I had my first byline when I was only 19 years old. I pitched and wrote a story for The Birmingham Times, the Southeast’s largest black weekly newspaper, and it was published! Since then I’ve had the honor of seeing my byline in publications all over the country including The Seattle Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, USA Today and a number of national magazines. Today I write for several local publications including B-Metro magazine, StyleBlueprint Birmingham, and Birmingham magazine.
Today I want to offer a few tips on how you can start freelancing for your favorite publications, too.
I Got 99 Problems, But a Pitch Ain’t One
When it comes to freelancing there’s something much more important than pitches — people. Almost all of the paid freelance gigs I’ve received were because of relationships I had built.
Take for example the articles I’ve had published in Birmingham magazine. My first move wasn’t to send a plethora of pitches to the managing editor (who typically handles freelancers at magazines). Instead, I did research on the woman who was the managing editor at the time. I found out her favorite coffee shop and that she loved the Beatles. I sent her an email briefly introducing myself and mentioning my past experience (in addition to the freelancing I’ve done, I was a staff reporter for a newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky for several years). I asked if she’d have time to meet for coffee (at her favorite coffee shop, of course) so we could discuss possible freelancing opportunities with her publication. And the journal that I brought with me in which to take notes had the Beatles on the cover, serving as the perfect icebreaker.
During our meeting, I learned about the magazine’s editorial calendar and writers’ guidelines and got a sense of what kind of content they were looking for — what they wanted more of and what they were missing.
It was only after this meeting that I sent in pitches. Because of our meeting, I not only increased my chances of pitching stories she’d want, but I also decreased the chances of my email being ignored.
During that first coffee meeting, this editor and I learned we had a wealth of things in common and we are now really good friends. In fact, one of the new paid freelance opportunities I received this year was thanks to this same editor, who now works for a different company.
I was able to freelance for USA Today because my former boss from my full-time newspaper job works there. (This is an important lesson in why you should never burn bridges.)
I freelanced for Heart & Soul, a health and fitness magazine for women of color, and Hispanic Executive, a magazine that afforded me the opportunity to interview Nina Garcia, because former colleagues worked for these publications.
I freelanced for Clutch magazine because I built a relationship with one of the site’s editors via Twitter.
Social media can be a great help to your freelance writing career. I’ve even landed a few gigs via LinkedIn, a social media platform I rarely use!
The takeaway is this: start building relationships with the editors of your favorite publications in preparation for pitches you may want to send in the future and work the connections you already have to get gigs now.
I have a confession. Most of the paid freelance gigs I’ve had with Birmingham publications fell into my lap. I have a column with B-Metro because the editors approached me first. I am now a writer for StyleBlueprint Birmingham because the editor initiated a meeting with me. Even my time as a contributor to Birmingham’s NPR affiliate, WBHM 90.3 FM, happened because one of the station’s producers wanted my voice to be a part of her media outlet’s content.
I am not sharing any of this to brag. I’m sharing to make a point: All of these opportunities came to me because of See Jane Write. By creating and growing See Jane Write I proved that I was a girl with a gumption, a woman who can get stuff done! With See Jane Write I also established myself as a leader in the writing and blogging world of Birmingham, so that if a local publication or media outlet is in need of a writer or blogger, I’m one of the first names to come to mind.
If you are interested in writing articles or essays on a certain topic, establish yourself as an expert within that niche. You can do this through your blog, through speaking engagements or by hosting events. The riches are in the niches.
Don’t Get Pitch Slapped
Once you’ve built a relationship with an editor at the publication you have your eye on and once you’ve figured out what kinds of stories the publication is looking for, it is now time to write your pitch.
- Do your homework. Study the publication carefully. Be sure you’re not pitching a story that the newspaper, website, or magazine has already run.
- Know your angle. Why is this story important right now? Why is it something this publication’s readers should and would care about?
- Tell your story, in a nutshell. Before I pitch a story, I always write the nut graf first. (A nut graf is a paragraph that explains the news value of a feature story.)
- Have your hook. In my pitch, I use the nut graf along with some interesting fact, anecdote, or detail that will help grab the editor’s attention.
- Remember this: S.O.F.T. — SAY ONE FREAKING THING! Though your pitch will most likely be a paragraph or two, you should be able to describe what your story is about in a single sentence. If you’re writing an essay, you should have one point you’re trying to make.
Once you land a gig remember the wise words of blues singer Johnnie Taylor — it’s cheaper to keep her. It’s easier to keep a gig than get a new one. So turn in clean copy and ALWAYS turn in your stories on time. This will make the editor eager to assign you stories in the future.
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