When I was a magazine editor, I wondered why freelance writers couldn’t figure out what I wanted. I rejected 95 percent of pitches.
Now that I’m on the other side, I see how difficult it is when you’re an independent writer, on the outside looking in.
At the recent Book Passage conference on Travel, Photography and Food Writing, food writer Cheryl Sternman Rule spoke about why pitching to publications is such an anxiety-producing process. What she said resonated with me, so I asked her to share it:
“As a freelancer since 2004, I’ve spent years both pitching and avoiding pitching,” explains Cheryl. “For me, pitching seems like a dark art. There’s black magic about it that often makes me feel like I’m throwing darts in the dark.
“Editors have editorial calendars, or ideas in their heads for what they’d like to cover. We writers are not often privy to this information. So we shoot story ideas out like darts and hope they’ll hit some mysterious, shrouded target. It’s a tough game to play, psychologically.”
That’s exactly right. You keep throwing until you strike the target, even when you get no feedback. You need a thick skin to be a freelance writer, not to mention an ability to see in the dark.
Meanwhile, Cheryl started a food blog. “If I come up with a good idea, I develop it immediately, put my own spin on it, and take it in any direction. The lights are bright, I can see the target, and I can hit it dead-on. It’s a tonic for the frustrations of freelance life, a life I love but whose secret handshake can be awfully difficult to master.”
Now she throws a few less darts, because editors she’s worked with are likely to assign more stories to her. “Over the years I’ve worked with a slew of editors with whom I have ongoing relationships. And while I still accept and seek writing assignments, I pitch less often.”
Like Cheryl, if you have tons of good ideas and you keep throwing darts at the same target — politely and professionally — sooner or later an editor will respond. A lot of writers give up without practicing their throw long enough, because it’s hard to keep going. Silence feels a lot like rejection.
Or they give up without trying a different dart. If you’ve only got one story idea, and pitch it without success, it’s time to move on and try several more ideas.You do have tons of ideas, right? Because the more darts you throw, the easier it will be to hit the bull’s eye.