I still get butterflies about new emails. It’s the source of so much potential for a freelancer. I’ve had emails that have changed my life.
The flipside of this is that I deal terribly with radio silence. For freelancers there’s little more frustrating than getting no response to a pitch. It’s worse than a rejection – at least then you know where you stand and you’re not endlessly refreshing your inbox.
With no response you’re left asking the unanswered question: why aren’t editors replying to your pitches?
Every editor I spoke to told me how hard they try to reply to all pitches they receive. “If I can give feedback to a writer on why a certain pitch doesn't work for us, I'm more likely to get a better pitch from them next time” says Lucy Douglas, acting editor at Positive News.
But time constraints just don’t allow it. Some editors receive hundreds of pitches a day and while email and connecting with freelancers is part of the job, it’s not the only task on the list.
There are some things that you can do with your pitches to improve your chances of getting a reply, even if it’s not a commission. Many of my rejections later get followed up with commissions. Learning from those initial conversations leads to better pitches, more understanding about publications, and future commissions.
Do the due diligence
We all think our ideas are wildly original, but rather than assume the editor you’re pitching hasn’t published something similar, do your research. Metro opinion editor Almara Abgarian agrees. “Do a quick skim of the site before you pitch a piece that is timely, to make sure you don't waste your time or mine by pitching something that is already on our site.”
Pitch stories, not topics
“I’d like to write about pizza!” isn’t a pitch. Pitching a topic is something that I often see when I’m commissioning, but there’s no story. Emails like this are really hard for an editor to respond to. If your idea is too sparse, it’s likely to throw up more questions than answers and that takes considerable time.
It’s a freelancer’s job to answer those potential questions. What’s the story you’re telling? Who are your potential interview subjects? What about statistics and case studies? If you don’t know the answers, an editor won’t know them from your pitch. Don’t hope an editor will fill in the blanks.
Send an actual pitch!
“I get a lot of emails asking 'do you accept pitches?' or 'what are you looking for at the moment?'”, says Jess Commons, lifestyle director at Refinery 29. “As much as I'd love to be able to respond individually, I would say – just pitch! Any email that isn't featuring a pitch from you is another email I have to reply to before I get to the pitch itself.”
Don’t make more work for yourself or anyone else – craft your pitch and send it out. You’re doing yourself a disservice by being tentative. Just hit send.
Take time over the basics
“Because I am a freelance journalist myself, I always try my best to reply to every pitch I get,” Abgarian tells me. “But I do have some pet peeves that make me less inclined to reply. Getting my name right is imperative. Getting the publication right even more so.”
The quickest way to make your blood run cold? Read a pitch through just after you’ve hit send and realise that you’ve used the wrong publication name. We’ve all done it, but for an editor this is a huge red flag that you won’t take time and care over your copy. Don’t rush, take it slow. Always reread aloud.
Get your timing right
I once got a commission because I pitched an editor minutes after an interview slot had fallen through. Sometimes I’ve pitched stories that have just been commissioned in-house. My useless superpower pitching an editor the minute they go on holiday. Freelancing is often about getting the timing right.
Don’t pitch Christmas pieces in December or Valentine’s Day ideas the day before. You’ve missed the boat. Learn when individual publications go to press, and work towards those dates – ask editors in advance if you’re not sure. “Think about the cycle that the editor is working towards,” says Douglas. “The best time to pitch me is just as a new issue has come out.”
When should you follow up? Wait a week, then drop a quick email. Then again after three more days saying you’ll take the piece elsewhere if you don’t hear back. Just because it’s wrong for one editor doesn’t mean it’s not right for another – rework it and send it out again. Taking control of your work will stop the endless email refresh.
Remember, editors want to work with great freelancers, and everyone is doing their best, especially at the moment. Radio silence is rarely ever personal so keep working to make your pitches the strongest they can be. It's always about the story.
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 pre-order a copy of her book The Pyjama Myth: the Freelance Writer's Survival Guide here.