Freelance writing: Successfully pitch editors

by September 25, 2014
Panel of freelance finance bloggers at FinCon14.

Miranda Marquit, John Egan, Victoria Araj, Korrena Bailie and Matt
Schulz offer advice to writers about pitching stories. The panel was part of FinCon, a financial blogger conference in New Orleans Sept. 17-20. Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells

For freelance writers, pitching stories can be intimidating. What should you say? How many clips should you include? How do you ask for more money? A panel of assignment editors at FinCon 2014 revealed what’s been successful with them.

 The advice was offered up Saturday (Sept. 20) at FinCon in New Orleans. FinCon is a national financial blogger conference that drew about 600 attendees this year. The panelists:

  • Victoria Araj, blog team leader at Quicken Loans
  • Korrena Bailie, managing editor at Bankrate Insurance
  • John Egan, editor-in-chief at SpareFoot.com
  • Miranda Marquit, freelance journalists for publications including U.S. News & World Report and Huffington Post
  • Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com
Their advice to freelance writers:

 PITCHING THE STORY

  • Spell the editor’s name properly in the pitch letter. Check and doublecheck it.
    Jeff Goins speaking at FinCon14

    Jeff Goins of GoinsWriter.com was Friday’s keynote speaker at FinCon. FinCon, a financial blogging conference, is being held in New Orleans Sept. 17 – 20, 2014. Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

  • It’s OK to be formal in the pitch letter. You can say John or Mr. Egan. Let the tone of the publication be your guide.
  • Don’t send a generic pitch – “I want to write about personal finance.” Read the site/publication and tailor a pitch to fit its niche.
  • It’s fine to compliment a publication in a pitch letter, but don’t suck up to editors.
  • Successful way to show you are familiar with the content: “I read this story on your site and I’d like to provide the opposite perspective.” Find gaps in the content and pitch those stories.
  • Cold pitches are OK, but it is better if you have a referral. If you have a referral, put that in the email – “Jane suggested I contact you.” It will help you stand out.
  • If you are cold pitching an editor, send an introductory email, two to three clips and a good story pitch.
  • Two to three excellent clips are better than 10 clips with a few mediocre ones mixed in.
  • It never hurts for a freelance writer to bring too many ideas to the table, as long as they are well-researched pitches.
  • Think about pitching a series that you can do once or twice a month. Editors like to fill in their editorial calendar.
  • Outline was is expected from you before you accept the assignment – word count, number of sources, photos, videos, story angle, etc. This helps you and the editor avoid surprises later.
  • Negotiate the payment and deadline up front. Some editors pay more for research or data-driven pieces versus more casual first-person pieces. If you have extra elements (graphics, photos, videos, bonus worksheet printout, etc.), it’s OK to ask for additional money to include those.

AFTER YOU GET THE GREEN LIGHT

  • Find numbers or reports. You can give your casual blog post more heft by including strategically placed data.
  • Pay attention to details and sourcing. Source the original data report, not the media outlet that reported on the stats.
  • Communicate if you are going to miss your deadline.
  • Don’t go over your word count. Really, don’t do it. If you need more space, ask your editor before you do it.

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AFTER YOU’VE TURNED IN THE STORY

  • Stories will be edited. Don’t get offended. If you have concerns about how it is being edited, find a professional way to communicate that. Don’t be rude.
  • Don’t keep emailing and hounding an editor if a story hasn’t been published. After you get initial confirmation that the editor received your story, give the editor two weeks before you send another check-in email.
  • Share your stories on social media when it is published. You are proud of it and it’s a good idea to help your story perform better.
  • Reach out to your sources and let them know the story has been published. Often, they’ll share it on social media, helping you get more readers.
  • It’s OK to ask for analytics about your story’s performance. Some editors will provide them. You can start the conversation by saying, “I shared it on my social networks and it was share 35 times. Looks like it got some attention in my social circles.”

 More advice from the editors is published at mirandamarquit.com/fincon14.

Carlie Kollath Wells is a New Orleans-based reporter. Contact her at carliekollath@gmail.com.
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