If you’ve pitched a dozen targeted blogs and publications with your article ideas and still gotten nothing but crickets and no-thank-yous—I’d bet nickles to knickers that your pitch is flawed in one of these areas:
- Your article isn’t suited to the publication
- Your pitch itself (or possibly—dare I say—writing skill) needs improvement
- You’re pitching paying markets that don’t like to give assignments to unpublished writers
- Your article idea isn’t clear
- Or you haven’t been following submission instructions
If any of those automatically click in your mind, you’ve probably just pinpointed the problem.
For those writers who aren’t sure—or are convinced it must be all of them because they’ve been rejected so many times that self-doubt and negative self-talk has crept in—I have a solution, which I’ll share with you at the end of this article. 🙂 Stick around.
But first let’s fix these five common problems.
Problem #1: Your Article Isn’t Suited To The Publication
This seems to be the most common complaint of editors that handle submissions and if you barely glanced at the publication before sending your pitch, there’s a good chance your pitch is failing here, if not in other places as well.
Finding a home for your article is more than matching your subject to the blog or website with the highest pay. It will also hinder your progress if you’re sending a mad-lib fill-in-the-blank template as your pitch.
The best way to find a suitable home for your piece is to research the markets you intend to pitch—before you send your email—then tailor your query to each publication specifically.
(One at a time, of course. There are what’s called simultaneous submissions, where you clearly mark the simultaneous status on your pitch, but they can cause problems if more than one editor accepts and not all publications accept them either, so I suggest avoiding them and pitching one publication at a time to avoid the headache.)
Anyway, since it’s a blog post in itself (and one I’ve already written) I’ll direct you to The Ultimate Pre-Pitch Checklist on Be A Freelance Blogger for full instructions on how to research and target each specific market you pitch.
You might look at lots of markets before you find the right one for your piece, but once you do, you’ll know you’re giving your pitch the best shot you can at being published.
Problem #2: Your Pitch (And Maybe Even Your Writing) Needs Improvement
There are a number of ways to address this problem but the most obvious one is to keep writing. A lot. Daily. Practice begets improvement.
It’s also a great excuse to start a blog or write some on-spec work.
To improve your pitch, Google query and pitch examples to see what’s worked for other writers. Note that the tone of your pitch (casual vs. formal, though always professional) should match the expected tone of the article you’re pitching. Your pitch is your editor’s first impression of you—and your writing skills—so keep polishing. Write as many drafts as you need to before you send it. It will get easier with time and experience.
You can also ask a friend to read your pitch and give you feedback. This can be a physical friend that you trust and see regularly or it can be a digital freelance friend you’ve met online or through social media. So long as you trust them to give you constructive criticism and not just a vague opinion, you should be fine.
If you don’t know (or trust the opinion of) anyone, put an ad on Craigslist for a critique editor. Polishing a pitch, even when asking for constructive feedback, shouldn’t cost you more than twenty bucks. Just make sure that you hire someone with verifiable credentials and that they’re not writing your pitch for you. Delegating your pitch won’t do you a damn bit of good if you land the assignment!
If you honestly know that your writing isn’t yet on a professional level (it isn’t just the critic in your head being mean and inspiring doubt) my best advice is to take a break from pitching to spend some time writing. Give yourself assignments that you can later use as samples. Join a writing group. Start a blog. Whatever. But ass in seat—writing.
Once you begin to see improvement, start from the beginning by researching an appropriate market and writing a pitch from scratch.
You still might not land it on the first try but you’ll have greatly improved your chances.
Problem #3: You’re Pitching Markets Beyond Your Reach
Even with established writing chops it’s hard to land assignments from the publishing big dogs, so while I encourage you to dream big, I also advise being realistic.
If you’re pitching publications beyond your experience and getting rejected left and right, you’re going to burn yourself (and your confidence) out before you even get started.
Take it down a couple notches and pitch smaller publications.
Don’t be afraid to work up to bigger and better markets.
If you’re worried about being paid for your time and effort, taking a step back doesn’t mean you have to work for free. I’ve listed plenty of beginner markets, many of which pay their writers, in the Paid Write appendix.
Or establish an 80/20 rule: 80% of your pitches will go to experience-appropriate markets while 20% of your pitches will target your dream publications. Just don’t irritate your dream editor to the point where he or she begins avoiding all of your pitches or you’ll shut the door in your own face before you’re ready to walk through it.
Big markets don’t like to give assignments to unpublished and inexperienced writers because there’s no assurance that the writer will come through with the piece on time or that the work will meet the publication’s quality standards. They would rather hire someone who’s been published not only within the topic niche of their proposed article, but also by other big (or at least medium-sized) publishing names.
Seeing that other editors (even ones at small publications and blogs) have worked with you (and have glowing recommendations) can do wonders for your acceptance rate—so as you collect your first clips, ask editors for a one-two sentence recommendation you can use as testimonials on your professional website.
