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My first successful pitch
A word-for-word transcript of the emails that led to my first paid writing commission
One of the most popular topics I see in writer’s communities is how to get your first successful paid gig (and then how to keep getting them). So I wanted to share a word-for-word transcript of my first successful pitch - including the pitch itself and the email exchange with the editor that finally led to the go-ahead (the go-ahead itself reads like something from a noir film - “play it pretty straight, do talk and check with the boffins and get me 500 words by Fri first thing” - do you think he was amping it up because he could tell I was a newbie?).
This was no small gig, either - I was pitching to the editor of a major national newspaper in the UK (you’ll find a link to the final clip below). Naturally I was outrageously excited to get the gig, and I learned a lot in the process, mostly through trial and error after a litany of unsuccessful attempts at pitching newspapers and magazines.
Why this pitch was successful
I had something that the no one else had, an exclusive interview with a scientist about some new research (I’ve included below how I got that interview, too - it wasn’t hard).
The pitch was timely and relevant - the topic of the research happened to be well-timed for the London marathon so I called this out in the pitch.
I followed up - the editor went quiet after my first couple emails; I followed up after four days of agonising silence.
I used FOMO - I kept tabs on the topic in other news outlets and highlighted to the editor that the topic was already getting traction in U.S. national newspapers.
I had my writing portfolio ready - After the follow-up, the editor asked if he could see samples of my work. I’d already created an online portfolio for this moment, and shortly I after I sent it, I got the gig (I’ll write more in a separate post about how to create a portfolio when you’ve never been published).
This experience ultimately led to the launch of Writer’s Residence, my online writing portfolio service, which is still going strong and helping other writers like me get their start…
Now here it is… my first successful pitch…
A few names have been changed. Anonymity and all!
The initial pitch…
March 13, 2008
Runners in this April's London Marathon can now thank their endorphins for the blissful state of euphoria known as "runner's high". Scientists and athletes have long debated the source of runner's high, but the argument ended this month when neuroscientists used brain imaging techniques to demonstrate the link between runner's high and endorphins, a connection that not only raises the spirits but also helps the body suppress and manage pain.
I was lucky enough to have an interview with the study's primary researcher and wonder if you would be interested in an article for the Telegraph that discusses his results? The article will include quotes from runners who discuss their perception of runner's high, as well as images pertaining to the research.
Please let me know what you think!
The skeptical reply…
March 14, 2008
It does sound interesting but can you tell me who did the work?
March 24, 2008
Thanks for getting back to me. The work was coordinated by Dr. Henry Becker, a lovely German chap in charge of the 'Functional Neuroimaging Group' at the University Hospital Bonn. He and I had a nice 30-minute telephone chat about his research (I love that he compares the neurological effect of runner's high to the same "chills" you get when listening to a Rachmaninov symphony). The research on its own is already newsworthy from a technological and physiological standpoint, but it really stands out for Londoners given all the buzz around the marathon.
Let me know what you think!
The follow up with FOMO…
March 28, 2008
I was wondering if you had any further thoughts about my article on runner's high? I notice Dr. Becker's work is getting some attention in the States:
Yes, Running Can Make You High (New York Times)
What do you think?
But can I actually write?
March 31, 2008
Have you any examples of what you have written before I could look at?
The power of the portfolio…
March 21, 2008
Sure. You can view samples in my portfolio: http://monicashaw.com
Thanks for getting back,
💥 Sealing the deal 💥
April 1, 2008
Ok, play it pretty straight, do talk and check with the boffins and get me 500 words by Fri first thing so I have a chance to check a rough edit with you. Best, Robert
Bonus: How to get an interview
Someone in the Freelancing for Journalists Facebook Group recently asked “Any tips on reaching out to a source/interviewee before pitching to editors?”. Here’s how I put it to the scientist conducting the research:
I was excited to read about your research results concerning endorphin-driven runner's high. This is timely news for the many people training for the London Marathon this 13 April: now is the time when runners are putting in the long slow runs to prepare for the imminent race. They will be happy to learn that their hard work will be rewarded by endorphin-induced euphoria!
I'm a freelance writer in London and would love to do a piece on your research to coincide with the current marathon buzz. Would you mind answering a couple questions over e-mail to be quoted in an article?
Thanks for your time,
Learning moment: Most people are really happy to talk about themselves!
This is something else I’ve learned from this experience and others: people are generally really nice and like to talk about themselves! And it never hurts to ask. I’ve now contacted numerous professionals out of the blue - scientists, chefs, restaurant owners, business leaders - and more often than not, people are happy to talk and provide information that could potentially turn into a published article (and these days, people are hungrier than ever for exposure and backlinks!). One lesson from my Dr. email above is always respect people’s time! (His reply asked if we could do the interview by phone because he was very busy.)
More tips on cold outreach
For non-journalist writers looking for new clients, I found this really valuable resource from Jennifer Gregory who writes about freelance writing:
Do you have a great “how I got my start” story?
I’d love this to become a series - if you’d like to share your story and/or collaborate on some articles about getting started in the writing industry, get in touch! Learn more about Substack collaboration: How Substack writers can collaborate to grow.