Meg White asks: How do I approach pitching as a freelancer?

Meg White is my favourite young Brisbane writer. She’s relocated to Sydney to write for Australian Penthouse in recent months, but that’s a minor formality in a nascent, yet distinguished career. Highlights? She wrote an amazing live review of Brisbane rock band Hits, launched a brilliant war against The Courier-Mail’s shoddy online music journalism [full series of posts here – read from bottom], and tore to shreds a decidedly average Butcher Birds live review I wrote for Mess+Noise last October.

Meg asked:

Hey Andrew,

I have a question for you, seeing as you’re the most successful freelancer I know of. When you contact publications, do you make a general enquiry about their freelancing capacity, do you pitch them stories or do you offer to sell them content you’ve already written?

I’ve been toying with the idea of getting involved in the freelance world because there’s no clause in my contract about writing for competing publications, and while I’ve been poking around and talking to people, these seem to be the three main approaches used. Just wondering which one works best for you.

I replied:

Hey Meg,

This is how I approach pitching new publications.

  1. Find the name of the editor.
  2. Try to find someone who knows her/him, and ask whether they’re able to give me a quick email intro to the editor.
  3. If this approach succeeds and someone intros me, I jump into the email convo and ask whether the editor is open to freelance pitches.
  4. Failing that acquaintance-intro tactic, I write a quick intro mentioning my bylines, link to my published work, and ask whether they are open to pitches.
  5. From there, it’s usually a clear-cut ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

I find that just outright pitching stories, without any kind of preamble, looks (and feels, to me) rude. I try to picture the response of the editor on the other end. ‘Who is this person, and why do I care?’ *delete*

I have found that every editor who responds to my enquiry (whether intro’d through a third party or not) is upfront about their freelance budget. Most are happy to see story ideas – that is their job, or at least a big part of it, to commission stories – but some will state that it’s rare for freelance pitches to be approved. Which is part of the challenge, of course, and it’s nice to see an initial ‘no, we don’t take freelancers’ turn into a ‘well, that’s a good idea’ after a few weeks/months of persistence.

In response to the third approach you mentioned – I have never written content before it is commissioned. I do not intend to. I don’t like the idea of spending time on something when I’m unsure whether I’ll be paid for it. You know?

Thanks for the message. I kinda wish you didn’t smoke and drink so much, but then, your writing mightn’t be half as interesting if you didn’t put yourself in those situations.

More of Meg at Uberwensch.

More on the topic of pitching stories to newspapers and magazines in these excellent blog posts by freelance writer/editor Rachel Hills.

And more questions about freelance writing answered – eventually – if you ask me.

Comments? Below.
  1. Jerry says:

    Absolutely spot on again, Andrew!

  2. Meg says:

    Aha, obviously I need to get you to do ALL my intros. Think I’m blushing. Thanks again. x

  3. Good advice, Andrew – I like the tip about getting an acquaintance to put you in touch. Definitely something that gives a pitch more weight.

    That said, I disagree that approaching an editor without an introduction is “rude”. Reading pitches and sourcing new writers is part of an editor’s job – as someone who has been on the receiving end of a lot of pitches, I don’t mind it at all (and in fact love it when the pitch is well written and well targeted). Similarly, I’ve cold pitched top tier editors and had success – sometimes on the first try.

  4. Darragh says:

    Very interesting.

  5. Nice advice; I wish I had that sort of support when I was starting out – well done that man. Now then, I will test our friendship – I see you have worked for the Oz Penthouse – I wrote a Landmines article for them in the late 90’s, (that I put together the hard way, when I lived at the Inter Hotel in Aranyaprathet). I have recently had my folio stolen amongst other items of memorabilia, including the only hard-drive I had that backed-up my life’s work – oops (faaark!). More recently I have been asked for my folio – first time in a long time. I guess everyone that knew me is either dead, or just buried.

    How do you think I would go about getting someone over there to rummage through the archives and send me a copy?

    I have sent them an email similar to this request, however, as you have pointed out – it’s who you know that can make or break a submission!

    Cheers mate,

    Paulie Grice

    AKA “the combat wombat” ( well, years ago I was)

  6. Michelle says:

    Thank you for offering this post. I am going to have a go at contacting an editor to get published. I wondered if anyone can offer some guidelines as to what one can expect to get paid, and consequently, how many people make a living as freelancers for magazines?


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