Best Foot Forward: How Freelance Writers Can Make Unforgettable Introductions to Editors

As a new freelancer, you may be more concerned with getting your first clips than developing ongoing relationships with editors. Just keep in mind that everything you do from your first contact with an editor will make an impression, good or bad. While editors don’t remember every sloppy query, from the time a pitch catches her interest, you have a relationship going.

For example, early in my freelance career, I pitched a number of ideas to Marie Claire, a market I really wanted to write for. After collecting several rejection slips, an editorial assistant called. “I just wanted to let you know that we can’t use the story you pitched, but my boss likes your ideas and wants you to keep pitching,” she said. I polished another query, and sent it—and this time, the editor herself called to assign a story.  My persistence in pitching ideas paid off—and led to additional assignments from the same editor.

How else can you make a positive first impression with a market that’s new to you?

Pitch the right person. Not sure which editor handles a section of the market you’re querying? Call or email the publication and find out. Double-check the spelling of her name, and get her title correct. You’re already ahead of the writers pitching “Dear Editor” or emailing the wrong person.

Demonstrate your expertise. Every query you send should show the editor that you’ve done some background research on the topic. Don’t just pitch an idea on the link between laughter and health; mention a recent study that suggests a connection. Suggesting a profile? Do a quick interview with the person so you can include some live quotes in your query. You want the editor to think you’re smart, informed, and a tireless researcher—which I am hoping you are.

Strut your stuff.
Don’t just explain your idea and how you plan to approach it. Tell the editor why’re you’re qualified to write the piece. Freelancers almost always undersell themselves in queries. Don’t make this mistake. Highlight your relevant background and experience when you pitch an idea and make a compelling case for why the editor should assign the story to you. (That doesn’t mean you won’t rely on experts and/or anecdotal sources to write the piece, but all things being equal, personal experience with a subject is likely to get you an assignment over a writer who knows nothing about the topic.)
Reveal you “get” her market. I always tell writers to suggest what section the story they’re pitching belongs in. (For example, “Interested in this piece for your ‘Healthy You’ section?”) This tells the editor you’ve read her magazine—you wouldn’t believe how many freelancers pitch “blind,” or without ever looking at the publication they want to write for. Better yet? Mention a recent article or two, especially if they’re the same type of stories you’re pitching—and don’t be afraid to compliment a story. Editors like praise like anyone else.

Ask questions. If you have the opportunity to have a one-on-one with an editor at a writers’ conference or other event, consider it a conversation, not a pitch. Yes, you can share your great ideas with him; that’s why you’re there. But make sure you ask the editor about his vision for the magazine, what types of ideas he’s looking for, or what he loves to see in a story. You’ll impress him with your desire to give him what he wants, and will come away with the meeting with invaluable information for future pitches.

As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Make a positive one every time, and you’ll be more likely to get as assignment, even if your first pitch doesn’t sell.

What are your tips for making a good first impression with an editor? Have you ever had a first introduction nightmare? Let us know in the comments!

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