If you read our piece on how to write a pitch and land your first byline, perhaps you've since spent some time perfecting a handful of impressive, inspired pitches. It's also possible that, after crafting your impeccable subject line and email body, you found yourself unable to fill in the recipient section. So, how do you find out who to pitch, where?
Indeed, there's no denying that relationships with industry folks can help get more eyes on your pitches — but that isn't to say it's the only way to get your ideas heard. All it takes is a few hours of online
stalking research to figure out which publications and editors you should be reaching out to regarding freelance work.
How to find the right editor
The importance of pitching the correct editor at the correct vertical can't be understated. Cold-emailing a beauty editor with a fashion pitch — or a market writer with a reported feature idea — will get your bright idea sent swiftly to the digital trash bin.
Kelsey Stiegman, senior fashion editor at Bustle, agrees: "Type '[magazine name] masthead' into Google. That will usually pull up a list of the current staff, often including their contact info. If that doesn't work, you can easily type the editor title you're looking for into Google or LinkedIn for the answer. From there, most e-mails are easy to guess."
Stiegman's advice might seem simple, but time spent scanning the web really is the easiest way to find contact information hiding in plain sight. Most editors have personal websites with their emails listed, in addition to advertising their information on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter or other social platforms. Many even post call-outs for freelance pitches on the latter, which allows writers to know exactly what they're looking for (or, at the very least, what their e-mail is).
That said, not all editors accept freelance pitches, so while it can be hard to determine this from the outside, simply asking is often the best approach. "I assign stories to freelancers based on the holes I need to fill in coverage, so it changes monthly," says Grechko of when she turns to freelancers for Refinery29 stories. "If one month, my team pitched a lot of reported fashion features but not many trend stories, I will be more likely to accept a trend story from a freelancer to make up for that."
"I generally assign one to four freelance pieces a month. It varies, depending on what I'm being pitched and what my budget looks like that quarter," says Steigman of potential Bustle freelancing opps. "Any of our recurring series, we'd normally do in-house. I also don't assign shopping roundups generally, or news stories. But this differs per team."
One important distinction, according to Grechko, has to do with seeking out experts to spearhead certain topics: "If I'm looking to assign a story on a very specific subject that my team or I may not be as familiar with, I may also seek out a freelance writer or an editor who's more of an expert on that subject."
Stick to e-mail and e-mail only
For the most part, e-mail is the gold standard for pitching, so skip the LinkedIn messages and Instagram DMs. In a field about largely frivolous topics, writers can sometimes forget that professionalism is still of the utmost importance for being taken seriously.
"To maintain a work-life boundary, I only review pitches that get sent to my work email (this applies to PR pitches as well)," says Grechko. "Unless you're asking for my work email, I will never respond or review work-related pitches on my personal email, LinkedIn, Instagram or any other social media platform."
Steigman agrees that Grechko's boundary-setting approach is key for editors to work efficiently. "Unless we're friends, your pitch should not be anywhere other than my work email. (And even if we're friends, e-mail me first.) Pitching editors in their DMs is a sure-fire way to get ignored. Editors deserve a work-life balance and to not answer work inquiries on our personal social media accounts."
Plan your pitching strategically
Once you find a few editor emails and dream up a few clever concepts, it can be tempting to send out every great idea to every editor on your pitch list — but proceed with caution when pitching the same story to multiple publications. If two editors follow up on a pitch and you have to tell one it's no longer up for grabs, they may not prioritize your pitches in the future.
"I would start with one outlet and go from there," advises Stern. Grechko and Steigman note that the only exception is for an extremely time-sensitive story; in which case, it's often kind to add a disclosure that the pitch has been sent to multiple publications given the timeliness.
As for when it's best to pitch? Stern shares the advice she still references after years in the biz: "My journalism school professor Karen Stabiner told us to never pitch on a Friday afternoon when people are checking out for the weekend, or Monday morning when they're catching up from the weekend."
How to follow up (respectfully)
While your pitch may be your top priority that day, keep in mind that editors have a lot going on in their inboxes. In addition to internal messages from co-workers pertaining to their publication, they receive dozens or more pitches every single day from both freelancers and publicists looking to plug their clients. Even the most diligent inbox-checker can fall behind every now and then. (Our hands are raised.)
It can be tempting to follow up a day or two after your initial email, but it's best to wait at least a week before pressing for a reply. Remember that editors are people, too! They do more than read emails and assign you stories!
"Unless it's a timely story, sometimes it can take me weeks to read pitches, as I only review them once a month," Grechko says. "I understand that a pitch may already be placed somewhere else by the time I get to it. If you have a dream publication that you would like the piece to be published in, pitch them alone and give a minimum of a week to respond. If they don't by then, follow up and mention (nicely) that you'll start pitching it to other publications unless you hear back."
Indeed, a short and sweet follow-up on the thread containing your initial pitch is the only appropriate option when waiting to hear back from an editor — and frankly, one follow-up max is enough to gauge whether or not the editor is considering your pitch or has silently dismissed it. While the latter may feel like getting ghosted, remember the high volume of emails editors get on a daily basis. Try as they'd like, they can't always answer everything.
So, what to do while you wait for a reply? Simple: Brainstorm even stronger pitches, search the web for more editor contacts and begin the cycle over again.