rejecting far too many pitches. I’d like to change that. Hence writing all this.
I’ve gotten permission to share a few of the e-mails I’ve received in my Associate Editor inbox. That’s right: You’re getting a behind-the-scene’s look at a pitching editor’s inbox.
Here are six ways to NOT get published:
6. You Don’t Know What Guest Posting Is
At least once a month I get an e-mail from someone who thinks they’re applying for a job:
E-mails like this make me sad. Because getting a job rejection is much more painful than getting a pitch rejected. And that’s exactly what these people have convinced themselves is happening — they think I’m denying them a job. All because they don’t know what guest posting is.
When you write a guest post, it’s generally understood that it’s going to be a one-time opportunity. You send in a pitch for one article, then (if all goes well) you get one article published. Everyone moves on with their lives.
Want to get published by that same blog again? You’ll have to pitch another article idea.
Sending in a pitch to a blog or magazine in order to get an article published is not the same as applying for a staff writer position.
5. You Make Unreasonable or Unethical Demands
Every once in a while I’ll get a writer who sends in a list of demands with their pitch. Here’s one from last week:
In the case of the person above, they were demanding that I PayPal them money upfront for their guest post draft. This is unreasonable for a couple of reasons:
- I don’t own the blog in question; therefore, I’m not the person who pays anyone.
- Be A Freelance Blogger only pays for guest posts if the person pitching has won Pitchfest. (A quarterly article-pitching competition held on the blog).
Basically, if you make any upfront demands that go against the guidelines…you’re being unreasonable. Don’t like the guidelines? Pitch elsewhere! It’s that easy.
As for unethical pitches… I get a surprising number of people who try to bribe me!
No, no, no. Let your writing do the talking, not your money. Attempting to bribe an editor is just…sad. And a bit insulting to both of you! You’re insulting yourself by saying “My writing is so terrible, I have to pay people to read/publish it” and you’re insulting the editor by saying “I think you’re so unscrupulous that you’d be willing to take a bribe.”
4. You’re Just SO Confused
If you’ve read my other articles on the pitching process (scroll back up to the links at the top and check ‘em out if you haven’t), you might remember me sharing the importance of addressing your pitch to the correct person. A lot of other writers who discuss the pitching process will tell you the same thing.
Each person working at a magazine or blog has their own specific role. In the case of a pitching editor, the people who write in are supposed to write in with pitches for potential guest posts. But I end up with a lot of e-mails like this one:
In case you didn’t catch what happened there: This person wrote in to me (the pitching editor) to ask if I knew somewhere else he could send a pitch. That’s like walking into a specialty bakery that makes custom wedding cakes, ringing the bell until an attendant comes, and then saying “Hey! You know where I can buy a cheeseburger?”
General questions/comments are fine to ask…just make sure you send them to the right person.
Fortunately for the person above, my other job at BAFB is “Community Manager,” so writing to me with both pitches and general questions is fine. But that’s not usually the case at most blogs & mags. So be careful! Send your e-mails, pitches or otherwise, to the correct department.
And if you’re wondering where to find paying guest blogging opportunities (as the e-mailer above was), then check out The Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs — it’s free and I helped edit it. It’s awesome.
3. You’re Impatient
This is related to Number Five, but is in a class of its own.
Take a look at this e-mail:
I underlined the date of the e-mail in red so you could better see the problem. This person wrote in on the 10th and then proceeded to write to me several more times until I got the e-mail above on the 13th saying that if I didn’t respond in 24 hours she would be pitching elsewhere. To reiterate, the 10th to the 13th is three days. Not to mention this person wrote in late Friday night…and I don’t work on the weekends!
Here’s the thing: Even if they don’t explicitly state it, it’s going to take time for an editor to respond to you. They get dozens — sometimes hundreds or even thousands! — of e-mails per week from writers just like you. They didn’t forget you. They’re just busy!
Why would you throw away your chance before you’ve even taken it? You aren’t the only e-mail in the inbox. Wait your turn. Unless you’re positive you have a better prospect waiting for you elsewhere, take the time and go through the proper procedure.
