So, you are new to pitching journalistic stories or just want to know how to write a journalism pitch that actually gets accepted.
Chances are that you are already exploring a career in freelance journalism. If so, then I wrote an article on how to become a freelance journalist — this is something that you might want to check out.
Moving on, writing a media pitch for a publication doesn't have to boil your brains over. It might sound terrifying, but it is not! It involves a few fundamental principles that revolve around telling the right story. You have to let the editor know that your journalism pitch has what it takes to make a good story.
So how to write a good journalism pitch? Let's begin by looking at what makes a good pitch.
What makes a good journalism pitch?
A good journalism pitch that sells tells a story. There are no concrete rules to write a killer journalism pitch. Still, to put things into perspective, I will lay out a few things that a good pitch could. These tips will help you impress the editor and improve your chances of getting your story accepted by a major media publication.
Here are some of the features of a great pitch.
Writing a pitch has much to do with establishing trust. The editor of the publication you are pitching should know that you are right for it, which means that you have the relevant experience and can actually go to great extents to write the story they need. It doesn't necessarily have to do with college credentials. Even though having a good journalism background helps get your journalism pitch accepted, a lot of it revolves around your experience. You must show your interest in the subject and your existing work in the subject matter.
Helps envision the story
Imagine reading something and not actually relating to it. Boring! Another element of writing a good story pitch is helping the editor know what the story looks like. It could do with letting them see where it could fit in their publication. Publications often have categories, and if your story falls into a category, let them know.
The second point on envisioning a story is letting your editor know in your pitch email what the story could look like — how could it start, where could it end, what's the and what's the word count like. No editor would like to get a story that they have no room to accommodate, right?
What's even a pitch without good research? The most essential part of learning how to write a pitch that editors accept is getting your research right. You will have to show that you have your facts clear and even demonstrate the approach you will be taking to write the story. Let your editor know that there are people you are willing to talk to, and that you are even going to put in some extra research and work (based on their suggestions) if needed.
So now that you know what makes a good pitch? Let's move on to learning how to write a pitch.
Steps to writing a pitch
Here, I lay out the steps to writing a pitch for a magazine, a website, or any publication. The steps below will also help you learn how to structure a pitch.
Do your research
The first part of writing a good pitch is getting your research right. You have a story idea? Great! Check out if it has already been covered by the publication you are pitching to. If yes, what makes your story different — does it have a unique story angle, is it relevant? Nobody would want to publish a story that's been written and re-written time and again.
If there's nothing on the site, then you might also want to look at other publications and if they have covered it. Coming up with a unique story angle always gives you an edge and lets your news or feature story stand out.
Use a clear subject line
The benefit of using a clear and direct subject line for your pitch is that your editor will know that it's a pitch. For this, you can use something like:
Pitch: Working title of the story
If the story's working title is attractive, then your editor is bound to read your email, and that's a great start!
The introduction establishes trust. When you introduce yourself, the editor knows who they are actually hearing from. The introduction doesn't have to be overwhelming with all your academic background, qualification, and works. It can be short and sweet. For example, consider something like this:
Hi, I am a freelance journalist based in...I have been actively writing about technology…
That's it! This lets them know who you are and what's your interest. Hmmmm….goes the editor.
Explain the story idea and why it's relevant
Now that you have introduced yourself, it's an excellent opportunity to talk about your story — after all, that's the entire of your pitch email, right?
Talk about the story. Mention it briefly. Throw in the thing at once — some build-up helps. Here, you might also want to let your editor know where your story might fit. However, you don't really have to highlight the category if the publication focuses on just one subject.
Talk about the crux of the story. Mention why it's relevant — you could talk about the ongoing discussion around it and how your idea actually adds to the discourse. You can also highlight how the story might click with their readers to provide something fresh to consume.
Link to relevant resources. If you are quoting a research, then make it a point t link to the study you are talking about. Create an information path for your editor.
You can also think of a working title for the story. You can insert this title in the subject line. Your editor might change this title if your pitch gets accepted.
Support the idea by providing expert sources
Editors love sources. While you might have an idea that you can quickly type out in 30 minutes, the chances of your pitch getting accepted is more if you can get some experts in. Say you have an exciting idea for a pitch — your editor might wonder how you can justify your angle. This is where getting an expert source to talk about your story helps.
