What’s the greatest mystery of freelance writing?
Generating ideas? Conducting interviews? Sending invoices?
Nope. It’s pitching.
Where should you send your queries? Which editor should you email? When should you follow up? If you’re anything like me, these questions are a constant buzzing in the back of your brain.
Luckily, I’ve discovered a few tools that help me pitch smarter — and even created one I thought was missing.
Want to streamline your pitching process? Give one or six of these free tools a shot.
1. Google Sheets
The greatest pitching tool might be lying right under your nose. Seriously, if you’re not using Google Sheets to organize your life pitches yet, it’s time to get started.
My initial inspiration came from Lola Akinmade Åkerström, who creates pie charts that reflect the number of pitches she sent and had rejected or accepted each year.
I wondered how on earth she knew those kinds of numbers, and after some Googling, discovered that some writers use spreadsheets to track every single pitch they send.
Writers like Alicia de los Reyes. Or Julie Schwietert Collazo.
Impressive, right? Well, once it’s set up, it’s pretty easy to maintain. You can see examples in the posts above — but at its most basic, your spreadsheet needs to include columns for an outlet, title, pitch date and follow-up date. Plus a place for editor feedback, and a way to indicate where your idea is in the pitching process (accepted, rejected, or my favorite, crickets).
In her excellent Pitch Like a Honey Badger course, Schwietert Collazo also recommends creating a spreadsheet that lists publications and editors — which you can update with information like email addresses, preferred topics and pay as you come across it.
Although I’m a Google Sheets fanatic, it’s not for everyone.
For a while, freelance writer Danielle Corcione tried to track her pitches within the platform, but found herself “getting frustrated” with all the columns.
So she turned to Trello, a web-based project-management tool. In this post, she explains her process for tracking pitches with Trello — and it’s definitely worth a read.
You can also use the tool as a repository for pitch ideas. When I’m struck with inspiration at the grocery store, I open Trello and pop the idea onto my “Headlines” list.
(I also have a “Get Sh*t Done” board where I track all of my assignments, biz to-dos and life maintenance tasks — but that’s a tale for another time.)
3. Where To Pitch
Naturally curious — and ok, nosy — I have no problem coming up with ideas for stories. What I find challenging? Figuring out where to pitch them.
I’m not the only one: In writers’ groups on Facebook, people are constantly saying things like…
Travel+Leisure turned down my story on skiing in Azerbaijan. Do you know who else might want it?
I have a killer idea for an article about detox teas, but that’s not my normal niche. Which health markets accept freelancers?
So, in hopes of helping people like me, I created Where To Pitch. On the site, you can type in a market or a topic, and related publications will pop up.
Whether you’ve got a brilliant new idea, or a pitch that’s already made the rounds of rejections, my hope is that Where To Pitch will help you find a home for it.
4. Who Pays Writers
Let’s say you have a fabulous story about breakfast. You might consider pitching it to Eater. Or Extra Crispy. But before deciding, you’d probably like to know which one pays better.
To get that information, simply hop over to Who Pays Writers, a crowdsourced site where freelancers share their pay rates at different publications. (Please keep it valuable by adding your own experiences, too!)
Not only will knowing rates help you figure out which outlets are worth your time, it’ll also put you in a better position when it comes to negotiating.
If you know what a market’s average per-word-rate is, then you can feel a little braver when it comes to asking for higher pay.
Remember: The worst they can say is no.
5. Your Library Card
You thought these were all going to be digital tools, didn’t you? Well I’m a sucker for the library and all the resources it offers.
When it comes to pitching, I love plopping down and browsing through magazines to take note of the editors on the masthead and the sections where my pieces might work.
Sometimes, you can find recent magazine issues on issuu, and I certainly do that in a pinch — but I don’t find it as gratifying as the glossies. Or, you could buy a membership to MediaBistro’s AvantGuild, but the selection of titles is limited and occasionally outdated.
How do you figure out which editor to pitch? You can, like I mentioned above, look through mastheads. You can also search Twitter or LinkedIn.
But ing them is a whole other ballgame. In this story, I mention some strategies for finding an editor’s email address, including one of my secret weapons: Rapportive.
After you type an address into Gmail, this magical tool scours LinkedIn profiles — and if it finds a match, that person’s profile appears in your sidebar.
Of course, not every editor’s work email is associated with their LinkedIn, but if a profile does pop up, you’ll know you’ve scored.
Speaking of email tools, you might wonder why I didn’t include the popular email-tracking extension Streak. Well, the reason is simple: I hate it. When I tried it, the only purpose it served was to make me INCREDIBLY anxious.
That editor opened my email 17 times and never responded? Why? They must hate me. Maybe I should go back to scooping ice cream at ColdStone…
You know how that spiral goes. So I say just avoid it.
Using the tools above, you’ll be able to pitch a little more confidently; a little more systematically. You’ll get inspiration for where to pitch your stories, and knowledge of who will pay for them. But you certainly won’t get all your ideas accepted.
Because, despite all our best efforts to turn pitching into a science, there’s still another person on the other side of every query — which means it’ll always retain an element of mystery.
Maybe that’s what makes it such a thrill.
What are your favorite tools for pitching? What’s your least favorite part of the pitching process?