Even if the publications are small and the pay piddledy, those short testimonials of how professional and valuable you are will go a long way toward convincing an editor at a bigger publication to give you your next assignment.
Problem #4: Your Article Idea Is Unclear
Your pitch has a purpose and that purpose is this: to persuade an editor that your article idea will be irresistible and invaluable to their readers and that they should hire you to write it.
But if an editor can’t make that decision because you’re hazy on the details or your pitch rambles, you’re going to get an automatic no. Simple as that.
The obvious course of action is to clearly see the article yourself before trying to describe it to an editor and the best way I know to do this is to construct an outline.
You don’t need much, just the major headings and sub-headings with a few notes so you can see the structure and transitions within the piece. And don’t forget to include any research, statistics, studies, quotes, and interviews you plan to integrate.
Rearrange any points that seem to be out of order so the content flows smoothly. Eliminate any off-topic rants or ramblings and keep tweaking your outline until you have a clear vision of the finished article. Every point within it should be necessary and support its purpose.
Now try crafting your pitch—and start with a hook to pull the editor in.
Explain why the publication’s readers will be interested in your article. How is it relevant? How will it help? How will you draw readers in with your introduction? How long will the article be? What extras (interviews, stats, etc.) will you include in the piece? Is there a specific section of the publication your article would be perfect for?
Next, add a paragraph that sells you as a writer. Include your real-world experience along with your qualifications, a link to your professional website, and writing samples (2-3, the more related to the style and topic the better).
Now let your pitch set for a few days. This will help you come back to it with objectivity and a fresh set of eyes. Trust me, after you’ve written and rewritten something for hours you begin to glaze over the words and even obvious errors will begin to hide in plain sight. You’ll need your distance before you can conduct a final edit with any effectiveness.
When the time comes, print the pitch out and grab a colored pen—to hell with your high-school English teacher, it doesn’t have to be red. Now read your pitch aloud and mark editorial changes as you go. If need be, do several edits with breaks in between for editorial distance.
Make your pitch as interesting as the article will be.
Now (fingers crossed) send it.
Problem #5: You’re Not Following The Submission Guidelines
Did any of your teachers ever give you that ‘following directions’ test in school. If not, it’s a list of instructions and you’re advised to read all the instructions before beginning the test. There’s a ton of stupid questions and tasks on the sheet until you reach the last item, which tells you to disregard the above instructions and turn the test in, usually with only your name on it.
Of course the entire time the test takes place, the teacher is pacing the room observing those who turn the test in immediately—and those who are still drawing a dog for number three and admitting their favorite color for number ten, or whatever.
Obviously it’s a trick test designed to make a point.
And my point is that submission guidelines are the ‘following directions’ test of the freelancing world.
Since so many editors are now hiring remote writers based on an email and a few links, the submission guidelines now serve as a way to weed out those writers with a lack of attention to detail or adherence to editorial direction.
Yes, sometimes bending the rules can pay off but unless you’ve already proven your ability to follow them, I don’t recommend it.
Most publications have their submission guidelines posted right on their website. I suggest you print them for reference while you’re putting together your email.
Pay special attention to any required subject lines for your email or you’ll face immediate rejection. Job listings are big on subject line requirements too and clients immediately weed out those writers who fail to include it.
Also, the submission guidelines will be different for each publication, so this step will be necessary for each and every pitch. If you’ve failed to follow each publication’s guidelines in the past and are repeatedly facing rejection, I suggest you change your approach in the future.
Quick Pitch Solution
Now, I promised a solution for the severely struggling, didn’t I?
It’s a tactic that landed me an assignment from WOW! Women On Writing, though I can’t claim it’s 100% fool-proof. I don’t use it 100% of the time so it hasn’t been thoroughly tested.
Here it is: Try pitching your full outline, especially if it’s a long list of bulleted items.
You’ll still have to weave it into a coherent pitch but I’ll show you what I mean with an example pitch. Because of the outline it’s longer than the typical pitch but the list itself is a huge selling point for the article, so I justify breaking this traditional pitching rule.
Here’s the pitch I sent to WOW!:
Niche articles are overdone. I admit it. But I’m still going to pitch one because I think newbie writers only hear half the story of what a niche is. The article I’m proposing, Your Niche Is More Than A Topic, would introduce new (and experienced) writers to market and format specialties they may not have considered.
By exploring these twenty-eight types of assignments, readers will discover new career opportunities and can then begin to target the types of work they enjoy. Writers can realistically determine how they spend their work-a-day by pursuing more of the assignments that make them happy.
I believe career writers find their niche while writing, not while deciding what their niche ‘should’ be. You find work you like, you pursue more of it. You want to try a new format, you put yourself out there to take it on as an assignment or you practice on your own to have a sample to show. If you enjoy the process and side-tasks, you promote these services – locally or remotely.
