Wind ’em up: 6 tips for freelancers on pitching story idea

Pitching your story idea to an editor can be so-o-o-o frightening. You get excited about a topic, maybe fall a bit in love with it and end up pouring your soul into the process.  With trembling fingers, you hit send on your email query and wait to hear back from the editor.

Maybe for a long time.  Maybe never.  Maybe with a short “No.”

Is there anything you can do to increase the chances of your pitch being accepted?

At the Online News Association conference’s panel discussion, “Baiting Your Hook: The Delicate Art of Pitching Your Freelance Article,”  on  Thursday afternoon,  Boston Globe ideas section editor Katie Kingsbury and freelance journalist Saul S. Elbein said, “Yes!”

The two shared their best tips on pitching your freelance stories. They can work whether you’re just starting out your career or have been in the industry for a while.

1. Learn to write a strong pitch

A strong pitch comprises  three things. According to Elbein, there are three the key questions to answer in an email to an editor: why this, why now and why me. You don’t necessarily have to do it in that order, but be explicit. So if the reason the editor should accept your pitch is because you’re an excellent writer, then show that by writing a very good pitch.

You should also personalize the subject field of your email. Kingsbury said a good example is noting where you met the editor, such as,“Saw you at ONA.”

2. Focus on relations with editors rather than institutions

When you’re approaching a new editor, aim to build a relationship. That means your first priority doesn’t have to be getting published. Kingsbury noted that editors are humans, too, and like being treated that way.

3. Be polite

“Manners will get you far,” Kingsbury said. Word gets around in the industry; if someone has a bad impression about you, it will have an impact on your career. As an entrepreneur, your reputation is all you have.

4.  Ask for connections

Ask your editors who they know. If you have a certain publication you want to write for but know no one there, ask someone you know in another organization if they do. This is a useful tactic to get referrals and create new contacts that could ultimately lead to selling more stories and making more money.

5. In the beginning, accept all work

If you are just starting out and someone offers you work, don’t turn it down. In the beginning, you need all the work, referrals and probably also all the money you can get. As you progress in your career and build up regular relationships with editors, you may have the opportunity to choose your work.

Elbein also encouraged writers to take on free work as passion projects because “when you love something, you will do it for free.”

6. Be persistent

Even if you believe in your idea, write the best pitch you can and feel certain you will get accepted, the answer might be a no.

Do not give up. Try again and send the editor  another idea.

“I might not accept your first pitch or your second pitch, but I might take your third one. You can always try again,” Kingsbury said.

For more tips, browse tweets from the panel discussion at #ona16freelance

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