An award-winning journalist for The New York Times and TIME on how to crack the nationals, and what you may not know about writing for them.
If you’re not getting enough work as a freelancer or finding it impossibly hard to crack the nationals, it’s for one, two, or all of the following three reasons:
1. You’re not pitching enough.
2. You’re not pitching the right people.
3. Your pitches suck.
Let’s talk about that in detail.
You’re not pitching enough
Freelancers often send out one query letter and think that’s it. But if you’re serious about cracking the nationals that’s just the very first baby step.
We’ve all heard stories about how it took someone years to break into a publication. What were they doing for all those years? No, sitting around waiting is not the correct answer. They were sending pitches and, most likely, repeatedly getting rejected.
In my case studies series, I talk about how it was years before I was able to break into TIME. Persistence was the only reason I got there in the end.
If you want to crack the nationals, keep pitching. Send a story idea, wait a couple of weeks, then follow up. If they respond with a rejection, great! Send more ideas. If the editor emails and says she’d love to hear from you again, fantastic! Send more ideas immediately and take it as a personal request that you keep pitching after every rejection. If you don’t get a response at all, follow up or send more ideas.
Keep sending more ideas.
Quick fix: Send 25 queries in a week. (We can show you how.)
You’re not pitching the right people
One of the best skills you need to learn is how to “read the masthead.”
Back in the day, when you emailed the wrong person on the masthead, they’d often connect you with the right person to pitch. In this age of email overload, however, it doesn’t always happen.
Reaching the right person, the decision-maker, is key. You could have done everything right and be perfect for the assignment you’re proposing. But if you’re not getting through to the right person, it doesn’t matter.
One of the ways to help yourself crack the nationals is to network with other writers. Hang out in social media groups and engage in conversations so that you know the right people to target. Some of it is just about honing your research skills.
Quick fix: Never send a pitch to a generic “info” address. Those are black holes. Always find out the right person to pitch to, even if it takes a bit of time.
Your pitches suck
This, of course, is something you can fix and fix easily. If the reason your queries are getting rejected is because they’re bad, all you have to do is learn how to write good ones.
The problem is that most writers don’t actually realize their pitches suck. One of the best ways I’ve found to improve my queries is to read and learn from successful ones. (You can read 9 of mine here.)
Quick fix: The only way to convert your bad pitches to good ones is to learn what makes a good one. Once you have that knowledge, your acceptance rate goes up substantially.
If your query letters are consistently bringing back rejections and/or silences, there are only three reasons why.
Fix them, and you’ll be well on your way to cracking the nationals.
How to Pitch: Pitching guidelines for 200+ publications
We know that finding markets to pitch your story ideas, understanding what they’re looking for, and making sure they pay an amount you’re comfortable with can be the most time-consuming and frustrating part of the job. So we’ve tried to make it easier for you.
Here’s a list of publications, organized by subject and with a note of their pay rates, each with a link to their guidelines.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Publisher, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more.
She is the publisher of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators.
Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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