If you’re like me, you have a GAZILLION ideas.
Having lots of ideas is a good thing. To be a successful freelance writer, however, it helps to have a system for pitching ideas. Otherwise, it’s hard to focus, and you can get stuck in the what-do-I-do-next phase where you spend a lot more time thinking than doing.
When I decided to pursue full-time freelance writing, I was really excited. I had a bunch of ideas written down. I knew about lots of blogs and magazines that paid, and I was confident in my pitching and writing abilities.
But although I knew how to do the main activities necessary for success, I wasn’t sure how to do them consistently in a way that would lead to regular assignments and income.
I was stuck.
I needed a bridge from what I knew to the practicalities of writing assignments and CASH. And I needed a way to focus and avoid switching from idea to idea.
So that’s when I developed this system for pitching, a system that provides concrete tasks and a plan of action for ideas.
This system helped me get started as a freelancer, and still helps me stay focused and get the most out of my ideas.
It all started with coffee.
I wanted to write about how I was tired of references to coffee in social media posts. I knew about a cool entrepreneurs’ blog that paid, so I hoped to publish my piece there. After I researched the blog, though, I decided they would probably find my piece offensive. I imagined the blog’s readers were the exact people I was complaining about. Hmmm.
What to do next?
My first thought was to pick another idea, but I felt that starting over would be wasteful. I’d already spent a lot of time on this idea.
I was still in the beginning stage of my freelancing career, but I’d already figured out that I was spending too much time jumping from one idea to another. So I decided to find a way to use what I already had, and that’s how my system was born.
1. Pick an idea you want to work on
Pick any idea you’re in the mood to spend a lot of time with.
Don’t think publications. Your idea will undergo lots of changes before you’re ready to pitch it.
This post about writing came from an idea about a pet peeve concerning coffee. You may have an idea about your dog that could morph into a post about how parents need to teach their teenagers more responsibility.
It may seem like it would be more practical to start with the idea that will appeal to the most popular blog, but that isn’t always the case. You can do that, but steps #1, #2, and #3 of this process are for developing ideas and coming up with ways to pitch them.
Ultimately, any of your original ideas could end up on the most popular blogs if you pitch them effectively. You’ll see what I mean when you get to steps #4, #5, and #6.
2. Pitch the idea pretty much “as is”
The original focus of your idea will be your favorite, so you definitely want to find a blog that will publish it nearly “as is.”
My original idea was an opinion piece. No offense to anyone, but I was complaining about people who mention drinking coffee in their social media and web site profiles, how these coffee references turn me off because I imagine coffee shops, and I’m an at-home coffee drinker.
I pitched my original idea to a lifestyles blog that I thought would totally get my pet peeve. From this blog, I actually got a “not at this time” response, so I’m looking at other blogs. I love the original idea and want to see it published. I may pitch another lifestyles blog that will get the zen of my at-home coffee ritual, or I may have to go with a blog with a middle-age audience that will understand about making coffee at home.
3. Think of 2 to 4 angles on the idea
Luckily, although I often lack the ability to focus, I do possess an incredible aptitude for brainstorming. The concept of finding several ways to pitch an idea may seem daunting to some writers, but I find it extremely easy.
Let’s use my original coffee-related idea as an example of how you can do this.
First, I played with the idea to see if I could change its focus to make it fit the first blog I’d thought of pitching:
- Could I just write about references to coffee in social media profiles?
- About how businesses mentioning coffee in their profiles might be alienating potential customers?
- About how different types of coffee drinkers might be different types of business personalities?
Then I thought of other coffee-related angles to approach the same idea:
- Coffee drinkers in cafes
- My coffee drinking at home
- Youth vs. middle-age (do I drink coffee the way I do because I’m old?)
- Inheriting the coffee ritual from my mother (who drank coffee at home all the time, getting up and starting her coffee ritual before everyone else was awake)
So far, I’ve pitched the idea with a marketing focus for an entrepreneurs’ blog (the pitch focuses on what people include in their online profiles), and I’m in discussions with the editor now.
I pitched, and now I’m publishing, the idea here as an example of how to get multiple pitches out of an idea.
I’ve also pitched a woman’s blog about rituals I inherited from my family (the morning coffee ritual), and I’m still hoping to hear back on this one.
If you can’t immediately think of other ways to pitch your idea, don’t give up. There are always other ways to pitch a topic. Coming up with good story ideas is an essential skill for successful freelance writers, and it is a skill that can be developed with practice.