If you are confident about a story, then speak to a source beforehand. Let them know that you are working on a story and would like to quote them for it. Make a list of your sources — you can find plenty on Twitter — and write to them. Maybe send them a direct message write them an email if they have listed their emails on the account. You can also save your sources so that you can revisit them again if needed. Having a neat record always helps!
If your story quotes people from the ground, get an idea of who you might be speaking to and let your editor know that. That way, your editor will know that you have done your homework, and you can quote people who are relevant to your story.
Provide a timeline for your story
Now that you have sorted the basics of your pitch, let your editor know when you can have the story ready. It might take one week, or a month — be clear about it. Sometimes, stories that need a lot of research, and talking to people might take longer to deliver. Choose a timeline and let your editor know about it so that they have an idea of when they can get back the story from you.
You can also mention a word count that works for your story — it could be something that you have read in the call for pitch, or something you think might be appropriate for your story. Look for existing stories on the publication to get an idea of what they might be looking for. It can't be too short or too long. It has to be balanced.
Share relevant samples
Now, this might just be the time to show off your work. If you are just starting out, you might want to link relevant pieces from your portfolio — I mentioned creating a portfolio on my last post on how to become a freelance journalist.
If you already have some stories published — stories relevant to the one you are pitching — you might want to link it in your pitch email.
This way, your editor will know that you already have some writing experience and that they won't be disappointed in the process.
Additional tip: You can also mention that you are well-aware of the site's writing style and general style guide and that you will try to do your best to make sure that you stick to their format.
End with a sweet note
You don't have to do much here — just tell your edit that you are looking forward to hearing back from them. That will do!
But, what about the payment?
Sometimes, you will have an idea of how much a publication pays. If you do not, then you might want to check out this site called Who Pays Writers, which tells you how much a publication is paying.
If you are at the initial stages or your freelance journalism career and are still learning how to write a pitch, then you might want to hold-off the payment negotiation until you get your name out there. But this doesn't mean that you won't get paid for your story.
If editors like your idea, they will get back to you to negotiate and talk about how much they can offer you. If you see the quoted price as less than what they are paying, you can bring this up. Maybe they will increase the price, maybe they will not — they might say something like: well, this is what we can offer for a story like this.
But you don't have to worry much about it. Most of the time, the payment falls in the range. If you have received your editor details from someone like Sonia Weiser, you will know how much editors will pay you for your story.
Now, editors are busy people, and they have many emails coming to them every day. Sometimes they might not like your idea and shrug it off. If they decide to reject your pitch, then they might let you know about that. Sometimes, they will just ignore your story pitch.
The best way around this is to install a free plugin such as Mailtrack, which notifies when someone opens your email. If an editor has opened your email and hasn't responded, try to follow up in seven days. If they still do not respond, then follow up again after five-six days. Follow up a few times (do not pester them). Trust your instincts! Usually, they will respond after a couple of follow-ups.
What about sending the same pitches to multiple editors?
You have to be careful here. What if two publications accept your idea? You will be left confused, right? Try to send one pitch at a time and follow up with it until each reaches its end-stage — either acceptance or rejection. If a pitch went wrong, then you might want to pitch it to another publication. And this brings us to the final part of our guide on how to write a journalistic pitch — keeping a record of your pitches.
Keep a record of your pitches
Try to use a platform such as Trello or even Google Sheets to keep a record of your pitches. You should track the pitches' status to know if they have been accepted or rejected, if you have followed up or not, and such. That way, you will know which pitches you can recycle, and when.
If a pitch is accepted, then you might want to record the edit in a separate column as you have built a relationship here — a relationship with an editor who might commission more stories to you. They will know who you are, so do not lose them in your inbox. Save them at a place you can come back to if you have another story idea relevant to their publication.
You can also follow the editors on their social sites to know if they are looking for a pitch in the future.
Perseverance is the key
Yes, consider this as a disclaimer to what might seem like an otherwise easy process — a lot of your pitches will be rejected. However, it does not mean that you should give up on the pen and those sweet strokes of your keyboard. Send more than one pitch — a lot more than one opitch, actually. If you send, say, at least 20 pitcher s month, then you might be fortunate enough to get a few of them approved. You can recycle the others over time.
The few pitches that get accepted will provide you with enough motivation and resources to keep going. The best part is that you will get ore bylines to show off your work!
