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How to pitch - from an editor’s mouth

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PITCHING articles can be stressful. So - if you'll bear with us a moment - can be responding to pitches. Following up our June meeting "On not taking 'no' for an answer", we here present some advice from a commissioning editor. It is lightly edited - with permission, of course - from a series of Tweets by Jacob Aron, a news editor at New Scientist.

I HAVE put out calls for pitches a few times recently - and while many pitches I've received have been great, and I now have lots of lovely new freelances to work with, the majority are bad. Here's how to get commissioned:

  1. Read New Scientist. Look at the kind of stories we publish.
  2. Be concise. If I have to read more than the first few sentences of your pitch to get excited about it, I'm probably not going to commission it.
  3. Use Google. If it has been covered elsewhere, it's not for us.

I am a news editor. I don't want features, opinion, topics, general musings. Pitch me actual new, exciting science.

Read our guidelines for freelancers and of course feel free to ask me questions.

No, I'm not going to share rates publicly.

No, I don't want you to put this in your newsletter.

Yes, I am being rude but you should see the state of my inbox each time I do this.

I should also add that I'm very happy to take a gamble on people who are early in their writing career (and indeed do), but you have to demonstrate that you're actually going to be good to work with. The very first step in doing this is following instructions.

Also, being a freelance science journalist is hard. (I know, I've done it.) It is skilled work, and takes time to learn. I do my best to teach people and offer advice where I can, but New Scientist is a business, not a charity, and sometimes I just really need to fill a page.

A Freelance editor adds: As a commissioning editor myself for many years, I spent quite a lot of time writing to freelances who pitched to me saying "thanks, but it's not for us". Often I wasn't even able to say why it wasn't for us, but I could instantly tell it wasn't. Often freelances hadn't found our contributor's guide online, which laid out what we wanted and didn't want, which I was happy to send them. I know I never had enough time to give proper feedback to unsuccessful pitches, and suspect many editors are in the same boat.

Another Freelance editor writes: Probably the most important part of pitching is to put yourself in the editor's shoes. Make their path to accepting your proposal smooth, quick and downhill. Understand the pressures they face.

On sharing rates: Perhaps, ideally, publications would share rate cards. This would, among other things, help combat discrimination or the perception of discrimination. But they don't. Again, we can see why not doing so makes editors' lives calmer, among other things.

This is why we run the Rate for the Job survey. You can see rates reported from New Scientist here - and please share your rates there or elsewhere here.