The most popular questions we receive from friends and followers revolve around how to pitch ideas and writing samples, and whether or not it is actually possible to earn a living as a freelance writer.
So we thought we would put together a guide to demistfy the process as much as possible.
In this freelance writer guide, you’re going to learn:
- How to find websites and magazines to pitch to (and how to obtain the right contact details)
- What you should always consider before sending any freelance pitches
- What goes into a strong email pitch
- Easy ways to build and secure good examples of sound writing (if you don’t have any)
- Common freelance pitching mistakes you should avoid
- A pitching template which you can use for yourself
- Examples of pitches that have worked for us and have earned us good money
Who to Pitch your Writing to and How to Find Them
As a freelance writer, you can use the following tools to find editors and connect with them:
- LinkedIn — LinkedIn is a goldmine for finding freelance work. Simply earch for a publication and find out who their editors and digital content editors are and, presto, you have a name. You can even connect with them and introduce yourself as a freelance writer.
Sharing your published work on LinkedIn is also a great idea as you never know who’s looking, especially once you start making connections. Even if you’re not getting likes, share everything anyway; make sure your profile is top-notch, and use a few industry hashtags when you post.
- Hunter.io — Once you have the person’s name through some LinkedIn research, just pop their name in here to get their work email. You can search for fifty people per month for free.
- Pitchwiz — This site can be your best friend as a freelance writer. Signing up with Pitchwiz provides you with a variety of invaluable tools for becoming a successful paid freelancer. The first is a weekly email newsletter which is reliably filled with a long list of new and fresh paid work opportunities which you can jump on at your leisure.
These opportunities come from around the world and from a variety of different media outlets. Via Pitchwiz, you can construct your own pitches to send out to editors who have advertised their opportunities. In short, this is where you connect with the work and also have it come to you.
- Twitter — Never underestimate the value of Twitter. If there’s an industry which you hope to break into as a freelance writer (travel, food, TV etc), start following magazine and website editors on Twitter. When they need writers, they’ll tweet about it immediately.
Reply to their tweets or DM them if you can, and offer up your services. If they don’t reply, visit their website and find their email address there. Twitter is often as good a social media tool for freelancers as LinkedIn is.
Read More: How to Find Clients and Sell Your Skills
Freelance Pitching Guidelines: Where to Find Them
The good news for freelancers is that many publications have their own standard pitching guidelines which make it very easy to get your pitch right the first time with minimal research. While this should be an industry standard for all publications, it’s still fairly common.
Quite often if publications aren’t quite happy with the way you’ve pitched, they’ll reply with their pitching guidelines, giving you the chance to try again and get it right this time. The fact that they have gone to the effort to do this means they like your pitch, just not how it’s been delivered.
An easy way to find out whether the publication you want to write for already has pitching guidelines available is to type into Google: [name of publication] + pitching guidelines
You can also try this search on Twitter since the editors will often link to their pitching guidelines when calling out for pitches.
What to Consider When You Send a Pitch
If you haven’t been fortunate enough to find pitching guidelines then you’ll need to do your own research.
These are the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself. If you are organised, you could even note these things down in a spreadsheet along with the editor’s contact details to make pitching quicker and easier the next time around.
- What does their audience demographic look like? Are they male, female, what age are they, and what are their interests and budgets? This information might not be immediately obvious, especially with more general sites but it’s worth investigating. Their ‘about’ page might include all of this information.
- What content have they published already? One of the cardinal pitching sins is pitching something they’ve already published. You’ll either get ignored or get a snooty email in response if you do this and that’s no way to start a potential working relationship. Always have a cursory browse of what they have published in the past year or two, and ensure that your pitch doesn’t sound similar to anything they’ve already published.
- What kind of article style do they publish? Do they prefer listicles or long-form articles? News pieces or feature pieces? Personal narratives or research-based articles? Paying attention to how they structure their articles can help you structure the perfect pitch.
