How do you write the perfect pitch? What should you put in emails to editors? What’s the best way to follow up on those emails? How do you earn a living as a freelancer?
Over delicious sandwiches, tea and cakes at the glamorous Threadneedles hotel in the City of London, Women in Journalism held a workshop for 12 female intrepid journalists to answer these questions.
Heidi Scrimgeour and Hazel Davis, who run the Muse Flash ‘cracking pitches’ course online, were there in person to offer their expertise, along with Women in Journalism committee members and experienced freelance journalists Hilly Janes and me, Donna Ferguson.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the key points that were made during the day. The quotes are from the great feedback we got from participants:
No such thing
There’s no such thing as the perfect pitch. There are numerous ways to pitch an idea. Sometimes a long pitch will be better than a short one, a funny pitch better than a serious one etc etc. There is no tried and tested formula you can follow – but there is one key thing you can do to improve your chances of getting a pitch commissioned, and that is to…
Fit the slot
Read the slots you want to write. Are they 2000 word features? Back of the book Q&As? Top tips? Opinion pieces? Make sure you understand the target reader.
“Reading the publication thoroughly before pitching sounds obvious but it’s not something I have always done,” said one of our participants. “I will follow this rule religiously in future.”
Another participant said: “a key tip was really to pick one section of the magazine I’d like to write for and get to know that – it’s less daunting than thinking I need to regularly read and get to know a WHOLE publication!”
Fill that space
Pitch to fill a particular slot. Instead of coming up with an idea and trying to find a magazine or newspaper that will publish it, think about things from an editor’s perspective. They all have slots they need to fill each day/week/month and they may rely on freelancers to fill these slots. It’s up to you to come up with an idea for a pitch that will solve that problem for them.
“I took away from the course the obvious but important nugget that an idea is NOT a pitch! It needs formulating, expressing AND delivering!” wrote one of our participants.
Talk to PRs
Don’t pitch off the back of a press release, which every other freelancer may have received and can pitch. Pick up the phone and talk to the PR. Ask if there are any exclusive lines or access to interviewees that you can have. The PR may not know the publication and the slots you are pitching for like you do, so may have kept useful stuff back by accident. You can get help from the PR to develop your pitch in this way, and that will make it compelling to your editor. You don’t need to be commissioned first to be able to talk to a PR who sends something interesting your way.
You are not alone
Everyone struggles sometimes to get get responses from editors. Don’t be disheartened. Even experienced writers write rubbish pitches sometimes. You may be rejected and that’s OK. Maybe you’ll learn something about the publication or get some feedback and start to develop a relationship with an editor. But if you give up and stop pitching, you definitely won’t get commissioned!
“One of the key things I learned from the course was: Don’t stop pitching somewhere just because they say no. Heidi said she pitched somewhere for four years before getting accepted and now she writes for them all the time.”
If someone doesn’t get back to you, don’t be afraid to follow up with a polite email. Better still, pick up the phone.
Here are some more comments from attendees
“I thought the course was fantastic. Best thing about it for me was getting in a room with a load of other freelancers and realising we’re all facing the same problems/making the same mistakes. Atmosphere was relaxed and fun. Really enjoyed it. It has given me a kick up the bum to get out there and try.”
“It has given me a mental boost and renewed confidence to pitch. It was reassuring to hear even experienced writers make mistakes!”
“I enjoyed the informal nature of the session – and the great venue and hospitality! Heidi and Hazel were so lively and enthusiastic and fun and kept the session flowing with no lulls and no chance to feel tired or bored.”
“ Everyone was supportive and open-minded – I feel much more positive and confident having done it.”
We are hoping to hold another workshop later this year, and have already a waiting list of six. If you are interested, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Pitching workshop’.
If you can’t wait for that and are interested in doing Heidi and Hazel’s online course, Muse Flash, please email them directly on ?????
Venue. Threadneedles, 5 Threadneedle St, London EC2R 8AY
Owned by YTL Hotels, the former Victorian bank has been transformed into the discreet, boutique-style hotel, Threadneedles, London. The hotel exudes grandeur in a thoroughly modern way amid the bustle of the Square Mile, crowned by an elegant stained-glass dome. Inside this haven, you can dine on Marco Pierre White cuisine, and take afternoon tea in the iconic Dome Lounge.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7657 8080; reservations@ hotelthreadneedles.co.uk
Twitter: Threadneedles /
Threadneedles Hotel was formerly head offices of the London, City and Midland Bank headquarters from the 1880s. The original building, designed by W & A Moseley was built in 1856 and was transformed into Threadneedles Hotel in 2002, and sensitively adapted into a striking lobby, bar and restaurant on the ground floor and a hotel with 74 bedrooms. The 130,000 sq. ft. listed building is just minutes from the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange, it is the City’s oldest surviving premises for a joint-stock bank.
History of the Bank: The Birmingham & Midland Bank took over the London-based Central Bank in 1891, renaming itself the London & Midland Bank, and then acquired the City Bank in 1898. It was then renamed the London, City & Midland Bank, a title which lasted until 1918.
The former Threadneedle St head office of The City Bank, which became London, City & Midland Bank from the 1880s, expanded its customer base by opening new branches and acquiring other banks. In 1891 it acquired the Central Bank of London (which gave Midland a seat in the London Clearing House) and, in 1898, it bought the City Bank (which provided a London head office).