Do you think you can’t get published by a big name due to lack of experience? Think again.
My first ever published piece ran on Cosmopolitan.com and has become an invaluable writing sample in my portfolio. Pay attention, because I’m going to explain how you can get the heavy hitters to take a chance on you, too.
Digital media is interactive, and successful online magazines and blogs understand the importance of connecting with readers. Editors and content managers aren’t just seeking feedback – in some cases they want real readers to contribute to the publication.
If you have no published writing samples, no professional experience, and no idea where to start, don’t worry. That’s exactly where I was until one email from the editor of Cosmopolitan.com changed everything.
Take the following into account when pitching, and you’ll be well on your way to catching the eye of your favorite online magazine or blog, no matter how intimidating reaching out may seem.
Look for prompts
Answering a prompt ensures you submit content that’s already in demand. You may have to dig for these opportunities, because well-known publications already have consistent, dependable freelancers, but digital media is always in search of a fresh angle.
When I pitched my blog post to Cosmopolitan.com, there were two prompts for outside writers running on the site: one called for hazing stories, and one called for a general college experience.
Do your homework
You can’t just Google the name of a big magazine that you don’t read and expect to write a pitch that interests the editor. Having been an avid reader of Cosmopolitan for years, I was in a good position to understand their material. It won’t matter how popular the publication is if it’s unfamiliar to you.
Before writing anything at all, get to know the site. Read the copy until your eyes feel like they’re going to bleed. When you know the voice of the publication inside and out, you’ll finally be ready to start developing your pitch.
Social media has become a major marketing resource, and nowadays these profiles are extensions of your resume. Some editors might peruse your Twitter profile before they even glance at your writing samples.
If your social media output is wildly inconsistent with what you’ve told editors about yourself, they’ll start to wonder which is the real you. Being genuine is important, so only pitch to publications that truly appeal to you.
If you respond to a writing prompt, make sure your angle is unique. This is the most important piece of the puzzle, especially if you’re unknown to the editor.
Figure out the reason why you’re the best person to write your proposed article, and then make sure you tell the editor all about it! If they don’t buy your reasoning, they could hand off your great idea to another, better-established freelancer.
I answered a sorority hazing prompt but instead of regaling the editor with horror stories of how I was hazed by my sisters, I flipped the prompt completely on its head by describing how the consequences from national headquarters itself fit all the criteria for the hazing it was meant to punish. (You can read the whole post here.) My spin on the subject offered a perspective the editor hadn’t seen before. That’s likely why I received such a swift response.
Make direct contact
Submit your pitch according to the instructions the publisher gives out, but don’t be afraid to email the editor directly. In some cases editors make their contact information public on purpose, and their social media profiles can help you learn their preferences on everything from what they publish to how they promote specific pieces.
With a little investigative work you may be able to uncover the email of a specific editor. For example, Cosmopolitan falls under the Hearst Corporation umbrella. Hearst Corporation has a format for employee emails, which is [first initial of first name] [last name] @ [hearst.com]. Specifically, if I had a Hearst email it would be email@example.com.
I don’t care if the editor you’re pitching to has a Twitter feed peppered with sexual innuendo and expletives – they are not your friend. (At least, not yet.)
You’re asking this person for work. Address them with respect and thank them for their time. That being said, don’t be afraid to be enthusiastic and convey how you feel about the publication. They’ll want someone who represents and believes in their message.
…but wait an appropriate amount of time before you start checking up on your pitch’s progress!
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back right away. I’ve worked with editors that took weeks to respond to inquiries. These professionals get hundreds of emails per day, and they want to work with people who don’t waste their time. Following up lets them know you’re passionate and committed, but emailing them within 24 hours of your pitch will land your pitch (and future pitches!) in SPAM.
Every publication is different, but I suggest waiting at least a week or two between follow-ups, and following up no more than three times.
Don’t let fear or inexperience stop you pitching to the biggest blogs and online magazines.
By finding a story that’s relatable, on topic, and unique, you’ll already be placing yourself above the pack. Although it seemed impossible that Cosmopolitan.com would publish anything from an unknown, after taking a chance I was rewarded with a writing sample that screams “credibility” every time I pitch.
If you don’t go after what you want, no one’s going to do it for you. You’ll simply miss out on an opportunity that could jump-start your freelance blogging career.
There’s little to lose, and much to gain, so get pitching!
This is awesome – congratulations! Thanks for the tips.
Your story inspired me. Thanks for the helpful tips!
Lyn Jensen says
Unfortunately Cosmo is probably only a viable market if you want to see your byline on something like, “How I”m Used to Crumbs in Bed” or “I Had an Affair With my Best Friend’s Husband and Loved it.”
LMAO 😉 @Lyn Jensen ….
but still .. THANK YOU for sharing, Johanna !
Melissa Chu says
Congrats on getting your first blog post on Cosmopolitan! And congrats on this guest post as well!
That is so true about waiting to follow up. I sometimes get antsy if I don’t hear back within a couple days and have to remind myself to sit tight! One time, I didn’t hear back from a site after a couple weeks, so I submitted my article elsewhere. But the first site got back to me after a little over a month saying they were interested, which was a surprise.
Your story is uplifting about not letting fear get in the way of pitching to big blogs and magazines. I think this story will be encouraging to other readers and I’ll share this article with them after I hit submit.
Thanks again Johanna for the great post!
Kayla @ Five Figure Writer says
Great tips! I’m planning to submit to Huff Po and US News and World Report in coming weeks so these are good tips.
Johanna Hartford says
Thank you, everyone! I’m so glad my experience is inspiring others to pitch to bigger names – you never know unless you try!
Isabella U. says
Thanks Johanna! I’m new to this freenlance blogging website. I’ll for sure be using these tips and getting started soon !
I am very happy for you! Thanks for this article and motivation 🙂
Rose Bararza says
Thank you for this, very helpful.
Chloe V Toscano says
First of all, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us and congratulations! You mentioned responding to a prompt. And so my question is, where do you locate prompts for a given magazine?
I’m curious to know this as well!
Suzanne Berthuy says
Some publications will put out a request for pitches or written articles on a specific topic.
Not every publication does it and even those that do may only make requests occasionally.
The best way to get a yes from any magazine or blog is to study what they publish, read their articles to get a sense of their tone and article structure, and then write a pitch that their audience would love (based on all the research you’ve already done).
And of course keep doing it until you get accepted by your short list of fav pubs.
Hope it helps,