What Freelance Writers Can Do When They Don’t Know How to Pitch

Olivia Walters writes articles, blogs, and essays about life after higher education, take-aways from traveling, family relationships, and inspiration for other writers.

I’m a lifestyle writer, which means I’m in the business of digital journalism. Writing about events, unknown travel destinations and beverage products helped me get my feet wet in the freelance world. Like others who write for the internet, I understand that the conversation is always changing and the job requirement is to stay on brand and relevant — otherwise, there’s little chance of getting an editor’s attention. 

Many beginning freelancers mistakenly assume that that the work they publish at the start of their careers will lock them into a certain niche forever. Those with larger portfolios and higher word counts understand that a freelance writer can evolve their career by developing different interests over time. 

While I continue to grow as a lifestyle journalist, let me tell you what’s happening to culture and travel news during the pandemic. Travel writers are, in theory, supposed to write uplifting pieces that might distract and put readers in a dreamy bubble for three to four minutes. Now, social distancing is the major trend — not just because it’s a government mandate, but also for the social stigma that comes to those who aren’t. A lot of publications are pushing for stories about virtual tours, listicles of things to do at home and resources to keep readers both ready and willing to stay indoors.

In response to the coronavirus, the media had to change course. Stories about festivals, art exhibitions, date-night spots, local business launches and anything or anywhere that brought people together no longer interested lifestyle editors. My pitches were getting squashed left and right.

This is an adjustment for all kinds of writers. Finance journalists now need to cover ways to make short-term income, while fiction writers must push their book releases back or turn to YouTube for virtual promotion.   

On top of worrying about lay-offs, publication freezes, and budget cuts, freelance writers also need to try and stand out by uncovering new angles to the global discussion. The trouble is that the internet is saturated with coronavirus stories. Despite the immediate need from editors to publish stories they know will keep readers interested, editorial calendars are drowning in copy about the pandemic — and they might not have room for your idea, no matter how good it is.

So if you didn’t know what to pitch before the world turned upside down, there’s no shame in admitting that you’re completely lost today. Despite these challenges, you should not stop brainstorming — but how are freelance writers supposed to pitch ideas that are unique but still mainstream? 

After a couple of days living with writer’s guilt (you know, that feeling when you’re not writing), I turned to one of my favorite sources for ideas. Twitter is a gold mine for daily news from working editors and writers in all kinds of genres. My research revealed surprising advice that will guide down-and-out freelance writers on how to change their approach. 

  • Dozens of Twitter users are calling on writers to write about anything besides the coronavirus. It seems as if the best way to get ahead as a freelance writer is to pitch stories with the mindset that anything is possible. Again, people are craving distraction, informative reading material, and — above all — an escape. 
  • When you don’t know what to pitch, search the latest Twitter threads about what editors are accepting. Many editors tweet details about their publication, contact info, and pitch guidelines. While many of them are still accepting coronavirus stories, a growing number of editors desperately want non-pandemic pitches. 
  • You can also look for Twitter writer accounts that retweet these editors’ requests. It’ll take some digging, but the hashtag and keyword search options are freelance writer-friendly. To make it easier to know which publications have cut freelance budgets, there’s an active Google Doc that lists which publications are (and aren’t) still accepting pitches. Freelance writers are encouraged to share it with their network. 
  • Outside of Twitter, you can start from the bottom up by reaching out to old contacts. Even if you’re a beginner, you have to know someone in the writing world. Get back in touch, because asking for a referral is a common strategy freelance writers use to find work. 
  • I’ve also known writers to re-pitch old ideas that didn’t get accepted the first time around. This might not work for everyone, but if you’re organized and can refer back to old pitches, you might be able to clean them up and fine-tune the idea to fit in the current media dialogue. 
  • Another tactic is to turn to guidance from newsletters about writing — there are tons of them out there — but bear in mind the influence that sources other than yourself can have on your creativity. If you read too much bad news, whether in The New York Times or in a freelance newsletter, you might find yourself too anxious or discouraged to pitch.

I’ll end this with one more thought about how freelance writing sometimes strips originality and freedom from writers, leading to uninspired work or total burnout. 

We’re always trying to cater pitches to a publication’s audience — but if we get too focused on writing for other people, it’s easy to lose sight of why we love to write in the first place. If you don’t feel particularly inspired right now, maybe you’re not giving yourself enough of a break (from writing, from pitching, from the news cycle) to allow new ideas to emerge. As we all know, sometimes it’s just best to step away, take some “me time,” and come back to the keyboard tomorrow. 

Pitch ideas come to freelance writers who are persistent, but the scale will only balance for those who know when to walk away for a little while. There is still a market out there, so keep pitching and keep the word count flowing. 

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