Examples of pitches that worked:
Here are a couple of pitches that worked for me. As you might see, I may have bent some of the rules. But that is okay — you will learn on the go. Suppose you are confused about whether you should follow my style or stick to the pitch format and style mentioned above. In that case, my recommendation is that stick to the style you just learned.
Eventually, you will figure out what works best for you!
It is important to have reliable data to protect endangered species. Traditional techniques of monitoring animals rely on technologies that work with installing tags, collars, transmitters on the bodies of these animals. It often involves close observation, even capturing them to take biological samples.
Often, these methods change the behaviour, physiology, and ecology of animals, and requires us to invade their space – something which we have had a history of doing and must look forward to changing. Besides, the collected data from such approaches have chances of being invalid as they're not completely natural with several points of deviation.
However, the progress of AI and technology has developed ways that make tracking easier and non-invasive. It is more accurate, cost-effective, and promotes high sustainability as local people can do it themselves without having to rely on imported expertise.
Nonprofit xxx is one such AI-based initiative which promotes non-invasive ways of collecting data from footprints of animals. With this, individual animals within a population can be linked to their individual footprints. It can be used to come up with reliable data on the number of species in a population – sex, age, weight, anatomy. Once data is collected a sort of library is developed, the technology can be used again to monitor the biodiversity. It also has features that work with camera trapping and DNA identification with any species that leave a footprint. It works well with human fingerprints and is able to identify specimens of ballistic works.
I think if such technology can be occupied on a global scale, it will put much less strain on wildlife conservation and make it more effective. The data collected can be crowdsourced so that more researchers can add value to conservation. It also makes the whole act of preservation native in nature so that developing countries don't have to rely on foreign resources. As of 2018, this technology has been put to use in 19 countries with 18 active field projects to protect endangered species. With the help of 14 partner universities across the world, Wildtrack is building algorithms to better the technique applied in field projects.
For this in-depth feature piece, I will be interviewing people from WildTrack for interesting and insightful quotes. I will also speak to naturalists and conservationists on how such an approach can help better the conservation ecosystem. I will also get quotes from students from universities that have participated in their programme. I will take an extensive approach to detail how such technology works and can be made available to researchers and even government projects. I will also talk about the challenges of an invasive approach to conservation by speaking to conservationists in India; there, I can get some really great pictures for the piece.
Let me know if you would be interested in this piece. The more people and governments know about such technologies, the better and easier it will become to preserve our wildlife. My hesitation with this project was that it would come up as PR. It will not. This is a not for profit organisation and has a great potential to reestablish the norms of wildlife protection and research.
About me: I am a 23-year-old freelance journalist based in Bangalore, India. I am quite at the start of my professional writing career and look forward to writing more on environment, culture, and technology. You can read some of my works from my internship days at xxx.
I am looking forward to hearing back from you.
I was wondering if you would be interested in publishing a story about the first AI-based tool for the hearing and speech impaired people?
I met a certain professor during my travels who is working on a software which creates animations in the standard sign language based on the text you input.
The applications for this is large — universities, airport announcements, railways, hospitals, and more. The best part is that it is first of its kind — no practical work has been done previously in this domain, so once it's launched, it could actually grow into something really significant — there would also be mobile apps available around it.
I have conducted a thorough interview with the professor — I even have audio recordings of it. It's his idea and the software is almost ready to be launched and is currently in the testing phase.
In this story, which will be a little more than 1000 words, I will be talking about its origin, the funding, the journey to making the app, the applications it has (including quotes from people working in the domain), and how it could actually be great if it finds a worldwide application.
I'm looking at a 2-week turnaround for this.
About me: I am a freelance journalist based in Bangalore, and I am interested in covering tech, culture, and the environment. You can find my past published works here.
I'm looking forward to hearing back from you.
That was it! I hope I was able to simplify the whole process of writing a good pitch. The secret is to keep on trying. You need to be disciplined and neat with your work and your effort.
If you think I missed a point or have something to add or even a thought, let me know that in the comment section below. I am writing this blog with the spare time I have, which is not a lot. But I am overwhelmed by the support of people, so I think I will keep on writing.
If this article helped you, then share it with others. After all, it's about building a friendly, self-sufficient, and healthy community.
I also run a weekly newsletter on rural, environmental, and health journalism. Subscribe to the REH weekly newsletter, and it might just give you an idea for your next story on the beats I cover in my newsletter.
Thanks for reading, and happy pitching!