The Freelancing Life – Pitching An Idea

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The freelancer deals with more than just words on the page.

Last week I got to head into Seattle to watch part of a photo shoot for an article I’ve done for a local magazine – very exciting! But I wanted to talk about what it took to get to that point, because I think it underscores some of the problems with freelancing. It would be lovely if all a freelancer had to do was sit on their rear and spew verbiage onto the page. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of other stuff that gets in the way.

So how did this article come about? I’d picked up a couple of copies of the magazine in question and thought about what they might like. I came up with a topic that I had a lot of information about and wrote a pitch – three or four sentences that explained my idea and (important) why I thought their readers would be interested. I included information about my writing credentials and why I was particularly qualified to write about this topic. I put a good bit of time into that pitch, trying to make it interesting enough that the reader would want to know more about the topic. I made sure the e-mail was professional and error free, as well as showcasing my ability to craft a sentence. Once it was ready, I poked around on their masthead and found what looked like the logical editor to mail my pitch to. And I did.

To no reply. A month later, I sent a nudge asking about the pitch. This time I got a reply from the publisher saying that she liked the idea and that they would discuss it at their editorial meeting and get back to me.

More time passed. I sent another nudge asking about the story and mentioning that if they weren’t interested, I’d love to pitch them a couple of other ideas. This time I got an actual assignment, with word limit and due date. It was on.

I mention this because I’ve found that the most important characteristic a freelancer can have is tenacity and a willingness to keep nudging when necessary. The reply to a pitch is, more often than not, silence, and it’s easy to get discouraged by that. It’s important to not assume that silence is a hostile or negative response and to be willing to keep on flinging e-mails into the void until you get a reply. People are busy, editors have five million things on their to-do list – being patient and professional when dealing with that fact is crucial.

Editors don’t have a stack of story assignments that they’re ready to hand out to freelancers, unfortunately. They want story ideas and they want to know a) why that story will appeal to their readers and b) why you’re the person who should write it. Figuring out what might work as a pitch involves looking at the publication and also at your qualifications, trying to find an idea where the two overlap. Pick publications where you have some expertise or unique experience to offer, rather than making the mistake of trying to write about something you aren’t interested in or don’t know much about.

And then be prepared to be persistent.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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