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Taj Ali’s guide to freelance writing for those who have no idea where to start

If you’re interested in getting into freelance writing but don’t know where to start, this is the guide for you. You don’t need any formal qualifications to get started and it’s never too early or too late to give it a go. The following is based on my own experience as a freelance writer. I’ve written opinion and features pieces for media outlets on a range of subjects, such as: class inequality, Islamophobia, gentrification, industrial disputes and British South Asian history. I don’t claim to be an expert on pitching, but I hope some of the advice I share will be useful for those who want to understand the process better.

What is pitching?

In the context of freelance writing, a pitch is usually an email setting out what you intend to write about, what angle you wish to take and why you’re the best person to write the piece. It’s normally a few paragraphs long. Many media outlets have one or several opinion and features editors. It’s worth compiling a list of email addresses for different editors across numerous publications. Editors across publications do change quite frequently so it’s worth bearing this in mind.

If you intend to write a piece with a strong argument and a personal element to it, it is worth pitching an opinion piece. If, on the other hand, you wish to do a longer piece examining an issue in greater depth, it would be better to pitch a features piece. Writers often interview a few people for a features piece, and a list of potential interviewees is included in the pitch to make it stronger.

Setting out the Pitch

In the subject line of the email, make clear that it is a pitch and think of a short and snappy title for your piece.

I use the following format:

PITCH: ‘Proposed title of the piece’

The biggest mistake people often make with a pitch is making it too long. Set out a clear argument in a succinct way. Briefly outline the key point you wish to cover and how you would like to conclude the article.

Ask yourself the following questions: What specific angle are you taking? Why is your article unique? Has this topic been covered before and, if so, why is your article different? Why are you the best person to write the article? Do you have any relevant experience or insight on the topic you wish to write about?

The pitch is normally a few paragraphs long and it’s always good to link it to a timely news hook. A features piece is usually a longer piece which may involve interviewing people and giving a more in-depth understanding of a particular issue. 

While there’s no set template to a pitch, it’s definitely worth looking at examples of successful pitches. Here’s a link to some examples on the Journo Resources website:

I’m always happy to forward some of my own successful pitches and I’m sure many others will do the same if you ask.

Who should I pitch to?

It’s always easier to get commissioned for smaller publications when you’re starting out, but there’s no harm in pitching to bigger publications. One of the first media outlets I wrote for was The Independent. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. Some people create their own blogs to build their writing experience. Once you start building up a portfolio of work, it’s worth creating a Muckrack/clippings account to showcase your writing to any editors you may wish to work with in the future. I usually have a link to my Muckrack at the bottom of my email. Some writers choose to create their own website.

Timing is key

From my own experience, I found that the best time to pitch is in the morning. Mondays are usually quite busy for editors and on Fridays they are usually less likely to accept as they are wrapping up for the week. I was most successful with pitches on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

If you’re planning to pitch on a newsworthy topic, send your pitch as soon as possible. If you delay sending the pitch, chances are someone else will already be commissioned on the topic or it will no longer be of interest to a publication.

Following up

If you don’t hear back from a publication and you’re really keen to write for them, it’s worth sending a polite follow-up email asking them if they’ve given your pitch any consideration. Editors receive so many emails and there’s a strong chance that they may initially completely miss your email. I would usually wait at least a few days before sending a follow-up. There’s every chance that you won’t hear back on the follow-up either, and at this point it’s worth considering other publications for your pitch.

Rejection and the importance of perseverance

When I started out, 90% of my pitches were either ignored or rejected. Editors get a lot of pitches and are often busy with other work—so it’s pretty normal for this to happen, but don’t let it put you off. My best advice would be to keep going and be persistent.

It can feel quite disheartening to be repeatedly ignored or rejected, but don’t take it personally. There’s only so many articles that a publication can commission and there are many writers who will be pitching just as frequently as you. A rejection or an ignored email is not a reflection of your talent as a writer. Overtime, it will get easier. If you keep knocking, eventually someone will open the door.

Make sure that your pitches are timely and that you can bring a unique angle or a personal touch to the subject. I kept pitching and eventually built up a good relationship with people in the industry. It took me a while, but I eventually got to a point where editors would approach me to write on a particular topic.

Regardless of whether a pitch was accepted or not, the research I would do on a topic I was pitching on would always be useful. I would sometimes re-word a pitch later on down the line, link it to a timely news hook and pitch it elsewhere.

It’s always important to give it a few days before sending the same pitch to another publication as editors do take a while to respond to a pitch.

The Invoicing Process

Most publications will pay you for your writing. After you’ve been commissioned, they will ask you to send them an invoice.

Some publications will ask you to complete a ‘New Suppliers Details Form’ for the purpose of invoicing and others will use third-party platforms to pay writers for their work. E.g. Storyhunter. In these scenarios, the editor will send instructions on how to sign up for the platform/invoicing process.

You can find invoice templates online but here’s an example of the way I set out my invoice:

Please make payable to (Your Name here)

Account number and sort code

Thank you for your custom

It’s not uncommon for some publications to take a while to process invoices. Sometimes you’ll have to chase up an invoice with a publication.

Final thoughts

Please be persistent! I found it very difficult and came very close to giving up, but I kept going and things got easier over time. I think it’s good to develop a niche overtime and become a subject matter expert on issues that are of particular interest to you. This way, editors are more likely to think of you when they are looking for pitches on a particular issue.

I’m always happy to answer specific questions. You can reach me on taj.ali2792@gmail.com or on Twitter: @taj_ali1

Best of luck in your writing journey!

How to pitch to Media Diversified here

Taj Ali is a freelance writer with an interest in class and socio-economic inequality. His work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Metro and the Independent

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