How to Write a Pitch that Gets You Published & Paid

Before You Craft the Pitch

At 19 years old, Zachary Schwartz was determined to get published on Vice, a major website with millions of visitors a month.

He’d never been paid to write before, and had never done any paid journalism.

But he was determined.

And he succeeded.

If you want to write a pitch that gets you published and paid for your writing, his story sets a very good example.

He did not start by writing a pitch and sending it to an editor at Vice. He did not start by thinking about his interests as a writer, and then carefully crafting every word of his pitch.

The first step he took, and arguably the most important step, was carefully studying the Vice website. He gained a deep understanding of what they published — and what they would want to publish.

Then, and only then, was he ready for the next step.

But, surprise. He didn’t write his pitch yet. There was more work ahead. He first had to get exclusive access to the material Vice would want to publish, which meant convincing a certain artist to give him exclusive access to his new project.

As I’ll discuss later, getting exclusive access wasn’t enough to break into Vice. There was one more element: persistence.

Become an Expert

In 2013, Theresa St. John decided she wanted to be a travel writer. She was in a tight spot. Her ex-husband had gambled away her savings. She was struggling to pay her bills.

But, like Zachary, she was determined.

She knew that travel writing could lead to exciting adventures in faraway places. But, she quickly realized she would have to start closer to home.

So, she became an expert on her small town of Saratoga.

She didn’t just spend time digging around the internet. She took a notebook and visited local attractions, keeping an eye open for potential stories that travel magazines would want to publish.

She then found several magazines that focused on her area of expertise — and sent them a pitch.

Her full case study is available to read in The Case Study Guide to Freelance Writing.

The Three Sentence Pitch Formula

As the editor of Freedom With Writing, I get a quite a few pitches from writers seeking to write for my publication.

The best pitches follow this basic three sentence format:

  • Introduce the idea in one short sentence. Often, this is the only thing necessary for a pitch to get accepted. This makes it very easy on me, the editor, to quickly determine whether the pitch is suited for my publication.
  • Include a brief sentence that adds credibility. This could be another sentence that expands on the idea, making it more concrete. Or it could be a short sentence that establishes relevant experience, or even a sentence mentioning previous articles we’ve published, and how this article was inspired by them.
  • Finally, a very short sentence to close the pitch. This part shows you’re easy to work with. Say something like “thank you for your consideration.”

That’s it. Three sentences. (Surrounded by Dear Editor, and Sincerely, Author Name.)

If you’re able to summarize a good idea in just one sentence, it also shows you have a deep understanding of both the publication and the idea.

Sure, you can go long and double the length. Sometimes it is necessary, depending on the idea, but often it just makes it harder on the editor.

But, a three sentence pitch is all you need to send.

Keep in mind, that the work you’ve done before writing the pitch is what ultimately determines the success of the pitch.

Will the editor be excited by the idea?

Does the idea closely fit what they publish?

Does the idea provide value not easily acquired by other writers? (Such as exclusive access, domain-level expertise, or a unique perspective?)

If at first you fail, keep calm and pitch again.

Based on feedback from my readers at Freedom With Writing, as well as through mentoring writers via our training programs at Writing Launch, I’ve discovered a common pitfall that holds quite a few writers back.

I recently got an email from a writer whose application was rejected by a content marketing agency.

She was “absolutely disgusted” with the company. She wanted to take their rejection email and “shove it where the sun don’t shine.”

Clearly, they had hit a nerve. To her, this was a deeply personal rejection.

In her mind, they hadn’t rejected her writing. They had rejected her. They had told her that she wasn’t good enough.

Writing can be such a deeply personal part of our identities. For many writers, this isn’t just about our ability to write, but about our value as unique and important individuals.

Writing is art — and it sometimes connects with the most vulnerable parts of who we are.

However, in order to get published again and again, a writer needs to develop a thick skin.

And the most surefire way to do that is to take a step back, and separate your attempts at getting published from your identity as a writer.

Instead of thinking about the pitching process as “selling yourself,” think about it as selling solutions to people’s problems. For magazine editors, that could mean giving them the right article at the right time.

