Freelancer’s Questions: Where do I start as a freelance journalist?

Freelancer’s Question: What is the best way to find out if an online or offline magazine is interested in commissioning an article from me as a freelance journalist?

Answer, by freelance journalist ‘A’: E-mail is the quickest and most common approach; find the most relevant address you can. However if there’s time, a letter written directly to the editor of the section of the publication you envisage your article being published in is also advisable. This approach is favourable if you know the editor or publication is less Web-savvy and likely to prefer a more traditional communication. Phoning a busy editorial department to tell them about your big idea for their next edition is not likely to be well received, so save the calls for after you have made contact.

When you pitch your proposal, keep it short and sweet. Check your pitch for spelling and grammar and importantly make the subject line a must-read. Of course, the article you want to write should sound even more of a must–read, but don’t overload your pitch with detail, you just want to get the editor interested enough to say 'yes!'

Answer, by freelance journalist ‘B’: Phone is the best way to determine if a magazine will publish your article as an independent writer.

Answer, by freelance journalist ‘C’: I can only say what works for me. In the first instance - but after checking the magazine to see if it's likely they use freelancers by looking up contributor names on the internet - I send an email to the editor simply asking if they use freelances and include a short introduction.

More often than not there will be no reply; editors are busy people. So next, send your ideas in. Don't, what ever you do, write an article and send it in. Match ideas to the publication and send an email with an eye-catching title. Warning: it may take years for the editor to reply, so cast the net wide without pitching the same ideas to competing publications.

Freelancer’s Question: How should a freelance journalist pitch their ideas once contact is established? Should they wait and see if the editor has ideas of their own?

Answer, by freelance journalist ‘A’: Editors up and down the country are searching for good editorial ideas to fill their pages. This means the idea-generation falls to you. If editors have a certain lens on your focus they will normally let you know. Check the house–style of the publication to ensure it is aligned with the content and deliver of your proposals. Don’t overload editors with too much information, but do convince them why your article will make a valuable editorial in their next edition.

Answer, by freelance journalist ‘B’: Liaise and inter-relate with the editor in order to arrive at a consensus.

Answer, by freelance journalist ‘C’: Don't wait and see, send in your pitches. In my experience editors take my ideas first and then once I've delivered a few articles on time and on topic, they might begin to suggest ideas. After that it is still a matter of sending in pitches once in a while to keep your order books full. With new publications, it doesn't hurt to follow up a pitch with a phone call.

Freelancer’s Question : What is they key to having you work widely published as a freelance journalist?

Answer, by freelance journalist ‘A’: A growing network of people who know what you do for a living is how you maximise your opportunities. Regularly oil the contacts wheel so you keep ‘in the loop’ with everyone from PR officers and marketers, to journalists, competing publications and industry leaders and captains in your chosen field(s). Also keep in touch with potential clients, send them regular editorial ideas, and make sure your ideas are timely, tightly edited and targeted at their publication’s audience. Deliver on time, follow the brief and conclude each assignment by thanking your contributors, PR helpers and the commissioning editor.

Answer, by freelance journalist ‘B’: Persuade each editor that you are suitably qualified and able to do the piece.

Answer, by freelance journalist ‘C’: I think it's delivering on-time, in the style of the magazines and following the agreed brief. If you do that, then wide publication is a matter of time and persistence. Persist in contacting new editors with ideas and eventually they will turn to you.


Freelance journalist ‘A’ is Simon Moore, whose clients include websites in the IT, Engineering and Creative industries. He specialises in recruitment, tax, legal and freelance work issues.

Freelance journalist ‘B’ is Richard Willis, a history and education columnist whose clients include History Today, the Times Educational Supplement and the Middle East Times. He is a published authority on legal, military and educational issues.

Freelance journalist ‘C’ is William Knight, an IT-business journalist whose clients include the Financial Times, the Guardian, BBC Focus and The Designer. He specialises in software, security, testing and employment issues.


2nd July 2008

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