Always pitch an idea – otherwise you’re just begging

I got a pitch the other day that, paraphrased, went something like this: 

“Hi James,

I’m an experienced blogger, I’ve done [this], I’ve done [that], I’m looking to take on some more freelance writing work, so if you are looking for any new writers, I’d love it if you could give me a try. You can see my CV and portfolio [here] and my personal blog [here].

Thanks!

[Me]”

There were a few issues with this pitch, not the least of which were [this] and [that] were topics that had nothing to do with what I might be interested in assigning. Totally different fields.

But the mistake I want to highlight most, and which I’m sure you’ve already guessed from the headline, is the lack of anything that actually resembles a pitch. Which means this is not actually a pitch. It’s a begging letter.

Any Brits who watched TV in the 80s might know the refrain “Gizza job!”. This kind of pitch ain’t much different.

Why is this a problem? Because you’re asking me, the editor, the guy who gets a dozen pitches a week, far batter than this one, and whom you want to convince to hire you, to choose you over writers I already know and work with, and who send more convincing pitches.

You’re asking me to do a lot of work on your behalf: read your portfolio, think of an idea that might fit your style, write back to you to discuss the idea, which would no doubt entail at least another 2-3 emails to iron out the details, agree fees etc.

All of this makes this a non-starter.

And the cure is simple: pitch an idea. Don’t be lazy. Make my job (in this case, the job of hiring you) as easy and smooth as possible.

Every time you write to an editor, you should be trying to make a sale, which means presenting something worth buying. It would have been so easy for this writer to have spent an extra few minutes coming up with some kind of idea to test the waters, because even if the idea doesn’t fit, it at least gives me a reason to consider you, to actually take the time to dip into your portfolio, possibly to reply to suggest a tweak to your idea or to see what other ideas you have.

“Hi James,

I’m an experienced blogger, I’ve done [this], I’ve done [that], I’m looking to take on some more freelance writing work, so if you are looking for any new writers, I’d love it if you could give me a try.

I recently returned from a trip to Greenland, where I learned how to cook whale soup at Nuuk’s top hotel. Not very PC, but definitely interesting (and smelly). I’d love to write up the experience: “Cooking whales: The definitive Greenland food experience”.

You can see my CV and portfolio [here] and my personal blog [here].

Thanks!

[Me]”

This isn’t a perfect pitch (see here for what that might look like) but it’s infinitely better than the former version. It gives me something to ponder, it stokes my curiosity, at minimum it gives me the impression that, if the idea fits my areas of interest, you have at least made an effort.

Those are qualities of good, professional writers who are worth working with.


6 thoughts on “Always pitch an idea – otherwise you’re just begging

  1. Thank you James, very useful. What is the publication you are editor for? I’d be very interested in sending through some pitch ideas, but would help to know the theme of the magazine or publication.

  2. Hi James,

    Securing a commission (and, from that, valuable PR/tourist board assistance/freebies) often calls for writers to find an original angle on a destination. But, of course, it’s often the case that you don’t find an original angle until you’re actually there (the fortuitous encounter with a local insider; noticing something “quirky” that the tourist board wouldn’t flag up as valuable in their bumph but is travel story gold).

    I often ask a PR or tourist board “What’s new?” but rarely get those really interesting angles in response. Do you have any tips on this?

    One from me would be Airbnb Experiences – take a look at what “Experiences” Airbnb are offering in a particular destination and there’s often something you can work with – I just searched for Paris, for instance, and there’s a walking tour called “The taste and smell of India in Paris” – start googling around that and you might have your angle.

    Thanks in advance,

    Neil

    1. Yes this can be a tricky chicken-egg dilemma. PRs are often not the best source of really good detail – it’s basically the detail of any report that allows you to capture a new angle or not. So better would be to research local papers and blogs – what are ‘real people’ who live in your target destination saying and doing that hasn’t been reported much elsewhere? Your Airbnb tip is a great one – so look up other local lifestyle, travel and event sites and see what they have going on.

      It’s worth adding though that a very specific angle isn’t always necessary – what many editors like is the ‘high concept’ stuff – not necessarily new events and attractions that Time Out may report on, but new ways of thinking about a place. Belgium has a rep for being dull, flat and boring? Here are 7 reasons to change that opinion! etc etc

  3. Hi James,

    I’ve been invited to pitch several article ideas for a high end lifestyle magazine based in LA. I travel a lot but on a budget, although my passion is in high end hotels (I ask for and always get a short property tour but never stay because I can’t afford it) So my dilemma is this, if I pitch ideas on fab places and the editor says yes but then I don’t manage to get comps, can I still write about the hotel, resort, restaurant without actually having stayed there?
    Because how could I tell the editor I cannot write the agreed article after pitching it? This is a huge opportunity for me as a new freelance writer and I am terrified I blow it. Please can you give me some advice?

    Kind Regards,
    Louise

    1. Hi Louise and sorry for the late reply – it’s not absolutely essential you stay at a hotel to review it, or at least aspects of it, but I would let your editor know. The bigger issue is pitching ideas before you have any confirmations of what you’ll need. As you say, anyone can pitch a great idea, but unless you can stand it up and deliver you’re going to be left red-faced. However, if you can guarantee to a hotel that you already have a confirmed assignment with a top magazine/website, they will be much more likely to accommodate your requests. Hope that helps! You can get me on jd@pitchwhiz.com if you need anything else.

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