Anyone can pitch any publication and it’s not annoying.
When I started freelance writing, I never considered pitching publications directly.
“Why would Real Simple want to hear from me? I’d just be annoying them!” I thought.
So, I kept writing for small places, responding to ads, and assumed that people only wrote for magazines or places like The New York Times if they were on staff or super fancy.
Years later, I learned that anyone can pitch any publication. Anyone. Will everyone get a pitch accepted by the Washington Post? No. But it’s not annoying or rude to try. And sometimes, even without a lot of published samples, you’ll get a yes.
A student of mine published an op-ed in the New York Times with no previously published samples. This doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens. Here’s how you can pitch top publications in 2021.
Write a Pitch
Have you looked at the internet? It has a lot of content. And editors need to keep pumping out content on a near constant basis. That’s where your pitch comes in!
Instead of pitching yourself as a writer (“Hello. I’m a writer. Can I write for Cosmo now?”), you want to pitch a specific story idea. Not an umbrella topic (“Falcon and the Winter Soldier, what’s the deal with that show?”), but a specific angle (“Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a Deep Dive into the Comics History Behind This Non-Dynamic Duo”).
The pitch should only be 2–3 paragraphs with a short paragraph (1–2 sentences) about your background at the end.
When describing the story, get to the point quickly! You don’t need to dazzle with a clever preamble, just state the story, why it’s important, and why you’d be a great person to write it up.
For your mini-bio at the end, include a bit about your writing background (if you don’t have any, just don’t bring it up!) and link to a couple of your stories that best fit the pitch.
If you don’t have samples, that’s okay. If you have one sample and it’s totally different than your pitch — that’s fine too! This sample gives the editor a chance to see your writing. If you happen to have a clip that closely relates to what you’re pitching, that’s delightful, but it’s not necessary.
Lastly, be sure to put “Pitch:” in your subject line so the editor can recognize it quickly in their inbox.
Find the Editor
Next, you need to figure out where to send the pitch. First, look for the publication’s pitch guidelines. Google “[publication] submission guidelines” or “[publication] pitch guidelines” and usually it comes up.
What if they don’t have pitch guidelines? That’s fine! It doesn’t mean they don’t take pitches, it just means they haven’t had the time to write up a whole thing about it. For these places (which will be most places), you want to find the right editor.
Email the editor of the vertical you’re pitching. So, if you’re pitching a TV thing to the New York Times, you don’t want to email the film editor. Send it to the TV person. Smaller publications may not have editors for every vertical, so just email the one that seems closest to what you’re writing about. If you send it to the wrong person, you won’t be blacklisted forever.
Usually, the editors are listed in a publication’s masthead. Search “[publication] masthead” and you’ll get to the right place. If the masthead isn’t found, go to the About section and the editor list should be there.
Find the Editor’s Email
Now that you have the editor’s name, you need their email address. Sometimes, the email is listed right in the masthead. Other times, you have to find it on your own.
First, look to Twitter. Search “[editor name] Twitter” and read their bio. Lots of times the email is right there and you can send your pitch.
If Twitter comes up empty, try to find the email formula for the publication. Most places format all email addresses the same way, like [first].[last]@nytimes.com. So, if you find one email for the publication, you can usually plug your editor’s name into the formula, and you’re good to go. Oh, and that is the formula for New York Times editors if you’d like to use it.
Once you send your pitch, be sure to follow up. Try the editor again one week after the first pitch, then a couple days after your follow up email. If you’d like to see exactly what to say, see my article on 30 Second Follow Up Emails.
You Might Get Ghosted
Editors aren’t jerks, but they are super busy. That means, you might get ghosted. It’s not personal. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or have bad ideas. It just means that the editor didn’t have time to say no (or completely missed your email).
The more you can make peace with potential ghosting, the easier freelance writing will be.
If you don’t hear back after 2–3 weeks (depending on the publication), pitch the article somewhere else! That’s the beauty of pitches, you can send them around to multiple places. Friends of mine got articles picked up after sending it to 10 publications! So, don’t get sad about ghosting and keep your pitches moving along!
If you want to find the masthead and pitching guidelines of over 240 other publications, get my free Big Guide To Paying Publications That Take Pitches. You’ll get the guide plus weekly emails about open writing jobs and freelance tips.