If you want to write about anything you’d like, as often as you’d like, there’s a place for that: Your own website. But sooner or later it will come time to learn how to pitch an article.
Publishing posts on your own blog is a modern privilege that gives writers the freedom to digitally share their work publicly. And they can potentially reach any reader with an internet connection.
Can you imagine going back in history and telling that to professional writers who only wrote on paper? Scribes whose only readers were those in physical possession of their writing?
They’d surely be amazed.
But today we may miss out on ways to spread our writing, because we’re not as accustomed to the practices our writer predecessors had to use.
Pitch an article like a pro
I want to show you how to seize more contemporary opportunities with classic grit.
And the practice I’m going to talk about is pitching article ideas.
While you might be familiar with guest posting, I don’t think it’s often discussed as a practice.
A lot has to happen before more readers discover your writing, and one big obstacle blocks many internet-era writers …
Our entitlement cup runneth over
Since we’re so used to business blogging on our own sites, it’s natural to think our own style is acceptable on other sites.
The misconception is that once you find a site that has an audience you want to connect with, you can offer that site a typical article you’d write. You naturally expect to lock down a publishing spot on their editorial calendar.
While that experience is certainly possible, many publications aren’t interested in publishing a post that would appear on your blog.
Instead, they may be interested in your expertise and point of view, but they need you to craft an article that honors their editorial standards. You need to craft content that would appear on their blog.
In order to work, pre-internet writers had to follow a publication’s editorial standards.
They didn’t have the luxury of publishing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. They had to learn to trust an editor’s vision. That was the only way to get their articles in front of new people and find loyal readers.
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An example of how to pitch a blog post: monster truck racing for ladies
When you learn how to pitch an article successfully — and end up contributing to a publication other than your own — you can both grow your audience and grow professionally.
In this scenario, monster truck racing has recently surged in popularity among women. Women can’t get enough information about monster truck competitions. So, Frank Freelancer pitches an article idea to Edith Editor at Cosmopolitan magazine.
Frank regularly contributes to The Monster Truck Times. He also runs his own blog, Big Wheel Freaks, where he specifically writes about monster truck races.
Edith likes Frank’s article pitch, and it’s clear he knows how to write a good blog post. But she needs to educate him on the type of content that is the right fit for Cosmopolitan. She’ll give him their writer guidelines so he can match the tone and style of his article to the publication’s specifications.
Since Frank is a pro, he knows he needs to be flexible. He understands that Cosmopolitan subscribers aren’t used to reading the personal writing he publishes on The Monster Truck Times and Big Wheel Freaks.
If he wants to connect with Cosmopolitan’s audience (which he does), he has to adapt his writing based on Edith’s guidance. Frank knows that working writers don’t always get to write exactly what they want. Appropriately, he welcomes the opportunity to strengthen his creative muscles.
Plus, he understands that if Cosmopolitan publishes his writing, he gains authority and validation as a trustworthy source of information. He has a chance to grab the attention of new readers who aren’t familiar with his work and then direct them to his typical articles.
If he didn’t view the situation with that attitude, Edith wouldn’t be able to publish his article. She’d have to find another monster truck writer with more experience working for a professional publication.
How to pitch articles and get better responses
So, as you can see, my view on guest posting is more involved than simply getting another website to agree to publish one of your articles.
It’s a process of finding publications that are looking for what you offer and collaborating with them.
In order to learn how to pitch an article, you need to:
- Build relationships
- Learn and follow rules
- Adapt your writing to become a regular contributor
Let’s look at each one …
1. Build relationships
The way two people connect and bond may look nothing like what another two people experience. So, I think it’s best to view relationship-building as an art form with a variety of factors that are different for everyone.
But that also makes the process a bit difficult to describe.
First, accept that every relationship develops differently. You’ll rarely be able to duplicate something that worked for someone else and get the same results. Your copycat version will seem forced and inauthentic.
Second, relationship-building needs you to detach from possible outcomes. For example, when you have an authentic interest in talking to a blogger whose site you enjoy, you’ll genuinely enjoy chatting with them in blog comments or having a quick email exchange.
The experience of connection is the reward.
On the other hand, if you contact someone because you want something from them, you’ll be preoccupied with getting that person to agree to your request. You might even feel entitled to their time and attention.
Your agenda is always more obvious than you realize — and it’s not attractive.
Connect with people you want to meet without needing anything from them. If a relationship grows naturally, somewhere down the line you’ll probably both be happy to help each other out.
2. Learn and follow rules
The first “rule” on your radar should be familiarizing yourself with what certain publications are looking for, or not looking for …
Now’s a good time to mention that Copyblogger does not currently review unsolicited guest post pitches. However, many publications do review them and display guidelines on their sites to help you shape your submissions.
Those guidelines aren’t arbitrary. They are what the publication wants you to submit to optimize your chances of getting the “yes” response that you’d like. You’ll want to study and follow the instructions.
You should be intimately familiar with any site you pitch to (like how Frank Freelancer knew Edith Editor would be looking for a monster truck writer). Then, even if pitch guidelines aren’t available, you’ll naturally know how to capture their attention.
