Wednesday, January 2, 2013

So you wanna be a freelancer: Step Three

Okay; so in step one, you’ve identified a few different publications that might be a good fit for your writing.

In step two, you’ve gotten to work and written some samples, some articles or essays that you feel might be a good fit for these publication.

Now what? Now, you get to pitching.

The bad news? There is no such thing as the perfect pitch. But, the good news is that this just means there isn’t a formula. A good pitch is as subjective as the publication or editor you are pitching.

Never underestimate the importance of this part! There are entire books written on pitching successfully, seminars and classes and endless posts. Because it’s *that* important. Your pitch is your first impression, it’s how an editor first meets you, and it’s usually done over email these days, which adds an extra layer of worry.

Set The Tone
Because haven’t we all had moments where that dry “humor” we’ve added to our message was not taken in the manner in which it was intended? Oh, indeed we have. And since this pitch is a first impression, it’s best to leave humor out of it. And while I’m a huge fan of smiley-face emoticons to drive home the humorous or lighthearted edge of a potentially questionable communication, it’s best to leave them out here.

The pitch is no place for emoticons.

However, you do want to retain your personality in your pitch. And, by doing that, you might be able to project a bit of wittiness, a touch of cleverness and perhaps even just a dab of humor. But do take care.

Know Your Audience
You should know from your research how the editors you’ve chosen prefer to be pitched; some editors will ask for a proposal with an outline and details (such as proposed word count, experts or sources referenced, anecdotes, etc.) while others might want the whole article.

Then, among those who want the full article, one might want it as an attachment, one might want it in the body of an email and a third might want both. Some editors only traffic in reprints (articles that have been printed in other publications), while others only want new articles that haven’t seen the light of day yet.

Some will accept a wide range of sources, while some might only demand local sources.

That’s a lot to keep track of, isn’t it? And that’s why you should pitch to just a few publications to start with. Develop a clear, professional format for your pitch, something that you’re comfortable with and that may include something that would interest you, if you were to read it.

Lela Davidson (freelance writer, blogger and author), understands that it’s important to know what editors are looking for in the pitches they receive. “Get to know your editors and how they like to be pitched,” she advises, which will help your submission stand out among others.

“All publications have their unique style and personality,” says syndicated columnist Myrna Beth Haskell, and she’s learned to embrace the differences and use them to her advantage when pitching ideas. “It makes things interesting and it keeps me on my toes.”

The Perfect Effective Pitch
Okay. So if there’s no perfect pitch, what makes a good or even adequate pitch? I have a list that applies to all pitches, regardless of who is on the receiving end:
  1. Identify yourself. Include some information about yourself in your query. My name is Mari, I live in Oklahoma City – editors want to know that. Especially when you are sending information to smaller, regional publications, which tend to skew to selecting local writers, this information could be used to your advantage.
  2. Don’t spam. If I see a writer is addressing me (as opposed to “undisclosed recipients”) I’m much more likely to keep reading. I don’t think it’s wrong to send one article to multiple recipients, but do it in separate messages. At the minimum, that shows an attention to detail and a focus on the individual publication that the editor will appreciate.
  3. Write more gooder. Use proper grammar. Try to avoid slang or vernacular unless it’s very tied to your topic. Typos in your pitch are like typos in a resume; very likely to get your submission ignored.
  4. Be personable but not personal. As stated above, you should try to inject a little personality in your pitch, but refrain from being too personal in your professional pitch. 
  5. Be concise. Even if the editor wants the full text of your piece, provide a short synopsis in the body of your email with your contact information so the point is easily found. Lead your email with an engaging few sentences that make an editor want to read your article. 
  6. Clean it up. We all cut and paste to save time and energy, but please be sure that the fonts, sizes, spacing, etc., are neat and orderly. An email that is obviously patched together is not one that anybody wants to read.

Hurry Up and … Wait
This is a well-known phenomenon in the military, wherein you are in a hurry to get somewhere by a certain time, to meet a deadline only to be left waiting. And that’s where you are now, the waiting part. If you’ve done your job properly, you’ve got a great pitch sent out to several different editors and if and when they are interested, you will hear back from them.

This is not the time to get needy, even though, yes, it is the very time when you are very needy. To be clear, this is the worst part of the process, the part you have no control over! You’ve sent off your submission, your little word baby, and you are desperate for some feedback. I know how it is.

You go out to walk the dog and check your email on your phone every five steps. Or you check email every time you walk from the living room to the kitchen to get something. You refresh the screen of your email program after every sentence that you type in the other project that you're working on. You know, not that I know about any of these things because I've done them (ahem). I mean I don't even have a dog. But I have taken the kids to the park and haunted my email on the phone.

But try to refrain from turning into Jon Favreau’s character in the movie Swingers, who called and called and called until a perfectly workable relationship became awkwardly unworkable. Actually, watching a movie might be a good idea right now, something to distract you from your waiting.

Get started: three steps to crafting your pitch:

  1. Set the tone. Don't be overly chatty or sarcastic or snarky or dry or loquacious or annoying. Be yourself.
  2. Know your audience. What is your editor looking for? You've done your research so this part should be easy. 
  3. Perfect your pitch. Use good grammar, proper form and be concise. 
Finally, just remember, like Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part. I know it is. But it's part of it. So hang tight. Some editors will reply quickly, some? Not at all. And some will reply when you least expect it.

Up next? It's not you, it's me; handling rejection.

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