How to cold-contact editors of local (or national) publications?
January 8, 2013 6:35 PM   Subscribe

Cold-contacting editors and publishers in Austin and elsewhere: I want to return to freelancing after several years away from the field. Problem is, my previous freelance jobs all came from lucky, completely random meetings with editors and networking based on that luck, in another city. Please help me strategize so I can make a good impression on editors I haven't met in person!

I'm broke, so I need assignments ASAP. I'd rather not go the content mill route. I have a list of local magazines and newspapers I'm qualified to write for, and samples of each one. I have an online portfolio and blog, and I have joined a professional writers' meetup group to network and will meet with them for the first time next week.

My main question is how to make contact: Should I come up with a great pitch for each publication or should I contact the editors and ask them to assign me something? Or should I go the informational interview route recommended in the What Color is Your Parachute series? Or should I spring for an upgrade to LinkedIn and contact them there? Or find them on Meetup, Facebook, or some other way?

In my past experience, with editors I knew and wrote for often, they would ask me for particular stories more often than they would accept my pitches...maybe about a 60-40 split. However, I had established relationships with them. They knew my interests and skills, and they would think of me when they stumbled on things that were up my alley.

Recently, I had a rather disturbing experience with a local publication I was interested in. A writer friend of mine knows the editor, and was contacted to write for them. The friend suggested me to the editor, and was given the smackdown for it because they don't accept anything unsolicited. That was a networking opportunity gone awry. According to my friend, the editor was offended. I have never run across such a situation before and it makes me wary of doing the wrong thing.

I know MetaFilter is awesome with this sort of question...thanks, folks!
posted by xenophile to Work & Money (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think if you have been out of the game for a while, the informational interview with clips in hand is not a bad way to go. The editor can brief you on how they work--it is a little different everywhere--and unless you are just completely hopeless, I bet they would be happy to point you in other likely directions, too. Might not be a terrible idea for you to offer to write something on spec.
posted by elizeh at 8:04 PM on January 8, 2013

Usually the more research you do on a specific editor, what they like, what their interests and needs are, the greater chance of success you have. Study publications you want to write for closely, and write thoughtful pitches to those editors. Compare mastheads to bylines to see if the publication is using only staffers, or freelancers. Or just write and ask if they accept freelance pitches. For more advice, there is a recording here of a panel discussion of four editors and writers in New York about how to pitch stories and approach editors professionally, even if you're cold-contacting them.
posted by aoleary at 10:15 AM on January 9, 2013

I get lots of random pitches from freelancers and do accept unsolicited articles, although often there's a bit of back-and-forth discussion first.

I'm pretty informal about communication, as befitting our publication, so take this with a grain of salt; we ain't the NYT. Memail me if you want more info (this goes for any other aspiring freelancers reading the thread, too).

What I like to see in that first contact:

1. Proof that you have read the mag before, or are at least familiar with it. Mention an article or two that you liked.

(Sososo many people send pitches that are clearly nothing to do with our mag, if they'd stopped to read it for one second. These immediately get deleted.)

2. Paragraph breaks and a grasp of grammar and syntax. (I get lots of emails that start "hi ive had a blog for 3yrs nowand my stories are really popular withmy famile" -- DELETE.) I don't have time to polish writers.

3. I want to see pitches that show you've got good ideas and at least a clue about what stories to write, even if we've written about the subject before. You might have a new angle, or new sources.

Note that this doesn't mean you have to know my publication inside and out -- I won't ding you for not knowing every piece of content we've ever published.

4. Those pitches don't have to be more than a sentence or two, but they should be meaty. Not just "I was thinking of writing about widgets." I also get pages-long pitches that make me fear you'll be writing a notebook dump. Summarize, summarize, summarize.

5. Always, always include links to previous stuff you've written, even if it's just a personal blog or Examiner page. I want to get a feel for your work.

After you've written a couple of articles for us, I might assign you stories to cover, but you'd have to prove yourself first. We tend not to assign stories to new writers.
posted by vickyverky at 12:49 PM on January 9, 2013

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