In my experience, the hardest part of being a freelance writer isn’t seeking out potential clients and platforms to host your work, or even doing the work of writing itself. Rather, it’s coming up with strong pitches that promise mass reader appeal, yet also set you apart from the crowd.
This balancing act has become even more challenging in the age of COVID-19, when everyone and their mother seems to have ventured into the world of freelancing. The market is suddenly saturated with fresh minds and their accompanying pitches, and I’ve felt the need to step up my game — which I imagine is the case for many other long-term freelancers as well.
Fortunately, years of writing experience, industry knowledge, and pushing my creativity to its limits had prepared me for this moment. As a result, I’ve found myself emerging victorious more often than not in recent weeks — and in hopes of helping my fellow floundering freelancers, I’d like to share a few types of content that I’ve successfully pitched during this pandemic. (Yes, I’m aware that some of you are competitors, but I still want to help!
You can tailor all these content types to different niches, and I believe they’ll remain viable in the months and years to come. Without further ado, here are five types of content for freelancers to pitch during a pandemic and beyond.
Types of content to pitch
1. Personal essays
Personal experience makes for compelling pitches even in ordinary times. Now, when everyone’s feeling extra vulnerable and longing for human connection, an intimate personal essay might just be your ticket to a byline in a respected publication.
Still, this is easier said than done — in part because editors are wading through more personal pitches than ever before, but also because not every freelancer will feel comfortable mining their emotions for profit. It may be helpful to have boundaries in place before you start pitching. (For me, these are determined by the question, “How would I feel about my parents reading this?”)
Other than that, my advice when it comes to personal essays is: be honest. Editors can always tell when you’re posturing just to get a pitch accepted. And even if it’s accepted, do you really want to write about something in which you have no experience or interest? This might seem like a good idea if you want to fabricate a connection to something topical, or if you think an embellished story simply sounds better than the truth, but trust me: it’ll come back to bite you.
The good news is, just as editors can smell BS a mile away, they can also easily sniff out what’s legitimately good — and in today’s world of low-grade content mills and transparently AI-written posts, authenticity is a major asset. To that end, you’re planning to pitch a personal essay, so take a hint from the name and make it personal. Cover something only you could write about — your job, your childhood, your favorite foods — as well as why you’ve been thinking about it lately and how your perspective might benefit readers. Again, the more you’re able to share (i.e. the more vulnerable you’re willing to be) during this time, the more likely readers are to respond.
2. Productivity advice
Productivity advice is another type of content that readers seem to crave right now. More people are working from home and/or under stressful, distracting circumstances than ever before, so your productivity knowledge as a freelancer will be genuinely valued.
By “productivity advice,” I mean posts with titles like “How to Stay On Task While Working From Home” or “5 Little-Known Hacks to Get Things Done 5 Times Faster.” As a freelancer, you’re likely already familiar with this type of content, having read it and perhaps even pitched it to clients yourself! There’s no denying productivity content is great fodder for freelancers — it’s easy to churn out with minimal research and still sound genuine, because all you have to do is talk about what works for you.
Of course, the other side of this double-edged sword is that productivity advice is everywhere. You’ll need to come up distinct a specific angle in order to stand out. Don’t send generic pitches like “How to Be Productive” or “5 Tips to Do Better at Work” — create a specific situation and provide relevant, actionable advice. For example, lots of people struggle to be productive in the morning, so you might pitch a list of “Things You Need to Have a Productive Morning as a Freelance Writer” (see what I did there?).
I will concede: it’s pretty hard to come up with a productivity-based pitch that will attract the attention of a major publication. However, if you happen to find an amazing hack that no one’s tried before, or if you’re willing to do a super-detailed testimony comparing several different productivity techniques, have at it! Otherwise, productivity advice tends to work best for clients who need ghostwritten content to fill up their blogs.
3. Topical entertainment
Two months ago, topical pitches were hit-or-miss. Now, with so little to report on other than COVID-19, the news cycle has become sufficiently slow that you can actually get your topical ideas written up before they’re passé — not to mention that readers seem to appreciate a break from the sobering onslaught of medical news.