- What style of English do they use and do they use Oxford commas? US English, UK English, Oxford commas, and other variations of grammar rules are worth checking before you pitch (assuming you’re pitching to an English language publication). We personally like to write my pitch in the same style as the publication since we work with magazines all over the world. The free writing and editing tool Grammarly can help you out with this.
What Goes into a Good Freelance Pitch
A pitch is something that is simple in theory but has a lot riding on it. Getting editors to open your pitch is difficult enough, and then you need to keep them hooked on your idea.
Most editors are incredibly busy and get hundreds of emails a day, so sticking to a familiar and concise structure is easier on them and shows them that you probably won’t be difficult to work with, which is vital for busy editors.
It goes without saying but do check your pitch for spelling and grammatical errors more than once before you hit ‘send’ every single time.
Subject Line: This should always include the word ‘Pitch’ followed by a colon and your article title. If it’s a timed or urgent article (such as one related to current news and events) then state this in the subject line, too.
Intro: State who you are (using no more than two clear sentences). Mention any of the most notable publications you’ve written for, with hyperlinks, or link to your portfolio if you have one (setting one up with Journo Portfolio is a good idea once you have a few published articles of your own).
The Pitch: Talk about your idea concisely: what you hope to cover in the article. If it’s a listicle, you can mention a few of the titles, points, and ideas you hope to include.
Note: almost all publications state that they do not accept completed pitches. You are sending them an idea, backed up by context and an explanation. 99% of the time, you should not send a finished piece for them to look over (unless they have said it’s okay, which does sometimes happen. So, check first).
Why now: Is there a seasonal angle to your pitch? Is there something in the news that makes this article timely, or a special holiday or festival or annual day coming up? Use that for context.
Why you: This is often the most difficult section but you should try to communicate why you’re the ideal person to write this article. Consider what makes you unique and a potential authority on the subject. Are you from a specific community of people or a part of the world that makes you the right voice for this article? Have you written extensively on this topic or similar topics previously, or have a special interest in the area? Mention that here. Sell yourself.
Extra: You can also mention if you have relevant photos which they might want to use (although many publications frequently source photos in-house).
What if I don’t have any examples of my work?
Generally speaking, editors do like to see examples of your previous work, particularly with bigger publications. You can still try and pitch anyway; previous work isn’t a dealbreaker for many publications if the pitch is good enough. If you’re finding that you’re getting rejections or being ignored, then spending some time building up your portfolio could help.
The easiest way to do that is to find bloggers within your specialist area of interest or niche (for example: video game or film reviewers, travel bloggers, lifestyle or food blogs) and offer them a guest post. Some offer payment; you can even suggest an acceptable payment for your time which many will take if the article is tailored to them.
Many smaller blogs don’t pay, and while we don’t generally advise working for free, just a handful of example articles could land you that first accepted, and paid, pitch from a larger publication. Smaller blogs are a great stepping stone.
Nobody should ever work for free, but if one free piece gets you a hundred paid ones, it’ll be worth it. That said, many bloggers do pay, so ask for rates.
So many freelance writers forget that they don’t have to start off by pitching in the big leagues. Start small, start with blogs, start with minor or local publications, and use that to build your portfolio and then move up to the grander publications and watch how your money increases and your prestige grows bit by bit.
If you’re still having a tough time getting your pitches accepted, even by smaller blogs and publications, set up an account on Medium — a site where anyone can have their articles published — or even set up your own blog and use your own works as examples when pitching to other publications.
Medium is an invaluable tool for new freelance writers who are just starting out. And, if you have the know-how, start your own blog and work for yourself.
How to Create a Freelance Writer Portfolio
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that, if you want to be taken seriously as a freelancer of any sort, you will eventually need a website that showcases your work and highlights your creative services.
Once you have 3+ articles, we would consider that you build a freelancer portfolio and include a contact form so that people can get ahold of you quickly and easily.