4.Find blogs that are a good fit for your different pitches
Look for blogs that publish pieces similar to the ones you’re ready to write about. This is standard advice for writers pitching any kind of publication. If your piece focuses on writing, you’ll send it to a writing blog; if your piece focuses on cooking, you’ll send it to a home/lifestyle blog or maybe a culinary school’s blog.
It may seem like it’s difficult to find blogs to write for, but it’s easy once you get started. I depend heavily on Google to find blogs I might be able to write for. To find a writing blog, just Google “writing blogs.” In your search results, you’ll probably find a few lists of writing blogs, as well as individual blogs. Then there are specialty publications like Sophie’s The Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs, where you can get information about many paying blogs in one hit.
There is no shortage of blogs. You just have to spend some time doing the research.
After you’ve found blogs that fit your subject matter, examine them carefully. Read recent posts. Study the writing style and language. If you think your writing skills match those of the bloggers they publish, you’ve probably found a good blog to pitch.
If you’re only interested in posting on the most popular blogs, now is the time to focus on that and study only the most popular blogs.
How picky you can be at this stage depends on where you are in your freelancing career. If you’re just trying to build your portfolio, you may want to target some of the less popular blogs. If you’ve published a lot, you may be ready for the most popular blogs. This is something you’ll learn mostly through trial and error.
When you’re studying specific blogs, you can also find out if they pay and how much. Pay information is often posted on a page called something like “Guest Post Guidelines” — and if it isn’t, you can always contact the blog to find out. If payment is a critical factor for you, you’ll discover in this step of the process whether pitching that blog is worth your time.
5. Send out your pitches
All freelance writers should know the basics of sending a pitch (also called a query) to a publication. If you don’t know how to pitch, pitching is a skill you’ll want to learn — and fast. Basically, a pitch is a communication, usually an email, in which you explain to the blog’s editor why you want to write for them and why your piece would be a good fit for the publication.
Often blogs have public guest posting guidelines that explain how pitches are to be submitted. If the blog doesn’t have those guidelines, you can use the contact information on the blog and just explain that you are interested in submitting a guest post to the blog. Include a summary of your idea and perhaps a short outline showing how you’ll shape it.
It is from these pitches that you’ll get many of your writing assignments as a freelance blogger.
6. Send out more pitches (optional)
If you want to be really efficient, once you’ve sent your pitches to your favorite blogs, go ahead and send to your second and third choices, too.
For my coffee idea, I first sent my idea about coffee drinking as a family ritual to a popular women’s blog. Then I also sent it to a less-popular women’s blog and a family history blog. Those two blogs haven’t gotten back to me yet, so I may have to take another look at that idea. Sometimes your ideas won’t sell, but the important thing is that you put them out there.
As for sending your pitch to more than one blog at a time (usually referred to as “multiple submissions”), there are opposing views on whether this is a good idea, but I’m with the group that believes it’s OK to send out multiple pitches.
The worst case scenario here is that you’ll have a piece accepted by two blogs, but there’s a way to handle that. When the first blog says it wants to publish your piece, you can accept (the typical response), or you can decline if your heart is still set on the other blog. If you do take the first offer, you can then either
- Wait to hear from the second blog and decline publication when/if you do hear back, or
- Go ahead and contact the second blog and explain that you’re no longer interested in doing that piece.
If finding additional blogs to pitch seems difficult, don’t give up. As explained in #4 above, you just need to research more blogs.
While your piece on writing might be most appropriate for a writing blog, it could also be appropriate for a business blog that showcases different business skills (writing being one of them). The piece about cooking could be a good fit for a travel blog that features regional cuisine.
The more blogs you read and the more blogs you know well, the better off you’ll be as a freelance blogger. There are lots of potential homes for your writing.
So there you have it.
This system takes some work, but that’s sort of the point — to get you pitching and writing and help you to stop daydreaming and jumping from topic to topic with no real focus.
Not everyone needs a system like this, but I do. It just seems efficient to me. I figure while I’m in the world of a topic, I might as well get as many posts as possible out of it. Then I can move on to the next topic.
This system has taken me from the wanna-be-writer phase to the working-writer phase. And even when I don’t have assignments, I always have a focal point for my work: pitching!
If you have trouble managing your ideas, I hope this system will help you, too.
How do you organize your ideas and pitches? Please share your systems and tips in the comments.