For those without access to mentors, MFA programs or an established community
I posted a thread about some basic pitching practices on Twitter the other day and the response was incredible. That’s why I’ve decided to flesh out this guide and give my readers something they can really werk with. I hope you’re ready!
DaTings #1: Stop feeling like you’re not good enough or not ready because you don’t have any “pro” experience.
So you wanna get paid to tell other people your opinions?
You should do it. Really.
Especially if you are a woman or queer or low-income or a person of color. There is a growing demand from, publications and editors, for stories from people who have been historically underrepresented.
As a queer black femme from a low-income background, I have definitely spent my fair amount of time wondering about if I was ready or good enough for freelance writing. I low-key kinda stumbled into it.
I submitted my very first pitch to SLATE, on the same day I got sent home from a temp job at an Amazon Warehouse. I was desperate for cash. Upset about how badly I needed the job and hopped on Twitter to talk about it. Within a few scrolls, an open call for pitches showed up on my feed.
I wrote the pitch in an hour, sent it off, and started looking for employment again. The response from the editor came quicker than I expected and within six months, I had my first official byline: From Grad Student to Amazon Warehouse Janitor.
The temp job at Amazon would have paid me $100 for the day. That first pitch earned me more than triple that. This is why I say — as often as I can and to as many people as I can — take the dive.
Imposter’s syndrome is real and I get that, but if you focus on it, it could prevent you from finding the success you crave.
Decide that today is the first day of your writing career. Today, you are going to take the first few steps and #BossUp.
DaTings #2: Watch & Learn
The mystification of the publication process is what holds a lot of people back from taking the dive and submitting that essay they’ve been working on for months, sometimes years. I’m here to tell you — it’s not as complicated as it seems. Tedious? Definitely. Tiring? Absolutely. Intimidating? Duh. But complicated? No.
In fact, sometimes getting started is as simple as watching and learning from the people you enjoy reading the most.
Like an article or essay you just read? Great! There are legit ways that you can learn from the writer’s themselves — without hopping in their DMs!
Look up the writer on social media and follow them.
This is my go-to move when I’m short on time and I really just want to know what they’re doing currently. You’ll get a chance to learn a little more about the writer’s public interests: Are they social justice focused? Do they follow fashion? Are they an advocate for children?
The more you learn about your favorite writer and what their interests are, the easier it will be for you to determine if the publications they publish in are going to be a good fit for you.
Not everyone is a good fit for everywhere. It’s normal for writers to receive a number of rejections before getting an acceptance. That’s why the early research is so helpful. It helps you cut down on the likelihood of a rejection and gives you a better chance at a paycheck.
Check out their friend’s list.
The friend’s list is a gold mine! Check out any of your favorite writer’s friend’s lists and you will find a slew of:
- new writers to follow
- new publications to read
- new agencies to query
- new editors who are looking for pitches
It’s your FREE insider’s access to the industry.
By taking the time to follow these people, you will have a chance to familiarize yourself with the interests and goals of key people in the publishing industry.
Look up the writer’s website and DIG.
Websites are a great place to learn about the writer’s career moves. Bios on Twitter are so short and rarely give you the full view of a writer’s career but if you visit a writer’s website, you can learn more about what programs they’ve participated in, what fellowships they’ve applied to, what publications took their work, what grants they’ve won and so much more. You’ll start getting a sense of what your own bio might one-day look like.
Pro-tip: Write down the names of each fellowship, grant, or publication you can find and set aside a day to research all of them. You’d be amazed to find out how many have no fee submissions or options for low-income writers. These awards can help you build your credibility and some even guarantee you a publishing opportunity.
Network building is critical to your success as a freelancer. And I don’t mean rubbing elbows with fancy peeps. By connecting with working writers, their editors, and their publications, you will give yourself a better chance at learning what the market is looking for. This will only make your pitch that much stronger, so follow them.
DaTings #3: Read the directions. Follow the directions. Don’t suck.
Every publication has instructions for pitches and essay submissions. Read them. Don’t try to be cool and do something different. Respect the time and jobs of the editors by sticking to the guidelines, they will appreciate it.
Yes, that means you won’t be able to copy and paste your pitch. So be it. You want your first impression to be the best one — so don’t mess it up by ignoring their instructions. It’s the fastest way to get a rejection.
You can normally find a publication’s contributor guidelines under the CONTACT US navigation link on their website.
Below are some screenshot examples for BITCH Media. (Pssst…they are open for pitches.)
Guidelines are there to let a potential writer know what the needs of the publication are, what they hope you will send them, and how they like to receive their pitches.
They’ve put a lot of time and thought into this, so put some respeck on the process!
DaTings #4: Hook Em’
Hooks are short summaries that are designed to pull a reader in. Your hook can be either a suggested title for your pitch or 1–2 sentences.
It’s called a “suggested” title because that is all that it is, a suggestion. The editors will make the final decision on the best title for your article or essay.
Remember, they are the experts in their publication’s aesthetics and know what their readers are going to be interested in.
Leave your ego at the door and let them do what they’re best at — unless of course, they end up with something completely offensive. Then speak up. Otherwise, most editors will do right by you and choose a title that will get your article the most attention.
My Example: Prepare The Altar — Rediscovering the Power of Positive Black Femme Sexuality in Hip Hop & Soul
It does the work of letting you know my angle and sets up a certain level of expectations.
This is your opportunity to show the publication that you know how to get an idea across quickly and thoroughly. Give them as much information as you can about who, what, when, where and how.
My Example: Up and coming black femme artists Lizzo, Megan the Stallion, Cardi B, Doja Cat, Teyana Taylor, and Tierra Whack are showing us what bold self-loving can do to completely transform the way we enter into romantic or sexual relationships with others.
In one sentence, I gave you the when, what, who and how. (I didn’t tell you where — because you’ll just have to wait and read the article when it's up!) Make your title or first few sentences good. Make them schmexy.
Be concise. Be clear. Be focused.
DaTings #5: Give em’ the heat
In 1–2 paragraphs (unless otherwise noted in their guidelines) summarize the piece you are pitching. It’s important that you clearly outline an arc in the piece.
If it is something like a personal essay, the arc should contain a beginning, middle, and end.
If it is more of a reported piece or an opinion piece, start with the main situation, move onto problem analysis, then end with some sort of proposed solution.
The pitch is not the place to hold off on your big ideas.
Give them the surprise ending. Let them know what the next move is. Tell them why the piece you’re sharing is important. Tell them why it is perfect for THEIR publication. Get specific and don’t be scared to throw in some of their own language from the contributor’s page.
Remember, you got this sis! Pitching is just the beginning and I hope that these tips will give you the tools you need to get started.
In Part 2 of this Hood Chick’s Guide To series, I will share tips on linking previous work to a pitch, expected wait times for pitches, and important people to follow on social media if you want to get published in the next six months.
If any of these tips helped you, let me know in the comments below!