Hence why I’ve specified this type of content as topical entertainment, rather than topical pieces full-stop (which could technically include coronavirus). People want to be distracted right now, and what’s better distraction than color commentary on Chrissy Teigen’s latest tea-spilling or Stephenie Meyer releasing a new installment of Twilight?
You don’t have to lift your pitches straight from Twitter’s trending topics, either. You can find article ideas wherever you get news about your niche, whether it’s a certain slate of blogs or your Instagram Explore page. I’m sure you were tuned into the zeitgeist already, but now you need to pay extra attention to who’s buzzing about what! Even a kernel of gossip could evolve into a thousand-word article that an editor or client in your niche might pay good money to run.
Also keep in mind that, though topical entertainment pieces are so hot right now, you still need to get your pitches and drafts in as quickly as possible. The news cycle may be slow, but it hasn’t ground to a halt, and topical pieces are still more evanescent than permanent — plus you’ll be facing heavy competition from all those recent entrants into the freelancer game.
4. Quirky thinkpieces
Fortunately, this next type of content involves something that no other freelancer can replicate: your detailed opinions on the most idiosyncratic of subjects.
I know many of us freelancers have trained ourselves to write in a neutral tone and rarely betray our personal opinions about, well, anything… so pitching this type of content might go against your every professional instinct. But this is what blogs and publications want — passionate subjectivity on topics that no one else has covered. This was true before the pandemic hit and will continue to be true long after, but anecdotally, I’ve noticed a particular desire for in-depth thinkpieces over the last two months; maybe people just have more time to read them now.
In any case, if you’ve ever wanted to delve deep into a completely arbitrary topic but never felt you had sufficient reason, consider this my permission to do so. An unpopular opinion on a movie that everyone else loved, but you despised to the core of your being? A roster of literary counterparts for all the songs on a Taylor Swift album? Elaborate reviews of different types of potato chips based on flavor, texture, and crunch? It’s all gold in this time of little news.
Again, as with personal essays (which may very well intersect or overlap with this type of content), don’t worry about being “newsworthy” when pitching thinkpieces. Quality will supersede topicality every time, and besides (again), you don’t want to get caught in a lie and have to fake enthusiasm on a topic about which you couldn’t care less.
5. Evergreen SEO content
At last, we’ve come to ol’ reliable: evergreen SEO content. By evergreen, I mean content that people will never stop Googling, and that must appear relevant and “fresh” whether they read it tomorrow or ten years from now. Needless to say, pitching evergreen SEO content to write almost never fails — and though certain search terms may have inflated since the start of the pandemic, it’s easy enough to figure out which keywords will have long-lasting value to clients.
Many freelancers will already have a good sense of keywords in their niche, but if you haven’t done any “official” research through a keyword analytics tool, I’d encourage you to get a trial and do so now! You can start by looking at popular websites in your niche and figuring out which keywords they’re hitting. Then determine which keyword(s) you can realistically target and pitch to sites that don’t already have that content — indeed, just a few minutes of keyword research can give you a massive advantage in terms of knowing what site owners might want.
And once you get the hang of actually writing for SEO, you can potentially double or triple your rates! After all, effectively optimized content can lead to a steady stream of potential customers for years to come, and most clients are happy to invest in that opportunity. Basically, never underestimate what knowing SEO can do for you! Even if it seems unnecessary in your niche, it’s one of the best ways to convince clients that your contributions have concrete value.
Regardless, showing conviction about any pitch — whether it’s in the form of SEO research to back you up, or unshakeable confidence when you have something deeply interesting to say — is often enough to show clients and publications they should take a chance on you. That’s not to say you should fake it till you make it; rather, you should spend enough time thinking of stellar pitches that you don’t have to fake it at all!
I hope this article has given you plenty to think about, as both the pandemic and your freelancer career progress. May all your forthcoming pitches be pondering and passionate, and may the client responses be regular, receptive, and highly remunerative.
Looking for places to pitch? Here are websites that pay writers.
Savannah Cordova is a freelancer and writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best resources on how to publish a book. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. Her favorite type of content to pitch is cultural thinkpieces, but she loves a good listicle as well!