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Forget pitching. It's all about getting the work to come to you
Can you break out of the pitching cycle of doom?
Hello, June! What an exciting month we have ahead — and not just because TTW turns one year old (!) and Lottie turns 30 this month… There’s a whiff of more lockdown easing in the air, and we think we can smell some Greek islands on their way to the Grant Shapps Green List.
We’re also excited because this month we’re focusing on something you told us you’re desperate to learn more about: getting the work to come to you. When we ran a survey of our readers late last year, one thing was clear: you want pitching tips, but you also want to break out of the pitching cycle. You want to know how to get the assignments to come to you.
There is, of course, no hard and fast rule or specific technique you can employ. But as someone who sends no more than one pitch per month but still manages to work full-time and make a good living, Lottie has some thoughts on the topic. Here it is…
Breaking out of the pitching cycle
I hate pitching. Not just because it feels like I’m sending my babies — my precious, well-researched, creative little ideas — into the inbox ether never to be read, let alone appreciated or commissioned. I hate pitching because of the waiting. I hate pitching because of the silence. I hate pitching because of the rejection and anxiety and the uncertainty.
But most of all, I hate pitching because it takes up so much bloody time, and sometimes it can feel like that time was wasted when the commissions don’t come rolling in. Fortunately, I don’t have to send very many pitches at all. In fact, I think I’ve sent about five in the last six months. And that’s not just because we’ve been in lockdown, though this pandemic has certainly stifled my ideas game. I don’t really pitch, and didn’t pitch much pre-pandemic either, because I most of my work comes to me — I don’t go looking for it.
This isn’t a #humblebrag and though I do feel very fortunate to be in this position, it’s not just good fortune or luck that got me here. I have worked hard to arrive at a point where editors knock on my proverbial door because they want me to work on something for them, and I work hard to maintain my relationships and my reputation so that I can keep those requests coming in.
But how did I get here in the first place? I networked — in person and online. I know you’ve heard this a hundred times before because we’ve written it a hundred times before: so much success in this industry comes from networking (hot tips here from last October). But the sort of networking that will get you to this position, where you’re the first person an editor thinks of when they need a piece, goes deeper than attending events and sending friendly emails. This sort of networking is a long game. Let me explain…
In August 2017 I went to South Africa on a press trip with a few writers I knew, and a couple I’d never met. We spent eight days drinking exceptional wine, dancing in jazz bars in Johannesburg and gasping at lions and elephants in Pilanesberg National Park. The group gelled from day one and it felt like I was on holiday with a bunch of friends I’d known for decades. We bonded so strongly, we’ve had numerous reunions since and we still chat on the group WhatsApp occasionally even now (if you’re reading this guys, see you in July!).
Among our group was the head of digital for a major women’s magazine. Their title never really did much travel content and anything they did publish was usually written by in-house staffers. But a few years after our trip — in fact, in the middle of the pandemic in 2020 — their web editor decided to dip their toe into digital travel content and my now-friend, the head of digital, put my name at the top of the list of contributors because we’d kept in touch and she’d seen how I had shaped the travel content for one of their competitors. To this day, I still get regular assignments from them when they have a topic they want to cover.
Of course, a three-year lead time between making the connection with an editor and getting work from them or their publication isn’t a realistic or sustainable way of picking up assignments you don’t need to pitch for. And really, that’s not what I was doing. I’d simply made a friend through work, who later down the line had a need for something I could provide. How did she know I could provide it? Because I was — and still am — a very visible writer.
I think, when people say “it’s all about who you know” in this industry, it’s partly true, but it misses a major piece of the puzzle: more importantly, it’s about who knows you.
Another example: I went to Gibraltar in November last year for The Telegraph to test out whether lockdown travel bans were being enforced (they weren’t, of course). They approached me for this story because they knew I lived near Heathrow Airport, and that I could turn around on-the-ground news stories fast (I’d been doing so regularly for the month previous because all manner of chaos was going on at the airport).
