Anna Wharton: How to pitch an article the short and snappy way

Anna Wharton: How to pitch an article the short and snappy way

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Anna Wharton aboard. I first met Anna when she emailed to ask if I could answer a few questions about living on a boat, for an article about dream homes. Of course I said yes – I’ll talk for hours to anyone about boat life – but warned, in exchange, that I might send a few questions her way as well. As a journalist, features editor and now freelance writer, she seemed like the perfect person to give us freelance-article-writing-wannabes the inside track. And I was right.

Anna Wharton


Anna, could you give us a brief outline of your career path, and tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now?

I started out, like many journalists, on my local newspaper. Back then it was a pretty big operation, with 14 reporters compared to a couple –  I’m guessing – these days. Back then, it was also an evening paper whereas today it’s a weekly. The demise of local newspapers is very sad indeed.

I was there for 18 months before getting a job on a real life magazine in London, That’s Life – a newly launched sister publication to Take a Break – when I was 21 . I was a writer there for a year and a half before moving to Best magazine as Commissioning Editor. I’d been promoted to Deputy Features Editor, and then Acting Features Editor, by the time I was 23. And then I went freelance.

Over the years I did various permanent or acting Features Editor jobs on women’s magazines in between freelancing, until I became Features Editor of Woman’s Own in 2007. I was there for two years before moving to the Daily Mail as Associate Editor on Femail. After having my daughter in 2012, I left the Mail and I now freelance for national magazines and newspapers including the Times, the Guardian, and the Daily Mail.


Do you think that paid journalism is being affected by blogging and writers who are happy to write for free?

I’m not sure that paid journalism is affected by bloggers, because it’s not necessarily their articles that are making it into the papers at the expense of the rest of us. What is affecting paid journalism more than anything is the fall of advertising revenue and this is simply because people aren’t buying newspapers anymore, they are reading news online. Sadly, the slippery slope that the local newspapers went down is now becoming a national issue. Who knows if there will be printed newspapers in 50 years time?


Would-be freelancers are often told to start their career by approaching small publications or those with specialist interests in which they themselves have knowledge. What other advice would you have?

My advice is work experience – you can’t beat it. Don’t think that it is something for school kids: if you want something badly enough you will do it at any age. At 18, I got a job in advertising for some Emap magazines, simply because, back then, they owned the local newspapers. I went to see the managing director and told him that I wanted to be a writer, and he arranged for me to have a week’s holiday to do work experience on my local paper. After that I used all my annual leave to do work experience and I also worked for free at the weekends. I called up the editor every single Friday and asked for a job – for months. And then one day he said yes. I’m not suggesting you should harass people, but do put yourselves on their radar. They have valuable experience to pass onto you, so even if you work alongside them for free, you’ll be gaining so much. And, vitally, making contacts.


How do you find out who to approach with your article pitch? And what should you put in the subject line of your email?

It’s always a good idea to get a contact from a friend or colleague so that you can open an email with mention of a mutual friend to grab attention. Failing that, pick up the phone and speak to the secretary on the desk to find out the best person to speak to. Make the subject line of your email short and snappy, something that you could imagine being their dream headline. And if you can’t think of the headline, you’re not ready to pitch the story.


What actually happens when an editor sees an email in her inbox from a freelance writer hoping to pitch an idea?

Well, this can be where it gets disappointing. Sadly, many editors know what they like and like what they know, so they may not be too open to hearing from people they haven’t spoken to before. However, don’t be disheartened, it’s just a stumbling block. But this is why your subject it so important, because no editor will turn down a good story just because it’s pitched from a stranger. If you can give them what they want, they’ll snap your hand off. So make sure you’re pitching the right content to the right person and giving them what they want in a short and snappy way – you might only have seconds to impress them before they hit ‘delete’.


As a freelance writer yourself, how many pitches would you have out at any time, and how many are you working on in an average month?

This is a tricky question and one I wrestle with every month. The short answer is, it depends how busy I am. I don’t take on more than I can handle because I don’t want to let people down, so if I have a handful of commissions, I probably won’t pitch anything until I’ve got them all done and dusted.


Connections are, as we all know, vital in a writing career. If you haven’t got contacts from previous work and are looking to making a start as a freelance writer, what are the best ways to go about making them?

As above, work experience is always the best way. Failing that, see if you can entice the commissioning editor out for a coffee and a slice of cake. Failing that, just send them so many good ideas that they can’t possibly resist you!! …Good luck!



Thank you, Anna, it was lovely to talk to you again!

You can follow Anna on Twitter @whartonswords. And do let me know if her advice pays off for you. I’m on Twitter as  @sarahontheboat

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