This article will also benefit writers who like to be out-and-about instead of in front of their laptop. I’d like to point out in the introduction that offering local services can help a writer get out of the house and open doors for the outgoing. They can also help new writers gain their first clips.
Writers who want to ‘Go Local’ can join their local Chamber of Commerce, attend expos and networking events, research local business organizations, scout local publication stands, inquire at newspaper offices (yes I’ve done it) and use old-school legwork to build successful writing careers. I’m a laptop gal now but in my younger days…
The niches and markets I’d like to include (with my notes) are:
- Journalism/News/Reporting (digital or local, can cover a range of topics but determined by format)
- Round-Ups (brief writing, big #, images with caption)
- Subscription Incentives (reports, case studies, white papers, goodies)
- Ultimate Guides (evergreen topic or fleshed-out round-up)
- Restaurant Menus (local, photography partnership/opportunity)
- Brochures (b2b, consumer, informational)
- Newsletters (subject, community, employee)
- Sales Letters (print, format, local or remote)
- Landing Pages (practice LP elements with your professional site)
- Video Scripts (digital, local or remote, employee training)
- Content Creation (contributor positions)
- Social Media Posts (local or remote, brief, knowledge of tools)
- Reach-Based Affiliations (if you have a large following on your blog/social media and make money through affiliations or reviews)
- DIY/Crafts (image-driven steps as you complete a project, watch out for overhead)
- Recipe Writer (local or digital, newsletter opportunity for local businesses, beware overhead)
- Recipe Videos (pull off a great sample and you can sell these cooking snippets locally and online, overhead and equipment)
- Crowd-Funding Campaigns (local or remote, non-profits, break in by volunteering, fund raising, local organizations)
- Grant Proposals (local or remote, technical format and attention to detail, requirements)
- Technical How-To With Screenshots (Have a blog? Write WP tutorials. Knowledgeable about Canva or any other platform people want to learn? Small business employee tutorials/reference materials)
- Procedures and Manuals (local or remote, new software, procedural, emergency, training)
- Sales Emails (combination of digital newsletter and sales letter, study funnels and auto-responding systems or sell just the writing service)
- Advertorials (local or digital, they look like articles but are labeled and they inform while they sell, slant)
- Interviews (local or remote, part of many assignments but can be a specialty, video and podcast opportunities)
- Case Studies (can be technical, process-driven or success stories that profile someone’s inspirational story)
- Radio Commercials (local or remote, contact local stations about in-house opportunities/referrals, offer to businesses as part of a marketing plan, don’t discount internet radio ads)
- Magazine Features/Articles (local or glossy nationals, use to build topic authority and credentials to your portfolio, logos on your professional website, usually combined with blogging/book platform/freelance/content creation)
- Guest Posts (remote, digital version of magazine feature, use to direct topic niche strengths, build portfolio)
- Local Columnist (local, beat reporter, band reviews, publication can still be digital but you’re reporting on something in your community, maybe even the high-school football games)
I would like to include a clear explanation of each niche, along with what to expect in terms of activity (interviews, images, travel, photography possibilities/partnerships, local marketing) and complementary links: related content you’d like to promote, industry statistics and niche-specific resources.
For the format, I’d like to include a key identifying local and/or remote (L/R) before the text for each niche. It should be a good way to avoid repetition in the text and readers will be able to scan the list for one or the other. A Go Local subheading for applicable niches will include actionable advice and highlight local writing/marketing opportunities. It will also break up the length, as will text boxes that showcase market statistics and source quotes.
To include adequate information for each niche (industry/market trends, sources and useful links) I would like approval for 2,000 to 3,000 words. Though long, I think presenting the niche as a specialty in formatting, project-types and services as opposed to an expert-level-topic-platform will create an evergreen and sharable addition (28 Writing Niches That Are More Than A Topic) to your new bi/weekly features.
My writing about writing has been published on Be a FreelanceBlogger, Funds for Writers, Scribblrs and my own blog, Paid Write. You’re also welcome to review a full list of my articles with links on my website.
Below my salutations, I’ve included what I believe to be my most appropriate sample. Though it’s not on the topic of writing I think it shows the level of research, formatting and effort I’d like to put into this piece for you.
Thank you for looking over my (lengthy) proposal and considering my work.
Can you see the article and its format? Does it show that I researched the publication? Is there a hook in the first paragraph to draw the editor into my pitch? Did I clearly explain how and why the article will benefit WOW! readers?
Then this pitch has done its job—and you can use this outline strategy for your own pitches, too. Granted, it might not work for every pitch you have in development but it’ll be worth brainstorming new ideas if it lands you an assignment.
What other pitch frustrations do you have? Have you found your own solutions? We’d love to hear ’em!