I had to write a piece on the travel experience and file the same day I arrived, and then they asked for a colour feature on the destination so readers could learn a little about Gibraltar itself. As usual, I tweeted my way around the rocky nation like I would on any press trip, sharing my experiences and impressions of the places I visited. I got home, filed my piece and got on with my life in lockdown.
But then a few months later, Gibraltar became something of a hot destination thanks to its zero-Covid status and triumphant vaccination programme. So The Telegraph got back in touch: could I write a piece on the region’s low virus numbers and inspire their readers to book a trip there this summer? Sure — I used my contacts on the ground to get some up-to-date news of what’s going on, and penned this story within 24 hours of the commission coming in.
It doesn’t stop there, though. I shared all the stories I wrote about Gibraltar on Twitter, and I’ve since had three more commissions off the back of that trip, all because editors had seen my recent work from it and they knew I’d been relatively recently.
The initial commission for Gibraltar brought me in £400, but the commissions that came in after that total another £750. Not bad for three nights in a British Overseas Territory, a few tweets and absolutely no pitching.
Essentially, this was all a very long-winded way of saying: if you want the work to come to you, you have to be visible.
It doesn’t stop there, though. It’s all very good being visible, showing people what you’re doing and where your expertise lies, but you’ve got to do a good job when the work does land in your lap. Don’t forget to write well, file on time and be a nice human being and you might just become that editor’s new favourite, go-to writer.
Practical tips: how to stay visible
Share your work. The first, most obvious way to keep people in the loop about what you’re up to is to share your work — be it pictures of stories in print or links to digital pieces. Leverage platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to share your recent articles — and try to make it more interesting than just “Here’s my latest piece for [X Title]”. Pull out a quote, or share some intriguing insight into how the story came together when you post it online and it’ll be more memorable to whoever is reading it.
Share your trips. Editors won’t know where you’ve been unless you make it obvious. Share pictures while you’re on the ground, and keep sharing even when you’re home. 2020’s Travel Writer of the Year, Jamie Lafferty, is great at this on Instagram, sharing pictures from his previous trips like this and this.
Jump on trends. If a destination you’ve recently visited suddenly gets some attention in the news or announces something major, like a huge new museum or attraction, take to social media and comment on it or offer your expert insight. There’s no harm in reminding people of where your knowledge lies.
Curate your photos. Instagram Stories is a brilliant way to showcase a ‘portfolio’ of past trips. You can create Story Highlights, which are essentially Stories that sit above the photo grid on your profile forever (or until you delete them).
Tell people where you’re going. A simple “Next stop: [country]” or “Last trip: [country]” in your Twitter or Instagram bio, or in your email signature, could be an easy way to keep editors in the loop about recent trips.
Make your niche known. If you have a specific region or topic you cover regularly, make sure it’s clear on your social media profiles and on your website/portfolio.
Next week we’ll be discussing the pros and cons of having a niche, so become a paid subscriber now to get access to advice from successful writers.
Tweet of the week
We all love a train journey, and so does this Very Good Boy.
Who to follow
Harriet Marsden is the new journalist-at-large for the Local Trust, meaning she’s going to be travelling around the UK telling the most important stories from communities everywhere. We’re excited to see what her investigations and conversations uncover, and no doubt her writing will provide valuable context and inspiration for anyone writing about Britain for the travel pages this year.
Someone should tell Angus (see above) that he’s a trendsetter: The Times says trains are on track for a revival. This piece on Nat Geo Traveller about sustainable travel and how it needs a rethink is excellent. And this lovely ode to restaurant menus by Sian Meades-Williams of Tigers Are Better Looking is highly relatable for many of us, I’m sure.
This was the first in our June series all about escaping the arduous pitching process. Next week we’ll be talking to successful writers who use their niche to get work to come to them, and we’ve got exclusive interviews with editors lined up to find out what they look for when they’re seeking out writers to commission. That’s all available to paying subscribers, and it’s just £5 per month.