Wait at least a week before nudging an editor. And I know that online a day can feel like a week, but that’s why there’s a timestamp on your e-mails. Check the date before you pester anyone.
2. You Throw a Hissy Fit When You’re Rejected
One rejection doesn’t mean you can never pitch again…unless you act like an a$$hole. Don’t burn bridges!!
Here’s an e-mail from a man who thought I’d made a “huge mistake” when I’d rejected him:
Yeah, I had to cut that one short. His full reply spanned several thousand words, in which he brags about his illustrious career and condemns me for being bad at my job. Apparently I’m not open to “fresh” ideas.
The reason I rejected this person was because they pitched a topic that had nothing to do with freelance blogging — BAFB’s chosen niche/topic. The problem wasn’t that his idea was too fresh, it was that it was irrelevant. And when I asked him if he could find a way to make it relevant he was unable to. Thus, I rejected him.
It’s great if you can pitch a fresh idea! And comparing an unrelated subject to the topic at hand is a fantastic way to jazz things up and keep the audience engaged. Like when I shared how watching terrible movies can help you become a better blog writer. Or when Tiffany Jansen shared what Miss America can teach us about blog audiences. Or when Francesca Nicasio shared 4 blogging lessons she’d learned from Spice Girls’ lyrics. Or Patrick Icasas’ post on how becoming a parent made him a more efficient blogger.
What isn’t great is wasting time insulting an editor when you could be using that time to come up with another pitch.
But, even though that writer threw an ugly hissy fit upon getting rejected (and wouldn’t stop until Sophie, the Head Editor, reprimanded him!), he is still welcome to pitch again. He eventually apologized. His recent string of successes had inflated his ego to the point that he temporarily lost his mind when I rejected him, but, he’s not a bad writer. Should he come up with a relevant topic, I’d be willing to give him a chance!
This guy on the other hand…
Yikes! :O All right, let’s see the e-mail I sent this guy that invoked his wrath:
That’s actually our form rejection letter. I modify it to fit each situation. And, depending on the person I’m replying to, I’ll elaborate a little or a lot. In this person’s case, I chose to keep it short as his initial pitch had given me the impression he didn’t really care if his idea (which was actually more of an advertisement than an actual blog post) was accepted or not. Apparently I was wrong and he cared quite a bit!
Even if we did pay $5,000 per guest post, this man would not be welcomed back. He was downright abusive and, to be frank, the above was the most well-written of his e-mails. And that’s not saying much.
Though I was amused that he mentioned his “respect” for the guidelines since he didn’t follow them at all in his initial pitch! Which brings me to the Number One reason your guest post isn’t getting published:
1. You Didn’t Follow the Pitching Guidelines
I’ve mentioned this in every article I’ve ever written about the pitching process. BECAUSE IT’S IMPORTANT!
Every blog and every magazine that accepts contributions from freelance writers has their own set of guidelines they expect you to follow. And it would be in your best interest to do just that. Why? Well, think of it this way:
The editor has taken the time to write out their guidelines. If you haven’t taken the time to read what the editor’s written, why should the editor take the time to read what you have written?
Writers who aren’t willing to read completely baffle me. Especially when it comes to reading things like contracts or contributor guidelines!
By following the editor’s preferred procedure, you’re showing that you respect them and their publication right off the bat. From your first initial contact, you’re showing that you’re a professional and you know what’s up.
This is a situation where hundreds of writers are all competing for the same publication slots. First impressions mean everything! If an editor has to choose between a writer who followed the guidelines and one who didn’t, they’ll most likely choose the one who did. Why? Because that writer has already proven that they’re going to be easier to work with (because they’ve shown, at least in part, that they know how the editor likes to work).
Getting published is difficult, but there are three things that will increase your chances exponentially:
- Follow the pitching guidelines.
- Have a great (relevant!) topic idea that the editor can’t pass up.
- Know how to write. (You don’t have to master the English language — plenty of ESL writers get published! — but you do have to know how to string a sentence together).
Good luck out there! 😀