Tips for a Successful Freelance Pitch

Question: Should I wait for a freelance callout to apply? Should I pursue the lead editor of specific publications regardless of a freelance call? Should I pursue maybe not the lead editor, but another member of the same company who may understand my vision best to try and get them to take my idea to the editor? What does a successful pitch actually look like? If I fail to make any traction at one of my target sites of application do I keep applying and tweaking the idea/keep applying and stand firm behind my initial vision/at some point give up and target other smaller publications? 

As usual, we begin with rapid fire answers and then break them down into something more nuanced. Here it goes! Do not wait for a freelance callout to pitch. Follow the guidelines. There are times where it’s appropriate to approach the lead editor directly but not as many as you may think so be careful not to overstep or annoy. Other people at the publication cannot pitch on your behalf. Don’t put them in a position where they have to tell you that. However, you can contact to ask who to send your pitch to (this is for cases when the site has no calls and no posted guidelines and no staff page and essentially no way of you knowing how to pitch them). A successful pitch is clear, concise, interesting, fits the site, explains how you’re gonna execute, and why you’re the best person for the job. If it’s an evergreen pitch and a larger publication doesn’t want it, try it elsewhere sure! You can tweak it as well. Maybe run it by peers for feedback if the editor didn’t give you any. Also shift your mindset on smaller publications in general.

My Experience Pitching

I want to start off by saying most of my time freelancing involved small, steady streams of income from news, guides, contracted features, and my own YouTube channel. I didn’t pitch as often as I should’ve and as a result I only landed pitches at a few places. A lot of my freelance peers at the time had – what felt like – a slew of really impressive bylines they were constantly sharing. I never got to that level so I definitely encourage you to find people you admire professionally who have the bylines you want and ask them about their process too! And, if it feels appropriate, get feedback from them.

Most of Your Pitches Will Be Rejected…

Even my peers who were killing it (and still are!) talk about constantly being rejected. It’s how they got all these wins to begin with. They’re relentless and that’s why they dominate the space.

Most of my pitches didn’t land and most of yours won’t either. That’s how it goes.

but You Should Embrace It.

Rejection is a good thing. It means you’re trying. I once heard about a freelancer whose goal was to get 100 rejections (yes, silence is a form of rejection). The road to getting 100 rejections will be paved with a few wins so the sooner you embrace rejection as part of the process the sooner you’ll start winning.

When Should You Pitch

You should always pitch.

Again do not wait a freelance callout to apply. A lack of budgets or scheduling conflicts can get in the way of your pitch being accepted but many outlets are always looking for pitches so you don’t have to wait for a specific time. In fact, many feature editors have pinned tweets or info in their bios requesting pitches (in general!). If you pitch an outlet and it turns out they’re not accepted pitches at all right now they’ll say nothing or reply with that information.

I will say this is where knowing the outlet goes a long way. For example, don’t pitch Unwinnable on a column because their submission guidelines state “We are not currently accepting pitches for new columns.” In this case, you’ll be rejected and it will be clear that you don’t read directions which is a bad look.

How to Pitch

A successful pitch is clear and concise, there’s no exact science to the length but I try to keep in mind that an editor may be reading it on their phone (making my email seem even longer than it is). The idea itself needs to be interesting and a good fit for the site. The first part of that is pretty vague (sorry I can’t be of more help!) but the second isn’t.

Getting to know a site involves reading the site. What other features have they published recently? Have they published something similar to what you’re pitching in the past? Is it SO similar they’ve actually already covered it? Do they have established columns open to freelance contributions? Do they have other kinds of recurring content you think they could use help with? Has staff leadership formally (call for pitches) or informally (Tweets, podcasts) mentioned a coverage gap or a need for a certain kind of expertise on the site? You can also get to know a site by following its staff – particularly on Twitter – and/or listening to any podcasts they have.

It’s no secret that certain sites are known for listicles, while others may be known for personal stories, or indie game coverage, or research heavy articles, or deep cut developer stories: the list goes on. So figure out these sites identities so that your pitch goes to the right place. This isn’t to say that websites aren’t open to newer ideas or breaking their own mold. But knowing whether or not you’re fitting in or adding something totally different will help you pitch.

Your pitch needs to give some indication of how you’re gonna execute and why you’re the best person for the job but again. On that note, I usually include relevant links to either similar subject matter or similar kind of work (ex. Pokemon content if it’s a Pokemon pitch or interviews if it involves an interview component). Again, keep all of this super brief. I always ended by pointing to my portfolio website for more about me.

Everyone will have their own spin when it comes to their pitching process so I encourage you to find others who will share their methods (or who already have shared them!). Then you can use all that info to come up with your own style and strategy.

Where to Send Your Pitch

Email your pitch to… whatever email the pitch needs to go to! This is easy to find for some sites but definitely not all. Here are some tips for how out where to send your pitch.

