Pitching To Editors: A Quick How-To Guide
Whoopi Goldberg who played Sister Mary Clarance in Sister Act II said it best,
"If you wake up in the morning, and all you can think about is writing - then you're a writer."
It's true, the passion of art is not confirmed by how much you get paid or how much recognition you receive. But, if your aim is to make money doing it then you have a few more steps beyond the stage of feeling passionate about writing. Writing is probably one of the most difficult of the arts (some may debate this fact) because of how much competition there is. Writing in 2018 is really about creating content, and in this digital age where "content is king" - it's an oversaturated market. So the name of the game is to stand out and be persistent.
One of the most common questions I get in my inbox is from emerging writers. They want to know how I started writing for BET or xoNecole and I'm reminded of how overwhelming the idea of pitching to editors was to me back when I first began. Over the years pitching has become a process that I feel like I have somewhat mastered, so I think it's time to pay it forward. Here are some tips to get you started.
First Of All...Never Write For Free
I say this constantly on Twitter and in person when talking to other writers - we are severely underpaid as a group. I've seen editors who offer $10 or $20 for 800 word essays on topics that require research and outlining - essentially several hours of work. Meanwhile, their websites can only exist because of writers creating clickable content for them. Don't forget - you are the meat and potatoes of the web.
That being said there are a few exceptions to writing for free. If you have never been published it may be worth it to offer an editor a tester piece so they have nothing to lose working with an inexperienced writer. That aside, if you have written a few piece that have been published then you have bylines to show you know your stuff and you should never accept any offer to write for free. Ever, the end.
Never Pitch On Concept Only
Perhaps once you have established yourself with a publication and have a set rhythm with an editor (example: writing 5 articles per week with a set daily deadline) then sending over a proposed title and a few lines summing up the overall concept will do. But if you are pitching to an editor for the first time WRITE THE ENTIRE PIECE FIRST. Yep, put in that work. Once you have finished and proof-read your draft then send that to the editor. Be sure to put "Pitch With Full Draft" in the subject header.
Why is this so important? Because most editors get pitched all day long by dozens if not hundreds of writers. Some of those writers are familiar to them and some are not. What stands out to most editors is writers who don't require a ton of pruning. Going back and forth to formulate a draft with a writer can sink a lot of time. Sometimes you can go back and forth with an editor only to be told they are passing on the article altogether. Save everyone the time and pitch with a full draft ready to go.
Always Cast A Wide Net
So you have a cool idea and a draft ready to go. Great. Now, who do you send it to?
If you're a writer and you are not established on Twitter, please close this blog post, slap yourself, then open Twitter and create a profile (we'll get into that more in another blog post). Twitter is a writer's playground. Not only can you browse topics before they start to trend, you can also find out who is who in the publishing world. Every editor worth their red pencil is on Twitter and shouts out when they need writers or are looking for content. From Elle Magazine to Ebony - this is just how it's done in the digital age.
Following pages like Writers of Color and BlkCreatives is a good place to start. There are tons of social media groups that have networks and publishers reach out to them directly to tweet out their calls to action. Digital networking is honestly the difference between a writer who writes on their own blog for free and a writer with contracts for major publications so get to know the tribe.
Send that draft to every editor who's content fits your premise and see who bites. Rinse and repeat.
Always Show Receipts
When sending a pitch email to an editor, make sure you include at least 3 links to work you've done previously. Mention any articles that went viral or got a lot of attention and include your social media reach. As a writer you are also your very own PR agent. So hype yourself up without sounding to bloated. A quick, "I have been published on...." will suffice. Let them know that you are more than a writer, you are a voice that matters. Explain briefly why your voice is so outstanding. Are you known for blending humor with hard hitting facts? Are you an excellent researcher? Have you interviewed some familiar faces? Send pitches to editors with the goal to establish a relationship with them.
Don't Be Flaky
This is a huge pet peeve. Don't be flaky about writing an article. If you have been given a deadline - even a soft one - always come through. Editors are not usually micromanagers when it comes to freelancers. They might send a polite check in email about that draft you were working on but they won't let you know it's urgent. Most of time they will simply replace whatever you were working on with the next writer in line and keep it moving. But the editor pool can be quite small and you can develop a reputation as that "amazing writer who flakes on deadlines."
I've had writers promise me content and then fall through, leaving me holding the bag and explaining to my team why we're scrambling for replacement content or short one article for the day. Not cute. If you want to be a writer then you have to understand the time commitment. Get up early, send pitches, write drafts and get them out before 1PM. The publishing world never sleeps and hardly ever waits.
August is notorious for being a slow month in publishing. It's the summer and a lot of profits slow down before spiking again in the 4th quarter. That being said, editors are likely looking to staff writers and freelancers they have already worked with. It's a good time to write for yourself. Blogging or writing on free-form platforms like Medium are a great way to stay visible during down time. Write reaction pieces to trending news topics and share them on social media or write essays on evergreen topics that fit in with what's happening in the world (August and September are big back-to-school months for example).
It's also a great month to network and attend events that cater to creatives. Carry a card with you because you just might bump into that editor you've been wanting to pitch to (especially if you live in New York or Los Angeles). Just because things have died down a bit doesn't mean they're dead. Plant the seeds.
At the end of the day writing is just like any other industry - it takes a lot of dedication to make something happen. Stay persistent and don't assume that all you need to succeed is a working computer and an internet connection.