For instance, some publications prefer receiving a full article for consideration while others want to see an outline before the author finishes writing.
Regardless of your publication’s preference, demonstrate that you can offer their readers a new perspective, but that you’re also a professional who will meet their standards.
Pitching articles to smaller publications is a great way to practice guest posting.
Many won’t have as many rules as larger sites, so getting your writing published is sometimes a quicker process.
Even though their audiences may contain fewer people, those individuals may be highly engaged with the site’s content, which helps you initiate new relationships and invite those readers back to your site.
3. Adapt your writing to become a regular contributor
It’s definitely an accomplishment to have a site other than your own publish your writing. But as you continue learning how to become a freelance writer, there’s a bigger picture to think about.
You might want to become a regular contributor — to one site or several.
Guest posting can also help influence your area of expertise. Keep learning about hot topics for the sites you’ve contributed to …
For example, Frank Freelancer might enjoy writing for Cosmopolitan. So, he’ll continue to perform detailed research on relevant subjects for the magazine. He’ll treat his Cosmopolitan articles with great care and submit his best work.
As you grow a long-term relationship with a publication, they’ll get to know you better. They’ll also appreciate your professional attributes, such as meeting deadlines and submitting drafts without typos.
When you contribute value over time, the publication will also be much more willing to help you out with a favor, if you ever need one.
The process of learning how to pitch an article requires the same persistence writers have needed since the birth of the first writing instrument.
But I think those ancient writers would have preferred to have access to new audiences on the internet. Don’t squander your upper hand.
When to pitch an article (get your timing right)
It feels good when you’ve done your research before pitching an article idea to an editor.
- The publication’s audience
- Your topic offers value in unique ways
- The content manager or editor’s content preferences and pet peeves.
But you’re not done yet.
Although hitting the “send” button on your email seems like an inconsequential step in your article-pitching process, pause before you take that action.
That moment of excited impatience could spoil all of the important research you’ve just performed.
Caution: avoid these days of the week when you pitch an article
Have you ever suggested a fun activity to a friend, significant other, or family member when they’re in a bad mood … and they immediately decline?
Although they typically would love your idea, you’ve asked them at a time when they don’t want to be bothered.
I compare that experience to submitting an article pitch to an editor on a Friday or Monday.
Friday is a day to wrap up the workweek before the weekend and organize upcoming tasks.
Monday is a day to catch up from the weekend and start juggling pressing priorities.
When you reach out to someone you don’t know, your email might get lost in the hustle and bustle of those busy days. If you’ve worked with the editor before, it still might not be a priority to review your article pitch promptly.
My theory about Fridays and Mondays is absolutely not a strict rule.
After all, an editor might have requested that you submit a pitch to them on a Friday or Monday.
It’s simply a way to think about reaching out to someone when they might be more receptive to hearing your idea.
Keeping that guideline in mind, I’ve had a high success rate of getting responses from editors over the years.
Short-term and long-term to-do lists
We all have to prioritize our work, and there are two common types of to-do lists.
- Short-term to-do lists: work that must get done that day … or that week
- Long-term to-do lists: work that is not a top priority but needs to get done eventually
If you send an article pitch on a Friday or Monday, the editor might want to respond. But as they prioritize their work, your email could end up on their long-term to-do list (or even their I-keep-forgetting-about-that list).
Instead, if you send an important email on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, replying to your email might be viewed as a short-term to-do-list item. It’s often a lot easier to tackle work as it comes in once the week is rolling along.
I used the phrase “an important email” above because this advice can also be applied to optimize your chances of reaching anyone (coworkers, managers, dental hygienists, etc.) at a favorable time.
People are people
You’re not sending a message to a continually enthusiastic robot that reviews all of the emails it receives with perfect care and objectivity.
You’re emailing another person … a human being.
How important is the message of this email for the recipient? Will it be helpful for them to have this information right now? Or, is it just important to me because of the time and effort I’ve spent crafting it?
If it’s mainly important to you, is there a better time to send the email?
There may not be.
But pausing here gives you a chance to think about whether or not the person may prefer to receive it at another time.
What do you know about their current schedule? Do they have more free time the following week? If it’s an article pitch, would waiting to submit your idea until later in the year be beneficial?
Unless an email is urgent, I’ll wait a few days and then decide if it makes sense to send it or continue to wait.
What if you don’t hear back when you pitch an article?
Of course, there is no guarantee you’ll get a quick reply — or any reply — even if you carefully choose when to pitch an article.
I like the Two-Week Rule when following up with an editor.
One week can go by quickly, but after two weeks, it’s reasonable to check in to see if the editor is considering your topic.
And if you do get a response, it still might not be the “Yes” you want to hear.
Pitches that are poorly researched or have common grammar mistakes will likely get marked as spam.
If you submit an article to a publication that doesn’t review unsolicited pitches, you likely won’t get a response no matter how compelling your topic is.
There are also many factors out of your control, so be patient and don’t take any response personally.
Trust the editor’s judgment.
A different publication may be an even better fit for your idea … and a rejection from one editor creates an opportunity to explore other options … so, keep at it!