  • Look on their website and look for Pitches, Submissions, Contact Us, Write for Us, or anything else that may give you an email for where to send your pitches. Even something like Tips may mention “if you want to pitch us send those to XYZ@website.com”
  • Google: How to pitch *Website*, Website Pitches, Website Features, Website Feature Pitches, etc. You may get lucky and find a tweet or article that got buried. Be sure to check the date to make sure it’s still relevant.
  • Look on their website for a staff page. If you can find the lead features editor or a similar position, their email may be listed or you can find your way to their Twitter which may include a call for pitches (check pinned Tweet/bio).
  • Check social media. Sometimes a features editor may not have a pinned Tweet asking for features but they may have tweeted about it in the past. Try searching “@TheirTwitterHandle” and “pitches” or “features.”
  • Ask other writers how to pitch the publication. Community is so important. You need to find your group(s) of writers. You need writer friends. There are a million benefits I could list (which I’ll attempt to do in a separate post some day) but one benefit is being able to ask them this very question. Your friends may have written for the publication before and can tell you more about it.
  • If all else fails, ask a staff member of the publication. I list this as a last resort because you may not get a response and it’s inherently personal to @ or DM someone you don’t know. Don’t let that stop you though! I’m personally always happy to direct people to features@ign.com. My preference/style for these inquiries is as follows: “Hi, I have a feature pitch for *insert website* but I didn’t see an email for where to send it when I *briefly list ways you’ve attempted to find this info on your own*. Do you know where I should email my pitch or who I should contact with this question? Thanks!”

Ps. Under no circumstances should you contact another staff member to “get them to take [your] idea to the editor.” It puts them in a position where they have to deny your request or break the established work flow. In short, it’s awkward.

Respect Smaller Publications

I’d like to address the writer’s wording when it comes to what do with their rejected pitches. They asked if they should “give up and target other smaller publications? “

This feels like it’s based on two misconceptions.
1) Smaller publications will take anything.
2) Smaller publications aren’t worth pitching to.

Both of these are grossly incorrect and if you’re of this mindset, shift it. This kind of thinking will hold you back. You’ll miss out on a lot of learning, friendships, helpful edits, money, connections, etc.

Smaller publications are not safety schools. Smaller publications won’t just publish anything nor will they add just anyone to their staff. I’ve seen writers fired from low-paying roles, hell, I once saw writers fired from a volunteer gig.

I encourage you to look into the freelancers who are landing that big, shiny byline you have your eye on. I promise you that you’ll find plenty of small sites in their history. And to be real, you’ll likely find plenty of small sites in their present.

Nothing irks me more than a writer who has only sent pitches to the same four, big name outlets and tells me, “No one is accepting my pitches.” I built my career – and made a living freelancing – by writing for sites most gamers have never heard of.

Find a lot of websites to pitch to and don’t look down on smaller publications.

What to Do With Your Rejected Pitches

So, you’ve been rejected? Congratulations! It means you had the guts to say “this idea is good and you should pay me to write it.” Rejection never ends and it’s a necessary part of the process so again, embrace it.

To answer the question directly, you can totally take a rejected pitch (possibly rework it) and send it elsewhere. If X amount of time has gone by and you haven’t heard anything (or have been directly rejected) you can pitch it elsewhere. Keep in mind that, if your pitch was time sensitive, it might be too late to take it else where.

You can also just write it yourself. I remember pitching a few Nintendo-centric outlets for my interview with one of the Mutant Football League writers. No one took it so I posted it on my own blog. You can even monetize that blog by having a Patreon or even just a tip jar in the form of a Paypal or Ko-fi link.

If you have a recurring features gig somewhere, you can likely share it at your main job. I wrote features for Nerd Much so even if other outlets weren’t interested in my first time playing as a character who looked like me story I could give it a home there (and make some money!).

Tips: Pitching and Staying Organized

This could be a blog all on its own but here are some quick tips on pitching and staying organized. When I was freelancing I made a table/spreadsheet called Pitch List. Here’s what it looked like. I recommending adding dates for when the pitches were sent as well.

OutletContact InfoPay RateIdeasPitch/Response
Name of OutletEmailForPitching@Outlet.com

Relevant links to things like their pitch guidelines
$$– Bullet points with ideas I think would suit the outlet
– Ex. mobile game stuff to mobile game websites
– Pitch Idea; Accepted
– Pitch Idea; Rejected
– Pitch Idea; Never head back
– Did Freelancer App for publication

Note: These guides are provided for free because I want everyone to get their industry questions answered. However, if you’d like to support me continuing to create content drop a tip anywhere below:

This question was emailed to me. You can email questions at gameindustryguides@gmail.com (I will never share who asked).

Feature Image Credit: Photo by Jose Francisco Morales on Unsplash

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