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How can I get my Freelance Writing into Newspapers and Magazines?

There are three aspects that need careful attention when trying to get work published:

1. thorough market research

2. a convincing pitch

3. timing

Get these three right and you’ll have a pretty good chance of seeing your name in print.

1. Market Research

Market research is vital. In fact, no freelance journalist will start to work on a piece without having completed thorough market research first. Market research will tell you which publication your work will be suitable for by analysing:

  • what kind of work they accept – fiction, non-fiction, real-life articles, humour etc

  • if they accept freelance work or not – there’s no point sending your work to a publication that only prints writing it has commissioned or from its own in-house journalists

  • what style, length and language the publication uses – as a freelance journalist you need to be able to adapt the style, length and content of your article to fit the publication you aim to send your work to

  • what political leaning the publication has, if any – if your piece is right-wing there’s no point sending it to a left-wing publication

  • what topics have been covered recently – if the publication has just published an article on the latest fad in the dog grooming world, you’ll be wasting your time sending in another piece of writing on the same subject.

 

Once you have this information you should be able to write your piece to fit in perfectly with your chosen publication’s target market, style, language and content requirements.

2. A Convincing Pitch

Once you’ve carried out your market research you should know which publication you are writing for. The next part is putting together a convincing pitch.

Remember editors are people and, just like the rest of us, they have their pet likes and dislikes when it comes to how they like work to be pitched to them. However, below are seven rules that apply to pitching work in all situations.

The Seven Golden Rules of Pitching

  1. Don’t overload your email or fill your telephone call with unimportant information. Keep to the important parts such as:

    a. the headline – the main title of the story

    b. a standfirst – the line that appears under the headline giving further details about the contents of the article

    c. a summary paragraph – briefly describe what the article is about

    d. a few lines about who you’ve written for in the past – it’s always reassuring for potential publishers to see what you’ve had published before and by whom.

    And, don’t send emails with large attachments – pictures for example – they will probably get deleted before even being read.

  2. Don’t be a stalker – unless your story is urgent, you should wait at least a week before contacting the editor to follow up on your pitch.

  3. Be honest – don’t exaggerate about who you are and what you’ve done. And, if you want to build long term relationships with editors, make sure what you produce is as good as you make it out to be in your pitch.

  4. Don’t be too keen – once you’ve sent your copy to the editor, be patient. Don’t contact them wanting to know publication dates or ask to have copies sent to every distant relative you can think of.

  5. Be on time – this is an absolute must for any budding freelance journalist. It has been said that some of the most successful freelance journalists are those that are reliable, not necessarily those that have the most eloquent writing. If your editor gives you a deadline – you must hit it. If you don’t, it is likely that the editor will not use you again.

  6. Accept what is offered, for now – if you don’t know the editor and this is the first piece you’ve had accepted by that publication, just accept the rates they are offering you. Remember, as a new freelance journalist you need as many pieces for your portfolio as you can get. So, accept the rates for now and then when you have a good working relationship with the editor you can ask about increasing your rates of pay.

  7. Never ask for ideas – it is not a good idea to ask an editor what kind of articles he is looking for. It is your job to come up with ideas and then convince the editor that he needs them for his publication. The editor has a big blank page to fill so, if you can tell him how to do that by suggesting box-outs, panel, pictures and side-bars you’ll stand more of a chance of publication.

Remember – if you get rejected tweak your idea and pitch it to another target publication. And, don’t write off a publication simply because they reject your pitch on this occasion – learn from your mistakes, improve your writing and your pitch and keep sending them in.

3. Timing is everything part 1

Getting your story to the editor on time is vital. If you have a great breaking story he’ll not thank you if you call him when it’s simply too late for that day’s edition. Finding out the deadlines for stories to hit the newsdesk is essential for any freelance journalist. The earlier you get your story to the sub-editor, the longer they will have to work on it, chasing up any missing information and verifying facts if they need to. So, if your story is urgent you should call the newsdesk immediately. You can also e-mail the information, but it would be wise to call as well to make sure they have received the message.

If your story is non-urgent, you should try to call the newsdesk at a quieter time. This will ensure that you have the best chance of chatting with the editor and he may be more responsive to your pitch. However, email is probably a better idea for soft news as it allows the editor to look through the pitch at a time that suits him and at leisure – rather than when you choose to phone.

Always include all your contact details so that the publication can get hold of you easily.

Timing is everything – part 2

There are, traditionally, some busy and some slack times of year. So, if you want to improve your chances of getting your writing published you should familiarise yourself with when these are:

  • the summer months – most editors dread this time of year. A lot of people are on holiday, schools and colleges close and councils and other statutory bodies don’t hold meetings. It can be a lean period for some publications and, as such, can be just the right time for you to pitch your idea.

  • Christmas and New Year holidays – these offer the same opportunities as summer holidays. Most people are not doing anything newsworthy and are generally more difficult to contact even if they are. Editors will often fill the pages with features – yours could be one of them. So, organise yourself and get plenty of work ready for these quiet times to maximise your potential of getting work published.

 

If you want to find out more about being a freelance journalist request a Writers Bureau Freelance Journalism prospectus.

 
 

"My short-term intention is to continue combining writing for newspapers and magazines with my current job. I'm enjoying my writing 'sideline' but I may find as time goes on that I want to make the transition to full-time writer."

Cathal Coyle, Northern Ireland

Cathal Coyle
Association of British Correspondence Colleges
British Institute for Learning and Development

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