If you write a variety of article types (for example food & drink, travel, lifestyle, advice, film and TV) then, once you have enough, I would suggest dividing them out into separate pages in order to tailor your freelancer portfolio to the publication you’re writing for, thus making it easier for you to appear in Google searches.
Yes, editors do search for writers just as writers search for editors. This is also why LinkedIn is so useful.
There are many options available for building your own freelance writing portfolio but below is a list of the ones we have personally had success with.
There are several options for building an online portfolio. You can set up a Squarespace or Wix website but that can take up a lot of time and isn’t necessarily the cheapest option. You will be given a diverse range of professional-looking themes to choose from, though, so if you want to stand out then this could be a great option for you.
Clippings.me is the one many freelance writers opt for when first starting out. You can post ten articles for free then upgrading will allow you to post more articles, have custom branding, and remove the clipping.me branding in the URL.
Another great choice, as we’ve already mentioned, is Journo Portfolio. We find that the themes are more attractive and the site is a little more user-friendly overall.
Journo Portfolio operates in the same way as Clippings. me; you’ll get a certain amount of articles for free and then you’ll need to upgrade. The Pro plan offers a custom domain, article backups, and password protection at a cheaper price than the fully upgraded Clippings.
We also find the analytics tool useful for you to see how many searches you’re appearing in per day. This allows you to see if your portfolio is worth paying for month to month.
You’ll want a portfolio that’s easily searchable on Google, using search-friendly terms to make sure you’re found by the right people.
One of the best freelancer resources, which also serves as a portfolio, is UnderPinned. You have access to a job board, the ability to network with relevant people in your field, and all the tools you need for successfully working online. Use code NOMAD25 for a 25% discount on your UnderPinned account.
Since pitching is, by its nature, unpaid labour, having your work come to you is always preferable in the long run.
Common Freelancer Pitching Mistakes to Avoid
These are a few key mistakes that freelance writers make when pitching. Once you’ve completed your pitch, go over this list a few times and check that you haven’t made any of these common mistakes:
- Following up too soon or too often
- Not giving enough information
- Giving too much information
- Not carefully considering the publication you’re pitching to
- Submitting something they’ve already published
- Pitching to the wrong person in the company
- Writing an unclear subject line
- Pitching a good article at the wrong time of year
- Sending your pitch out to multiple publications at the same time
Pitching Email Template
Here’s a standard email template that has successfully won us paid freelance writing work time and time again. Feel free to copy and paste but tweak and adjust as necessary in order for it to apply to you, your work, and your experience.
Subject: [Pitch: Catchy Article Title]
Dear [Editor’s Name],
I wondered if you’d be interested in an article on [article topic]? I’d love to discuss [Briefly discuss your topic and what you’d like to achieve by the end of it/what you hope to cover in the article]. I think this would be a timely article because [why should this article be written now].
I’m a [who are you and why should you write this article].
You can visit my portfolio here [link to portfolio] and any relevant articles.
Example of a pitch that has worked:
Pitch: This Cornish Town is the UK’s Salem
My name is _____, a freelance writer based in the UK.
I’d like to write a local expert piece on the emerging destination, Boscastle, UK which will be particularly suitable for Halloween. Boscastle is a scenic town on the Cornish coastline which I have spent a lot of time in as I studied nearby. Few people realise it holds the largest collection of witch-related artifacts in the world.
The article would be roughly 1000 words and talk about the history of the village and its relationship to witchcraft and hauntings and what you can do there. I can also provide photos.
The Museum of Witchcraft holds over 3,000 objects and 7,000 books. Until recently, the museum held a skeleton of a woman accused of witchcraft (and burned) but she was given a local burial.
Boscastle also features one of the UK’s most haunted spots: The Wellington Hotel. It was featured on ‘Most Haunted’ in 2004 and has a fascinating backstory. The town itself is also now built around the concept of witchcraft with practising witches, gift shops, tarot reading spots.
For examples of my previous written work, please refer to my online portfolio. Here’s a recent article that I’m particularly proud of.