Building Confidence for the Big Pitch

We’ve all been there: dying to send your killer idea to a dream publication, but paralyzed with fear. What if the editor hates your pitch? (Hint: move onto another market) What if she laughs in your face? (unlikely) What if you get the assignment and then realize you’re in over your head?

That last one is a quandary many freelancers would love to have. Most of the time, you can break an assignment into more manageable, bite-sized portions and work through it bird by bird, as Anne Lamott would say.

But if you don’t give it a shot, you’ll never have the chance to prove yourself and write that dream assignment.  Here are five ways to boost your confidence for a big pitch.

1. Keep a fan mail file.
Whether you write a blog, a newspaper column, or just post quirky musings on Facebook, you’ve probably had someone (your mother, your fourth grade teacher, or possibly a random stranger) say, “hey, that was pretty good!” That feeling is pretty darn good to boot. As blog comments or emails come in, move them to a special email folder so you can psych yourself up later when you need it. And if you’ve ever gotten good ol’ fashioned letters, even better. Someone took the time to handwrite a letter praising a magazine article I wrote and the magazine was kind enough to forward it to me. I saved this missive in my stationery box so I can refer back to it later.
2. Do your homework.
The more you know your target publication, the better equipped you’ll be to craft a winning pitch. For online publications, this is pretty easy. You can score magazine subscriptions by cashing in airline miles through or buy subscriptions through sites like Alternatively, check for back issues at your local library. These should give you a sense of what the publication covers and the writing style it uses, which can help strengthen your pitch and give the confidence of knowing “this magazine last covered X in 2008” or “they typically use anecdotal leads, so I’m going to start my pitch in a similar fashion.”
3. Sleep on it.
Taking a second look at your pitch with a fresh pair of eyes should help you catch errors or come up with better ways to phrase things. Ask yourself if you’ve given the editor enough information about the story idea (and about you and your credentials) to make a decision but not so much that he or she gets overwhelmed.

4. Get feedback.
I tend to trust my own instincts, but many writers find it helpful to use a query buddy or a critique group. These trusted confidantes can make suggestions on what details to add or subtract, what sections might be confusing, and more. They can also suggest alternate markets if your first one doesn’t work out. If you conflicting advice from different members of the critique group, then go with your gut instead of trying to please everyone.

5.  Just do it.
You could research and rewrite and workshop your pitch indefinitely, but at some point, you gotta let it go. There’s a point of diminishing returns, because too much fiddling with sentence structure or second-guessing yourself will not make the pitch any better. So, send it out into the world and move onto the next one. That’ll give you something else to focus on instead of fretting over the some pitch ad nauseum.

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About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor,, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.