As a freelance journalist you sometimes have to go a step further than offering just your words. But don’t be discouraged, those extra steps can lead to more lucrative commissions. Here’s how to make your pitches more valuable to editors.
There’s truth in the phrase “a picture paints a thousand words”. You don’t have to be Annie Lebovitz for your photos to be appealing to an editor. They’re something that another publication doesn’t have, they create a visual story, and they’ll probably save an editor money – a photo agency or professional photographer will cost far more.
Whether you’ve got brilliant food photography skills or some strong shots of an event, don’t leave it to an editor to ask – attach some low-res jpegs with your pitch.
Journalists with newsdesk experience are skilled in getting exclusives for their stories. Go further than the press release, push for something unique. Ideally your full story would be for the publication alone – and priced accordingly – but getting an exclusive quote or two in a story can make your pitch really stand out. When you’ve nailed it, mention it in your subject line.
Offer your own experiences
Selling your personal stories comes with its set of considerations, especially if it’s something particularly traumatic, but you should certainly use your experiences to add weight to your pitches. It highlights why you’re connected to your stories.
Pitching a travel story about the Great Barrier Reef? Mention that you worked as a marine biologist. Use your life experience to weave a unique context into what you’re selling and add an authenticity to your pieces. You don’t have to be writing first-person pieces, but your experience holds value.
Offer case studies and interviews
It can be tricky for freelancers to line up interviews before getting commissioned, but as long as you know exactly what you’re pitching and can express this clearly to a PR before you start approaching editors, you’ll have a unique pitch.
“PR people absolutely understand that not every piece or idea will have been commissioned, but are happy to help make this a reality,” says professional PR coach Natalie Trice. “Offering clear guidelines about what you need and when you need it, is a really good starting point. The clearer the brief, the easier it is for me to deliver.”
For a clear PR brief, you need to do some more groundwork before you start pitching editors. “If finances have to be disclosed by a case study, mention that from the start as it can be a deal breaker in some cases. If it's urgent, say that as we know that we really need to get on and look at the details. Good PR people are out there wanting to help, and the results can be brilliant.”
Offer backup options
Even if you can’t nail an interview immediately, naming a handful of potential interviewees in your pitch is useful – it shows you’ve done your research and gives an editor the chance to suggest alternatives. Backup options are vital.
Case studies are so useful to an editor and pitching box outs really helps an editor visualise your piece on their pages. Suggesting a couple of ideas can bump your article from one page to two, and your rate goes up with it.
You don’t need to be a data journalist to provide helpful insight into statistics. Recent studies, surveys, and facts and figures can help give your pitch a relevant hook. If you’ve had a pitch floating around that you’ve not been able to place, give it a boost with some stats or a recent study. That extra research could land you the commission.
Sian Meades-Williams is a freelance writer, editor of the FWJ (Freelance Writing Jobs) weekly enewsletter and co-editor of the lifestyle newsletter Domestic Sluttery.
Sian is also an author and you can preorder a copy of her book The Pyjama Myth: the Freelance Writer's Survival Guide here.