Top editors get a lot of pitches from freelancers, so if you’re a new or less experienced writer, it can be hard to get an editor’s attention. You need to stand out the moment your email hits their inbox. Ironically, many freelancers hate pitching, especially if they’re inexperienced and want to break into a prestigious publication, or land a guest post on a popular blog. No matter how good your writing is, sometimes the hardest thing you’ll write is that first query letter or pitch to an editor or blogger you’d just love to work with.
It took me a while to raise the courage to pitch The Washington Post, so I was shocked to get a yes from them (along with an invitation to join their talent network) within 24 hours. In retrospect, I did a few things right, and not just in pitching them a well-written piece, tailored to their readership. High quality writing (and careful targeting) is essential if you want to get featured in a popular publication, but it isn’t always enough. These simple steps can help you catch an editor’s attention straight away.
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Use her name
I accept guest posts over at my online business blog, and I once received an email from a potential guest blogger that opened with ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, despite the fact that my About page shows a clear picture of me and starts with the sentence ‘Hi, I’m Karen.’ The blogosphere is a very informal place, and an overly formal approach implies you’re not really familiar with blogging and creating online content.
Even with bigger or more prestigious publications, informality is the norm. And ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ is never OK. With bigger sites that have a few different editors or moderators, you may need to dig a bit more, but usually, it’s not hard to find the name of the person you’re pitching, and it’s fine to open your pitch with ‘Hi Karen,’ if the blogger or editor introduces herself by her first name in her online profile.
Get your name known
There are several simple ways to get your name known by an editor or blogger you intend to pitch. Follow her blog and social media streams, join her Facebook community, share her posts regularly, or comment on them. Subscribe to her newsletter.
Popular bloggers have thousands of followers, subscribers, and commenters, of course. But the names of regular commenters and sharers may still ring a bell. The best blogs are communities as well as information sources. If a blogger, or one of her editors, recognizes you as someone who contributes to that community, it helps you stand out.
Follow the guidelines
Read the guidelines before you start drafting your piece or pitch, and always have them to hand as you complete the submission process.
It doesn’t matter how stellar your idea, or how perfect your writing. If you send a finished article, when the editor wants to see a query letter, or email your piece, when the guidelines instruct you to upload it via Submittable, or you submit an attachment, when the guidelines state you need to put your piece in the body of your email, your words may never be read.
Ace the headline
Your headline is your chance to show that you know the audience, what their pain points are and how to grab their attention. Not sure how to write compelling headlines? I use a free online tool, the coschedule headline analyzer. It will analyze your headline, looking at structure, grammar, readability and whether you’ve used emotional or powerful words.
Many editors tweak even the best headlines, often for SEO purposes, so your great headline may or may not be published, but it will help get the editor’s attention.
Nail the niche
Most popular bloggers receive their fair share of off-topic guest post proposals. They tend to suggest a topic the blog doesn’t even cover, and they tend to go straight in the trash.
Conversely, bloggers and editors sometimes get a pitch that nails the niche beautifully. It succinctly solves a particular problem their readers struggle with. It’s the perfect sub-topic that hasn’t been covered before. This isn’t easy to do when a niche site already has a lot of good content up, so the next point is key.
Find a twist
Finding a brand new sub-topic isn’t easy, so sometimes it’s a case of finding a new angle, covering genuinely new technology or techniques, or simply pulling together evergreen information in a fresh way.
If you’re sending a query letter rather than a finished piece (which will depend entirely on what the submission guidelines ask for) make sure the twist is clear and the editor can envision how your piece will be different from what’s already available on the site. If you need help with query letters there’s a ton of affordable wisdom in The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Query Letters That Sell.
Show you can promote your piece
Newbies don’t like hearing about how important ‘platform’ and ‘online presence’ is, but online content needs to be promoted. It’s all about the page views, shares and social proof. So a freelancer who has a big audience to share their work with is worth more than a brand new writer with no influence or following.
If you have a large and engaged following on social media, that’s a plus. You don’t even have to mention it directly. You can simply include links to your social media in your email signature.
Writing well is still the key to getting published. But these tips will help you get your writing in front of the people who have the power to publish it, with as few obstacles as possible getting in your way. Isn’t that worth a few extra steps?