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July 29th, 2013

Editors are busy people, especially in today’s economic climate with a squeeze on their budgets and a reduction in their staff.

That’s why it’s vital that your first contact – the ‘pitch’ or ‘query’ – makes a good impression. Follow these five steps and you won’t go far wrong:

michelle higgs1.         Stick to the point

The editor doesn’t want to know what you had for breakfast, how many children you have or where you’re going on holiday. All you need to tell him or her is what your article is about and why the readers of this particular magazine or newspaper would be interested in it. This is even more important if you are pitching by email as an editor may not even open your message if the subject line does not appeal or catch the eye.


2.         Be professional

This should go without saying, but an editor will not be impressed if your letter or email has any spelling or grammatical errors. You can’t just rely on your computer’s spell check facility because it won’t pick up, for instance, ‘there’ when you mean ‘their’. Check and double-check your writing and, if necessary, ask a trusted friend or relative to look it over as well.


3.         Offer to write ‘on spec’

When you’re first starting out as a beginner writer with no published work, editors will have to take a considerable risk in commissioning an article from you. You can make it easier for them by offering to write the piece ‘on spec’. This means that the editor agrees to look at it; if he or she likes it, it will be published and paid for but if not, it will be returned and you can pitch it elsewhere. Always offer to write the piece to the editor’s preferred number of words.


4.         Highlight your credentials

If you haven’t yet had any writing published and have no cuttings to show an editor, it can be difficult to know how to describe your writing experience. In this case, the best thing to do is to say: ‘I’m a freelance writer with a strong interest in X and X. If you’re interested in this idea, I’d be happy to provide a more detailed outline.’ If the editor asks to see cuttings, just be honest and say you don’t have any yet.


5.         Name-drop!

If you’ve succeeded in getting some work published, whether it was paid or unpaid, make sure you mention the names of the magazines or newspapers in the pitch. For example, ‘I have written for X, Y and Z and can provide relevant cuttings on request’. The cuttings could be in the form of a URL link (if they’ve appeared online) or you could email a PDF of scanned cuttings if the editor asks to see them.


Finally, if your pitch is rejected, don’t take it personally. Simply offer it to another publication, but only after you’ve done your homework by researching it properly. Good luck!

Michelle Higgs started her freelance writing career in 1995. She writes on various topics including history and heritage, education, interiors, travel and the environment. She is also the author of six social history books. Her forthcoming book, ‘A Visitor’s Guide to Victorian England’, will be published in February 2014. She also tutors on the Writers’ Bureau non-fiction and journalism courses. Visit her website to find out more about her writing; you can also follow her on Twitter (@MichelleHiggs11).


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