You—ve spent hours–nay days–crafting a pitch letter for a dream market. You—ve researched what feels like every back issue of the magazine, and you know in your gut your idea is a winner. Your idea shines, you—ve got learned expert sources lined up, and you’re even feeling jazzed about your writing style.
So you’re bummed when your killer pitch lands back in your inbox with a tepid rejection note.
Okay, so you—ve been writing professionally for under a year. You only have clips from a couple regional magazines you assured the editor she hasn’t heard of. Or maybe you have zero clips, but you promised the editor you’d do a great job anyway.
If you mentioned these things, any of them, in your e-mail, it may be why your pitch dangles off the loser board.
Because here’s one of life’s truths: People are attracted to confidence. When you sound unconfident in a pitch, it’s like branding your writing with a giant L.
Here’s another life truth: People who seem confident usually feel no more confident inside than you or I. They’re just better at appearing confident.
We—ve all met people who are rather ordinary looking, but who possess seemingly magical powers at attracting a constant stream of admirers. Or friends who are of average intelligence who land jobs and opportunities far beyond what you’d expect and bosses who could turn a roomful of reluctant prospects into eager customers.
How do these folks appear more attractive, more intelligent, more influential than the rest of us?
By acting with confidence.
The great thing about confidence is it can be faked. Even better news for you, the freelance writer: you don’t have to fake it IRL, just in your writing.
1. Eliminate wishy-washy wording from your pitch.
What sounds more confident?
“I hope to interview Dr. Christiane Northrop for this proposed article.”
“I plan to interview Dr. Christiane Northrop for my article.”
“I could interview mothers of twins who developed this common condition.”
“I will interview mothers of twins who developed this common condition; I’ve already lined up some moms who are willing to talk.”
Don’t hem and haw about how you can maybe, kinda, hopefully do something. Say it with confidence!
2. Focus on the positive.
Think about what makes YOU the perfect writer for this story and figure out a way to slip that into your pitch. It can be as simple as mentioning to an editor at a women’s magazine that the ten tips you’ll offer readers to save on their utility bills are ones you used yourself to reduce your bills by 20 percent last winter. For a story on how to move overseas, this is where you mention that you picked up and moved to Europe and Asia ten years ago.
3. Ditch the negative.
Read your pitch carefully. Is there anything in there that could be construed by an editor as a negative? Here are some negatives I’ve seen in pitch letters:
- “I’m a part-time freelancer.” (Your working hours are your business only.)
- “I’ve only written for…” (Only” Just list names of the publications and move on.)
- “I wrote this for Magazine X, but it was killed when a new EIC came on board.” (Again, no one’s business but your own.)
- “English is my second language.” (Here an editor will assume you won’t be able to write well enough for a magazine, even if you can write beautiful prose en anglais. Surprise the editor with your multilingual skills once you’ve successfully completed a few assignments for him.)
- “I’m willing to write for free to prove myself.” (It’s called a blog. Start one.)
- “I’ve never written about X before, but I have a mountain of clips in other subjects.” (You’re a writer. Writers write about subjects they don’t know a lot about because they have mad reporting skillz and possess curious minds.)
Do a search and destroy on negative language in your query. Remember, you want to tell an editor what you can do, not what you can’t.
4. Zip it.
So many beginning writers worry about not having clips or enough experience and shoot themselves in the feet by admitting this in a pitch letter. My advice is to say nothing and just end your letter with, “I look forward to hearing from you soon.” Some editors will assume you are far more experienced than you really are if your pitch letter is well-written and spot-on for their publication. They—ll just figure you’re so good at what you do, you don’t need to upsell yourself.
5. Remember, blogging does get respect.
Blogs were once pooh-poohed by editors as playgrounds for navel-gazing diarists. But if you run a successful blog–meaning you update it frequently, craft well-written posts that attract commenters, and generate lots of page views each month–be sure to mention it in your closing paragraph especially if the article you’re pitching relates to your blog. You can also provide links to blog posts you—ve written for sites owned by others; again, only if your writing sings.
Have you ever faked confidence in a pitch? Let us know your tips in the Comments below. —Diana Burrell.