Ask Valerie: Letters to the editor…


I'm starting out in freelance writing for magazines and newspapers, and it’s very frustrating to spend so long working on a pitch only to have a negative response from the editor or, worse still, nothing at all! This is particularly frustrating if I’ve spent the time researching the publication, finding a relevant hook, gathering information and stats, and putting effort into collating the information into a succinct pitch. Of course, I know editors won’t commission every pitch they receive but is this something that we just need to get used to? Or is it simply a matter of honing our pitching skills which can only come with time? – Jodi

Answer: There are several parts to this answer. Here are some key factors to consider:

1. Developing a relationship with an editor means working hard at first

If an editor doesn’t know you from a bar of soap, then you need to work hard at your pitch. Think of it like dating. When you first start seeing someone, you tend to work extra hard. You take longer to get ready, you put thought into planning your date and you try harder to impress. Once you’re in a committed relationship, you can suggest ideas for “date nights” (while wearing tracky-dacks!) knowing that your partner will say yes. That’s because you’re now familiar with each other and know what your partner is likely to agree to.

The same goes for a relationship with an editor. You need to work hard at first. But, over time, it becomes easier. In the early days, you might send a four-paragraph brief after doing lots of background research, providing examples of case studies and potential interviewees. But once you develop a relationship with an editor – and they know you will deliver – then your pitch may have evolved into a one-paragraph (or even a one-sentence) brief. That’s because you’ve reached the stage when the editor knows that you have the skills and experience to produce a well-written and well-researched feature article.

2. Practice makes perfect

The old adage is true: practice makes perfect. So the more you pitch, the better you will become at it. If you are pitching once a month and then sitting by the phone – or checking your inbox every five minutes – for a response from an editor, then you’re going to drive yourself crazy.

First, pitch more frequently. The more you do it, the more efficient you’ll become. Also, think of different story angles to suit different publications. For example, let’s say you’re researching a story about the popularity of gluten-free food. Perhaps you want to pitch an idea to Mindfood magazine on the new wave of gluten-free restaurants populating Australia and New Zealand.

However, instead of developing one story idea just for that publication, consider several pitching several story ideas to different publications. After all, you’re doing the research anyway, so get more bang for your buck. In the above example you might also pitch a story on the impact of gluten-free diets on school canteens for Essential Kids, or how some businesses are cashing in on this trend with more gluten-free products for BRW, or an article on gluten-free scams for Choice magazine. See what just happened?

While you may be tempted to pitch only one story at a time, this can end up in a nail-biting wait for an editor to respond. If you have five pitches out at once, you obviously increase your chances for a “yes” – and, once you get one, you’re less likely to obsess over waiting by the phone for a response to the other pitches. You’ll be too busy writing!

Furthermore, if you pitch more frequently, you’ll also learn to become quicker at gathering the exact information you need to get an editor interested in your story. Win!

3. Get a thicker skin

If an editor rejects your idea, they are not rejecting you. Don’t spend your time wallowing in self-pity. This is not a slight on your writing ability; it’s not something you should take personally. There could be a whole range of reasons that your pitch may not have been successful. The editor may have already commissioned a similar story, one of your case studies may not have fit the demographic of the magazine, the editor’s budget may have been cut for that month. Stop dwelling on it. Move on. Channel your energy into pitching somewhere else.

When you start out freelancing for magazines and newspapers, I know that that the pitching process can be frustrating at first. But hang in there. Like going to the gym, it can be tough at first especially if you haven’t exercised much before. But the more you flex your pitching muscle, the easier it will become!

Ask valerie

Do you have a question for Valerie to answer? Leave a comment below or send an email to: courses [at] writerscentre [dot] com [dot] au with the subject ‘Ask Valerie'.

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