Think of this as a way to externalize things. It takes the pressure off, creating the ability to think about things more objectively, and as a lot more fun.

Zachary Schwartz, in his quest to get published by Vice, had to face rejection multiple times.

He could have taken each rejection personally, as a slight against his work. However, with each rejection, he took a step back, and looked for the best way to move forward.

He had worked very hard to gain exclusive access to exactly the type of feature story Vice loves to publish. He even went ahead and wrote a 1,500 word article. He then pitched six editors at Vice.

And then he waited.

None of them responded.

Instead of giving up, he sent a short follow up message.

He finally got three responses. All of them rejected his original article.

One of the editors, however, was willing to work with him, but he would have to completely rewrite the article, turning it into a Q&A. (Making the work even less about the author than it had ever been!).

At any point in the process, he could have focused inward, attempting to express himself, and his identity as a writer. Instead, he continually focused outward, carefully studying the situation, and adjusting his actions based on the situation in front of him.

That’s how he broke into writing for a major publication as a teenager.

Zachary Schwartz’s full case study will be published soon, in our upcoming edition of The Paid Publishing Guidebook.

Your Comments:

  1. Mari says:

    Thank you for a great and encouraging article.

    • Jerry Flattum says:

      What do you mean by “exclusive access? ”

      Also, at Atlantic Magazine they have Object Lessons (essays on objects) and culture-based essay submissions for another section of the publication. They ask for what seems like comprehensive pitches. But do they really want just 1-3 sentences?

  2. Joffre (J.D.) Meyer (@bohemiotx) says:

    Very encouraging article. I’m in the process of writing an article for an urban studies journal.

  3. Barbara L Glenn says:

    Thanks for a great reminder that the writing is not us, it’s what we do. I’m getting back into article writing after a 5 year hiatus,these article are keeping me motivated. Thanks!

  4. Sherie Reddall says:

    Good job keep writing.

  5. Georgina says:

    thanks, good article…i am enjoying learning from the experiences of other writers and the insight provided for successful pitches. Seperating one’s self from one’s writing is indeed, a personal experience and a lesson for ‘focussing outward’ to provide more value to the content. I hope that i can learn that lesson as well.

  6. Titus Astariko Ambuka says:

    Hey,
    This is very encouraging. I’m in the process of becoming a great writer. I keep learning each and every day. Though not easy, I’m determined. Thank you very much. Being a trainee in your writers’ Academy is a privilege. There is a lot that I’m learning.
    Waiting for the case study.

  7. Namcy says:

    It’s very inspirational, thank you!

  8. Theresa St. John says:

    Loved reading about Zachary’s determination in getting published. Every writer’s story is so different. Success is so personal – it’s great to learn tactics other people use – I always incorporate some into my own journey.

  9. Greg Lockhart says:

    As a writer, I tend to wear my heart on my shirt sleeve. It’s articles like these that teach me to “roll up” my sleeves and put my heart aside for a moment so I can focus on what my prospective client needs…not necessarily what the wants are but focus on their needs…good advice for life as well.

  10. Burzil Dube says:

    Very inspiring and I foresee myself being among the top journos and writer

  11. Tim says:

    Awesome helpful hints. This is where it all begins. As I tell my students, without instructions you’re afloat on a sea of mediocrity. Thank you!

  12. Rina says:

    This is great advice. Thank you so much. I’ve heard parts of it before but sometimes it takes a while for it to sink in. It also helps to hear things in different ways.

  13. Pam says:

    Thank you! Very encouraging. Because every rejection makes you feel rejected, vulnerable, exposed and incapable. But this article wakes some fire in me to try again.

  14. Lee Sinclair says:

    I find your writing a little childish. Both your writing style and content. I’m sure your heart is in the right place, but I doubt you are qualified to give this kind of advice. I worked with several travel writers and you just don’t fit the profile.

  15. Cecilia Anthony says:

    Thanks for your insight into writing pitch, it was quite inspiring.

  16. Anu sharma says:

    That s so informative insightful content for the people who are passionate about the writing,
    and very helpful to make people understand.

    Thanks for sharing.

  17. Aurelio says:

    Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if
    you knew of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet
    my newest twitter updates. I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you
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    Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your
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