Freelancing can be confusing and scary, but pitching ideas to write for multiple publications at once and getting paid… exciting stuff, right? Freelancer, iPhone-a-holic and social media consultant Robyn Sekula, AP’s Tokyo former bureau chief Joe Coleman, and former managing editor of the Indianapolis Star and former editor of Indianapolis Magazine Nancy Comiskey sat down to give us 10 tips and tricks to becoming an expert freelance journalist.
1. Network with the editor. On the website when it says to send pitches to a specific email, DON’T. Send it to a real person that you either met through a mutual LinkedIn connection or you have met yourself. Also, once you pitch the idea, if they haven’t responded in two weeks, follow up. People who are persistent get the job.
2. It’s all about the idea. Give them an idea they absolutely can’t resist. The more irresistible it is, the better. Make sure it is well reported so you don’t promise something you cannot deliver.
3. Keep it short and simple. Make sure your pitch is no longer than a page. Chances are if the potential employer has to scroll, they won’t. Make it most convenient for them. Also, if you know someone, put their name in the subject line. You need to get the editor to open your email.
4. Don’t undersell or oversell yourself. When it comes to asking for money as a freelance journalist, you have to be a little ballsy. However, to find where you stand, you might want to do the first couple for free just to get your foot in the door.
5. Exceed expectations. Have a second idea ready to pitch after the first story is complete, but before it run. Also, turn in your story a couple says early with a note that says, “I know I am new to you, so I realize you may have a lot of questions. I wanted to leave enough time for us to address all of your questions.”Instant favorite.
6. Pitch ideas as an intern. An excellent way to start freelancing is to pitch ideas while you are an intern somewhere. You have a captured audience at that point,
take advantage of that and pitch until your editors take something.
7. Time it perfectly. Publications are short staffed during holidays and big vacation times (summer). Reporters are also tired of writing about Christmas every year. Come in with a fresh idea while they are low on writers, and you are golden.
8. Look for a niche. Don’t be afraid to start small. Pitch for smaller sections or even the website. But also look for holes in coverage meaning don’t pitch a Chicago idea to a major Chicago publication, they have reporters there that can cover that. Solve a problem for an editor, and they are more likely to take you.
9. Keep the editor updated. If the direction of the story changes or you run into trouble further into your reporting, you need to let your editor know as soon as possible. No one likes surprises a couple of hours before your story is due.
10. Brainstorm. Think about your own life. What are your friends struggling with or is your family complaining about? People stories sell, so think of trends, like Snapchat. Some older people don’t know what that is. You’re an expert on your