Cold calls, or in this case cold e-mails, made to outlets that you are interested in contributing to are never easy to write - they always seem to wind up sounding stiff and rigid. "Hello Mr. Smith, I am Mrs. Jones, I'd like to write articles for your site, the articles I have written can be found at these links, thank you for your time." Formulaic pitches, however, can be effective if done right. You simply have no idea who is reading these e-mails, and being overly colloquial with someone who prefers professionalism in all matters might mean your pitch will be dead in the water. So in order to make sure your pitch, even when it sounds a little rigid, has the maximum effect, make sure to answer these questions when writing it out.
1. Whom should you contact?
Blogs and online outlets, especially bigger ones, will likely have support staff running the show. How the staff is structured, however, varies between sites. There might be a team, or one editor, or associate editors, or social media interns; the list goes on and on. So figuring out whom, exactly, you need to e-mail can be a bit of a challenge. If you are lucky, they have a 'contributor queries' page and it is simply a matter of shooting off the pitch to the e-mail listed there. However, there are plenty of outlets that try not to advertise for contributors - there are a lot of writers out there willing to spam an inbox if it might mean a new outlet. If this is the case, it is up to you to figure out where to send the pitch. LinkedIn and Google are your best friends for this - look up the blog and see if anyone lists themselves as the editor or manager in their LinkedIn or social media profiles. That gives you a name, an e-mail, and, in some cases, an idea of what kind of person they are, allowing you to further customize your pitch. These sites can also be a great place to follow-up through if you do not hear back - just don't overdo it.
2. What is in it for them?
Remember, most blogs and outlets are run like a business. Advertising and traffic are their bread and butter. If you cannot bring people over to their site, why would they want to feature you? Use your social media following, if you have one, to your advantage. Let them know that you will plug pieces published by them, both written by you and others, in your social feeds. The more followers you have, the more you have to offer, as followers translate into unique views and repeat readers. If you are pitching to a blog that is maintained by a business, and you have your own blog with a set readership, you can also offer the chance to swap posts. Doing that increases the online presence of both you and whomever the other outlet wants to write their post, which is a win-win situation.
3. Do you have any published pieces to highlight?
A lot of writers like to open with their portfolio, but honestly that might leave the impression that you are entirely self-serving and won't be willing to offer them anything in exchange for publishing your posts. When the introductions are finished, and they know how this relationship will benefit them, end your e-mail with a few links to your best, published work. The bigger the outlet, the better - while your personal blog is fine, having a piece published with big blogging names like the Huffington Post or Forbes will look a lot more impressive, which means they are more likely to actually read what you have written there, especially if that article was well-received, had a lot of views, and was shared. At that point, as long as you are a solid writer who understands what they're talking about, they will know exactly why they would want you to publish them.
Pitching yourself to a new outlet follows same pattern as most business deals. You want to know exactly who to talk to, as it is unlikely that James the intern is making any sort of executive decisions on who to feature. Then, in order to get a spot on the website, you have to give something in return. And, finally, you need to establish your credibility and talent as a writer. While there will inevitably be more than a few 'no thank you's,' creating a pitch that incorporates all three of these things will help ensure that, when all is said and done, there will also be a couple of 'yeses.'
(image: pitch questions / shutterstock)