When starting out as a journalist (especially as a freelancer), one of the toughest aspects can be writing a successful pitch. The outlet you are pitching to might be a magazine or website that you have read for years, you think you know the house style and the audience they appeal to, and you feel you have a story that will fit perfectly – but then your pitch is unsuccessful.
We chatted to Punteha van Terheyden about her book The 10-Point Pitching Plan, which offers advice on what makes a successful pitch. Read on to find out about her freelance career so far, her work on Lacuna Voices and future journalism guides.
Can you introduce your book in a couple of sentences?
The 10-Point Pitching Plan is the most comprehensive journalism guide out there on what commissioning editors really want and how freelancers, PRs and student journalists can successfully pitch to them. The book is packed with real examples of pitches that sold to national newspapers and magazines (digital and print), online news outlets and independent publications, as well as in-depth analysis on why each one worked, a 10-point formula to replicate the same success, as well as an exclusive pitching template.
Could you tell us about how you came to write the book?
I’ve mentored junior writers, freelancers and student journalists for a long time and the topic they ask me for help with the most is pitching. My pitch to commission success rate is 96 per cent and I wanted to share all that I’ve learned in the last 14 years as a journalist/commissioning editor and demystify the pitching process. It’s not abstract or random, there is a clear formula and I have it. There’s a lot of gatekeeping that goes on in the journalism industry and I don’t agree with it.
Apart from a well-written/strong pitch, what else can make a journalist stand out to commissioning editors?
Be polite, be nice, be precise, and know your media law. It’s a daily surprise to me how many freelancers pitch to me for Lacuna Voices and have little to no working grasp of the legals they should. It’s a real red flag.
You have been working as a freelance journalist for over five years, what advice would you give to any journalists considering going freelance?
Set yourself a monthly target for how much you need to make in commissions to get by and then diversify your income streams as widely as possible. This could be with a varied portfolio of publications you’d like to work for, different applications of your creative skills or working across different mediums or in adjacent industries. Having multiple cash flows is essential, especially when many national titles are still clinging on to the archaic and unethical payment on publication model. If you don’t feel confident enough to dive in to full time freelancing, try and book in a block of shifts in-house on various titles. It’s a great way to build your reputation as a reliable and good freelancer, get to know the editors and learn from the inside-out exactly what these titles want from their stories – and the journalists pitching them.
Are you working on another book, or do you have other projects under way?
Yes, I am finishing up The Story-Finding Manual, the next in my journalism handbook series. It’s everything you need to know about generating story ideas and where exactly to hunt them down. It should be ready to go this winter and will be available in my shop on www.vtfeatures.co.uk, where you can subscribe for updates and journalism. The next in the series is 7 Steps To Sparkling Copy, out in the New Year.
What books are you reading right now, or about to pick up?
It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. I keep seeing people sobbing over it on TikTok and I’m a sucker for books that hit you in the grill like that.
Are there any examples of your everyday journalism that you’re especially proud of or would just like to share?
My ethical digital true-life platform www.lacunavoices.com. I fund, commission, design, edit and flat plan everything myself and it’s a real point of pride. It’s the embodiment of what I believe to be a modern, diverse and ethical way of commissioning and publishing not only great stories, but taking care of freelancers who do such great work without resorting to sensationalism or clickbait. Readers are worth more than that and interviewees sharing their personal stories deserve responsible editing and publishing that doesn’t harm their mental wellbeing.
Are you available for freelance commissions, speaker opportunities or other roles?
Yes. I also run bespoke media and editorial training for news and feature agencies, charities, businesses, PR teams and other private clients.
If I’m a PR professional with a story or another opportunity for you, how should I get in touch?
Please email me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org. And, if I’m not on your subscriber list for real life case studies and press releases (women’s interest/health/legal/relationships etc) please add me! You can see my portfolio of articles on my website.