How To Take Your Pitch Game To The Next Level — A Handy Establishment Guide

A handy guide to upping your pitch game, by The Establishment editors. Sponsored by:

Every Friday afternoon, I settle in for what’s arguably the best part of my job as The Establishment’s Editorial Director: reading through the brilliant, insightful pitches writers send our way. I usually try to pore through at least 100 emails, sending notes of encouragement to those I’d love to work with down the road, flagging potential yeses to discuss with the editorial team, and occasionally — joyfully — outright green-lighting ideas or full-story submissions.

Often, I’ll receive responses back asking why a certain pitch didn’t make the cut — and the truth is, there’s rarely an easy answer. It could be because the idea isn’t fresh or relevant enough, the thesis is unclear, or it’s just not a good fit for us (which wouldn’t preclude it from being an excellent fit elsewhere). It might be that we simply have something too similar in the editorial pipeline. Often, it’s some combination of factors that can’t be easily distilled.

There are some easy ways to make your pitch stand out.

But while there’s no one or simple answer, I can say that there are some easy ways to make your pitch stand out. The key is to make it immediately clear to an editor not only what your story is, but that you’re the right person to tell it.

We are proud to provide a platform for those who don’t have abundant (or any!) official experience — marginalized voices are imperative to the conversation and all-too-rare. The beauty of the pitch process is that you don’t have to be a high-profile writer to make the case for your piece. You do, however, have to be professional and convincing.

On this front, I would recommend developing a website that helps editors get a strong sense of your personality, writing style, and level of expertise. There are a lot of ways you can do this, but one of the most commonly deployed is the all-in-one platform Squarespace.

You don’t have to be a high-profile writer to make the case for your piece.

Here, I must pause to offer a full and honest disclosure: This post is sponsored by Squarespace. But in all honesty, I’ve used the platform in the past to build a writer portfolio site, and would recommend it. It’s relatively simple to use, looks slick, and is inexpensive — websites start at $12/month, plus a small additional fee to secure a domain. (This also definitely does not mean that you must build a site, on Squarespace or elsewhere, for an editor to consider your pitches. It’s simply one option among many if you’re looking to bolster your freelance writing career by providing a one-stop shop for your work, social media profiles, etc.)

The process of signing up for and building a Squarespace page is pretty straightforward, but there are a few aspects worth highlighting. To help illustrate the process, I built a new site myself, and have shared some samples from it below. My portfolio site isn’t particularly fancy, but it doesn’t have to be; it took me about an hour, and lays out clearly who I am as a writer.

Learn more here, and get started here. Here’s what I’d recommend focusing on…

Choose The Right Template

The template provides the basic visual framework for your page — and while this may seem somewhat incidental, aesthetics can serve as a productive selling tool. With 45 templates to choose from, you should be able to find something that fits who you are. Is your writing powerful and dramatic? Try something bold and attention-grabbing, like Forte or Momentum. Are you more playful and irreverent? Flatiron’s unconventional photo layout format might be best.

I decided to go with York, since the relatively simple grid format reflects my no-frills writing style.

(Note that, once you’ve started creating the site, you can change the template at any time.)

Choose A Professional Domain

You can directly purchase a domain through Squarespace. Choose this shrewdly, going with something that reflects your expertise and can help with SEO. And feel free to drop this into the signature of your pitch emails! I chose nikki-gloudeman-editor.com.

Select Your Clips Wisely

Most writers are interested in a wide range of topics — indeed, being able to explore the many facets of the world we live in is what makes this job so compelling — but for the purposes of a portfolio site, some distillation is necessary.

What topics are you not only most interested in, but most skilled in covering? What kinds of writing encompass your strongest work?

Start with these questions to categorize your portfolio.

For my site, I selected three categories that I feel best represent my areas of expertise: Investigative Reporting, Culture Analysis, and Social Justice Writing. For each, I selected three relevant clips, focusing on quality over quantity (remembering, again, that editors have a limited amount of time to get a feel for your style).

Don’t have a ton of published clips to share? No problem — use the platform to showcase your work from a blog or Tumblr page.

Integrate With Social Media

It’s extraordinary to think that just a decade ago, social media was still nascent. Today, tweeting and Facebook-posting and Instagram-sharing are practically mandatory for those who want to develop their professional identity.

For writers, this can be especially crucial — if you can address a complex topic with nuance and panache in 140 characters or less, you probably have the chops to write (much) longer pieces of engaging content. In fact, some of the best stories we’ve published (like this, this, and this) grew out of Twitter threads, and we’ll often check out the social media pages of new writers to get a sense of their style.

If you can address a complex topic with nuance and panache in 140 characters or less, you probably have the chops to write (much) longer pieces.

All of which is to say: Make sure to connect to your social media pages on your portfolio site. Since I’m a relative Luddite and have only focused on building my Twitter and Facebook profiles, I linked to these on my site.

You can also add content to your site from your social profiles, and send content from your site to your social profiles.

Blog On The Site

Building an engaged network of readers is another key selling point in today’s media marketplace. Squarespace offers blog functionality so you can develop a loyal following while creating an evolving portfolio for editors to look at. Features include images, galleries, videos, and audio, and with built-in RSS, you can automatically push your content out to readers. Blogging will also boost your SEO.

Interested? Start a free trial; no credit card required. When you subscribe, use the coupon code “THEESTABLISHMENT” for 10% off your first website or domain purchase.

Questions? Squarespace offers 24/7 customer service via email and live chat. And/or send an email to getestablished@theestablishment.co with the subject line “pitch question,” and I’ll answer within a week!

And now for some bonus tips!

  • Showcase your voice in the pitch itself. Are you sardonic and witty? Thoughtful and measured? Don’t forsake your voice when pitching an idea — use it to sell your idea.
  • Introduce your thesis asap and clearly. I want context — but first, I want to know exactly what you’ll be arguing. Sample headlines can help make it especially clear what you have in mind, particularly for pieces that are more explanatory or argumentative in nature.
  • Always include links to published work — and share wisely. If you want to write an investigative piece, don’t send me humorous listicles; if you want to write a humor piece, don’t send me a poignant long-form essay. I need to know from your clips that you can handle the exact pitch you have in mind.
  • Don’t try to do too much. It’s better to convincingly argue one thought-provoking thesis than it is to attempt analyzing multiple complex topics.
  • If possible, be specific about where you see the story fitting in on our site. I really appreciate it when writers tell me their piece would be ideal for a certain vertical (which are, for the record: Society+Politics, Lust+Liaisons, Wit+Whimsy, Brain+Body, and Audio+Visual).
  • If you’re pitching something timely, try to think of an angle that hasn’t been explored elsewhere. We don’t want to publish “hot takes” just for the sake of having them to drive traffic; we want them to genuinely move the conversation forward in a meaningful way.

We hope to hear from you soon! More info here.

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