Lessons in Freelancing: The Hustle of Pitching

Rolling, rolling, rolling, keep them pitches rolling … this is the love cry of the freelance writer.

Writers are not going to win a lot of sympathy from the rest of the working world. The sooner a young writer accepts that, the easier it is to plug along in the hustle-bustle world of freelancing; it’s a grind without compromise or immediate reward.

One can develop their craft, expand their network, create a beautiful website and an astonishing portfolio with relative ease. Man hours and diligent work, yes, but with such effort, the results are clear and identifiable. Writing pitches? There’s some serious trial and error involved. Reading a few pages of Writer’s Digest can give one a sense of the no-nos, but to really learn the “art” of the pitch, one must pitch. And pitch often.

Needless to say, rejection is a huge part of the curriculum. Stony silence, frosty indifference, and abject, hardcore ‘Fuck Off’-edness are the three learning objects pitching will instill upon a young writer.

Eating rejection is, for most writers, the only diet they will ever know.

There is a notion in the minds of most young writers that there is an art to pitching, that there is such a beast as the perfect pitch. Well, yes, there is a perfect pitch: pros call it a SALE. (These are easy to discern by the need to send an invoice to a publication.) Beyond that, writers are slaves to many strictures: editorial calendars, the shelf life of a story, the whims and needs of an editor, budgets, BUDGETS, B-U-D-G-E-T-S. Perfection is a unicorn. What appeals to one editor won’t work in another market. And though your pitch may be “perfect” in its flow and syntax, it could be sent out at a time where one editor is in transition or when people are being let go, or a budget is being slashed or a publication is shuttering the windows.

Magazines, newspapers, and blogs are hyper-paced industries. Who was the managing editor on the Monday morning you sent your pitch could be made redundant by noontime that same day. For the freelance writer, you cannot anticipate every such move. You cannot worry about shuffling positions or retracting budgets. Simply understanding the varied submission requirements is enough; that, and keeping your pitch a) on point, b) as specific as possible without being bereft of character and c) tailored to the proper market. Everything else is out of your power.

I had that message reinforced this week.

I pitched a decent, if ambitious, article to an online publication last month. Both the publisher and the subject matter of my query letter were new to me, so to hear back that the editor was interested was excellent news. Flash forward a month, about 12 hours of work, and a submitted draft later … and the story is now dead. Unsold, no pay coming to me, and a negative completion rate with the new contact, I have to retreat into my head to pitch something else.

Well, I am okay with this lack of success. Sure, I would rather be posting a self-congratulatory item with a link to the article. Sure, I would rather be sending an invoice today than drafting this blog. Nonetheless, I have succeeded in establishing a new contact. That may seem like small potatoes, but I have managed to do something that all writers strive for: getting my damn foot in the door. Whether or not the next pitch is saleable, at least there is recognition attached to my name now. There is no diminishing how important that is for a writer.

To look at it another way, to have this particular story fall flat assures me that I have been heard. The onus is on me now to simply do a better job (with this editor and publication at least) with a clarity and focus that the original pitch must have lacked.

Writers get nowhere if they don’t throw pitches into the ether. Eating rejection is, for most writers, the only diet they will ever know. But for every unsold pitch, there is always room for growth. It’s a time to re-evaluate the pitch, or in my case, the submitted draft. Were there too many loose ends? Did I cover the best angles? Did I ask more questions than I answered? Was it too ambitious? And, most important, how could I have worked to address those questions prior to sending my pitch? In essence, I have wasted the time of the editors involved, who are strapped for time and resources as it is. To be certain that the next time they read something of mine, I have to double, if not triple, my pre-search. The pitch has to be that much more secure. The story has to write itself. There is no more rope to hang myself with.

Of course, none of this is possible without first pitching. So …. what are you waiting for? Go pitch something.



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