1. Pick up the phone
Editors are not nearly as scary as you think, and sometimes the best way to cut through an overcrowded inbox is to brave a phone call. I had spent weeks on and off pitching a high profile glossy I was desperate to work for, and was ready to give up when I decided to call the features editor in a last ditch attempt. I was so nervous, but she was very friendly and invited me for a coffee. I've since worked regularly with the magazine.
2. Get out more
Of course, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. I've also got work from events where I met editors in a social setting. And even where there hasn't been a direct commission, I've often found that getting out stimulates new ideas for me to pitch elsewhere. It's too easy to get stuck in a rut when you're alone in front of a computer all day.
3. Introduce yourself
Pitching isn't the only way to get an editor's attention. Lifestyle journalist and blogger Heidi Scrimgeour says: "I plucked up the courage to just send cold-call style emails to editors I wanted to write for, not necessarily pitching an idea but just introducing myself, pointing them to relevant clips and basically saying that I'd love to be on their radar if they were ever looking for a safe pair of freelance hands. Currently my four biggest clients are people I approached that way."
Being a great writer simply isn't enough to be a great journalist - you need to be an expert with better knowledge, contacts and ideas than anyone else. "Don't aim to write about 'what you love', write about 'what you know' i.e what you are an expert at," says business and finance journalist, Iwona Tokc-Wilde. "I spent two years chasing a pipe dream (too many fish in that pond...) and nearly gave up until I went back to what I know best. This is when the commissions and the money started rolling in."
Having said that, when it comes to your career generally, putting all your eggs in one basket isn't always the best idea. "It's unlikely that writing solely for magazines and newspapers will pay all your bills," Tokc-Wilde adds. "But if you combine this with copywriting, teaching, editing etc, you stand a better chance of making a living."
6. Look for existing opportunities
You may have a pet subject or a target publication that you've always wanted to crack, but the reality is that the market dictates your work and not the other way round. Freelance journalist Linda Aitchison says: "Rather than always thinking, 'I'd like write X, who would buy this off me?' find out what real opportunities exist and craft pitches to fit them."
7. Turn one idea into three
Ideas are currency, so make sure they work hard for you by tweaking them to fit different openings. Aitchison adds: "For me, writing about grief means a personal story in a newspaper, a different slant in a magazine, an advice-based piece in a parenting publication and more specifically targeted advice in a specialist magazine for teachers."
8. Ditch the press releases
They can be a useful way to spark an idea, but using chunks of press releases in your article is plain lazy and is sure to get you caught out. "The editor will certainly have seen more press releases in the field than you, and will probably recognise the words," says Alan Burkitt-Gray, editor of Global Telecoms Business. "He or she only has to Google them, and you're doomed."
9. Learn how to sub
No matter how experienced you are, doing a last spelling, grammar and - most importantly - fact-checking session before you send off your copy could save you a lot of embarrassment and will help preserve your relationship with your editors. "Check and double-check that the person you interviewed four months ago is still in the same job," Burkitt-Gray adds. "The editor has a fair chance of knowing; if not, a phone call from a furious executive or PR person after the article has come out will make the editor look very silly and the editor will want revenge."
10. Ditch the time wasters
While perseverance is an important quality for a freelance journalist, clients who regular mess you around, underpay or pay late aren't worth the time and hassle. "Refocus your energy on finding clients who'll value your ideas, time, work and are generally delightful," says freelance journalist and life coach, Eve Menezes Cunningham. "Sometimes it may feel like such clients don't exist but they do - you just have to respect yourself enough to cut your losses with the ones who'll leave you feeling too worthless to be open to the better opportunities."
Free daily newsletter
- Tip: Why journalists should use design methods in reporting
- Tip: Remember this advice for getting started as a sports journalist
- Tip: Remember this advice for aspiring freelance photojournalists
- Tip: Try out these tools to help you write and edit your stories
- Tip: Check out this free resource for women in photography