When it comes to organizing – especially organizing data, there are two types of people in the world:
Those who embrace organization with extreme gusto and even glee (think Chris Christie’s enthusiasm for joining the presidential transition team), and those who stand fearful, perplexed and maybe a bit miffed at the cruel and unjust hand life has dealt them.
Think Chris Christie when he learned he wasn’t going to be part of the transitional team after all.
If you’re a freelance writer though, it doesn’t matter which camp you’re in – there are some organizational tasks you just have to do.
So you may as well focus your energies on the ones that are likely to yield the greatest benefits for you. And tracking pitches just happens to be one of them.
Pitching is an essential (if onerous) part of freelancing, especially if you want to be really successful.
And when it comes to pitching, a lot of writers tend to focus mostly or even solely on the quality of the pitches they’re sending out.
Sure, quality is important, but it’s just part of what you need be concerned about. The other part? Quantity.
Since only a fraction of your pitches are going to be accepted (sorry, but it’s true), you’re gonna have to send quite a few to get the volume you’re looking for. And you’re gonna have to do it over and over again.
But what good is all that pitching if you don’t keep track of what’s working and what’s not? And that’s where organization comes in.
Ideally, you want to track the topic or title of your pitch, the pitch recipient, the date of you submitted the pitch and the outcome – that is, whether the pitch was accepted, rejected or simply ignored.
You might also want to record the date you received a “yes” or “no” for your pitch so you can keep tabs on how long different clients or media outlets take to respond.
Keeping track of the price for each piece is also a good idea. How to track your data?
That’s up to you. For most people, a simple spreadsheet makes sense; but if you dread spreadsheets as much as you dread organization, a notebook is fine.
Now that you’re tracking your pitches, here’s how you can work the system for your benefit:
- See how often you’re really pitching. If you hate pitching – and most writers do – it’s easy to feel like you’re pitching a LOT. But guess what? Some writers pitch dozens of ideas each week – dozens. That doesn’t mean you have to – one of the benefits of freelancing is being able to design your career your way. But let’s face it: pitching is, to a large degree, a numbers racket, and generally, the more you pitch, the higher your chances of having at least one pitch accepted.
- If you’re tracking your pitches and your income, you have a better chance of seeing the correlation between pitching more and earning more – and that can help motivate you to keep on pitching. Plus, pitching a lot helps you improve your skills, and it also provides you with more data to help you understand what’s working and what needs to be changed.
- Decide if you’re focusing too much on one outlet or industry “type.” Having a lot of data means you’re more likely to be able to identify broad trends pertaining to your topics or your markets, or even “micro trends” within a specific vertical. If you pitch blindly without tracking your results, it’s a lot harder to focus in on markets where your ideas might be likely to gain more traction.
- Look for ways to “spin” pitches for other outlets. Once you can identify those broader trends, you can use that information to tweak ideas that may not be working in other markets, and repurpose them for markets that might be more receptive.
- You can also revamp ideas for specific article types; for instance, if you notice an uptick in acceptances (or rejections) for tip- or list-type articles in one or two outlets you really like, you can be much more responsive – reactive even – in altering your pitches to suit those emerging trends while they’re still hot.
- Identify possible causes of rejections. If you’re pitching an idea to several markets and it’s been consistently rejected, maybe the idea needs refining or you need to check out some different markets. Maybe the subject matter just isn’t as relevant as you think and needs to be revamped to make it marketable.
Another great thing about tracking your pitches: You can add as much detail as you want, and the more you add, the better your results tend to be.
For instance, adding a “comments” field lets you add little tidbits like what the editor was like to work with, related ideas for future pitches or other data that can help you pitch more successfully to that specific client or other clients within the same market or industry.
Need some help crafting really good pitches?
Check out these articles that provide some useful tips for freelancers:
- How (Not) to Pitch (from The Atlantic)
- How to Write the Perfect Pitch (from journalism.co.uk)
- 5 Ways to Improve Your Pitch and Get More Freelance Writing Work (from Problogger)
- 9 Tips to Get You Writing the Perfect Article Pitch (from SheKnows)
One more thing about pitches: If you plan on being a freelancer for any length of time, you need to develop a thicker skin when it comes to rejections.
A rejection of a pitch (or even a completed piece) is not a personal attack nor is it an attack on your professional skills or expertise.
It’s just a fact of freelancing, and the sooner you can come to terms with that (somewhat unfortunate) fact, the happier and more successful you’ll be in pursuing your career.
Karen Z is an experienced researcher and “professional pitcher” (she pitched this very title) at WriterAccess.
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