The Beginner’s Guide to Pitching an Article

Pitching ideas. Article pitches. Pitching a story. If you’re new to freelancing, you might not know what this means, but …

Pitching ideas. Article pitches. Pitching a story.

If you’re new to freelancing, you might not know what this means, but it’s basically where an editor or the person overseeing your content is asking for a specific story or article idea direct from you.

In this situation, they’re not saying “I need a story on bitcoin trends this month” or “I want a thousand words on the hottest colors of the spring.”

Nope- they want your ideas. Which is awesome because you can pitch ideas that you are interested in writing.

Pitching can happen as part of the application process for a job. For example, when I applied to write for a website for runners, I not only shared my background and work samples that showed I was a good fit for the job, but I also shared 4 story ideas that would be a good fit for the site. (I got hired!).

Even when you’re not directly asked for pitches as part of the application, it can be a good idea to add a few pitches (unless you’re expressly asked not to pitch). This shows that you’ve done your homework to learn more about the site and what topics would be a good fit (assuming you actually did your homework).

There’s also cold pitching, where you’re not 100% sure if the company or site is looking for freelancers and you present yourself along with a few ideas.

Then, there’s the pitching that happens once you have an established relationship with a publication- sometimes the editor will give story ideas, but often, they want to hear ideas from the writer, especially when you’ve worked with them for a while.

Editors are busy- they don’t want to necessarily come up with the topics, but they will say yes or no.

Not all writers are creative in the sense that we can readily come up with many ideas. You may know your background and expertise would be perfect for a publication, but you don’t quite know what you would write about. You’re confident, that if assigned a piece, you could research it, but that’s not always how it’s done.

Writers do write, but we also need to be able to pitch.

So, how the heck do you come up with pitch ideas?

Here are a few ways to come up with ideas for what to pitch to publications

  • Do your homework on the client. As already mentioned, read the blog or research the company. Find out what they’ve written and where there may be gaps you can fill. You probably don’t want to pitch a topic that was just covered unless you can bring a new angle, something distinctly different, or perhaps can build on the popularity that was created. Reading the client’s existing content (if available) helps give a sense of what they tend to publish and what they haven’t published yet.
  • Check the number of social shares client’s articles have (if possible). This is especially helpful for blogs- if the site has social sharing icons, you may also be able to see how many shares each article has received. Use this to your advantage to understand what does well. Again, you’re not pitching the same idea, but use the knowledge to help you. For example, if yoga-related posts seem to be shared often, what can you write related to the topic that hasn’t been covered? If the site’s posts on apps flop, don’t pitch to write another (unless you’re feeling very brave, and you may want to share why you think this one will be different).
  • Visit the competition’s site or blog. Now, this one is tricky, because remember plagiarism is a no-no. Full stop. But, I’ve found that when visiting sites like the ones I’m writing for, I’m often inspired by what they’ve written and I come up with new ideas for articles. For example, when brainstorming ideas for the Contena blog, I visited another site that talks about different ways people can make money and was inspired to write The BEST Side Hustles for Freelancers. As you read a competitor’s content, you may see gaps in an article that you could fill in for your client, or you may be inspired to go a completely different direction, but competitors can get your wheels turning.
  • Think like a customer. Visit the sites and publications that those people read in order to learn more about their needs, pain points, and challenges. Then, pitch stories based on those. If, in the tech space, you’re visiting forums and help-sites and see the same question pop up again and again, then you can pitch a tutorial or how-to that addresses that issue. Creating content for the reader is important.
  • Keep track of your ideas. Don’t force yourself to pitch under pressure, waiting until the last minute to come up with your pitch ideas. Write down all ideas, when you have them. No, not all your ideas will be good, but it sucks when you have an idea, write it off instead of writing it down, and then later can’t remember it. This is a problem because maybe you end up with the same idea again (wasting time on it), or it’s possible it can evolve into something worthwhile. Come up with a way of organizing potential pitches for each your clients so that when you have an idea, you can file it away and deal with it later. I find it’s hard to come up with a batch of ideas when I sit down just to focus on that. It’s easier for me to keep track of the seemingly random ideas I have as I’m writing, reading, or researching, and then work with those when it’s time to send in pitches. It’s also useful to have a place where you write down ideas for articles you’d like to write. Then, if you see a call for ptches, or you research publications you’d like to write for, you can get your pitch into the editor right away.

When it comes to pitching, the more you do it, generally the better you get. Especially when you work on crafting your email pitches well.

If you get a rejection, wallow a little, but then take time to consider if the pitch was good, but not right for the publication, or if the pitch needs to be reworked.

Not all pitches are worth publishing, and not all rejected pitches are bad. Rejection is a part of this work, but it also helps us learn and move forward as a freelancer.

Ultimately, pitching may not be the easiest part of our work, so if you find that you’re striking out (get it??), then take the time to use these five ideas to help improve your ability to pitch.

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