Thursday, August 25, 2011

Problem Pitches: Asking the Wrong Questions

Asking questions can be very beneficial for a writer. To an editor, questions show that a freelancer is really engaged with the project. Of course, there are some questions that are good pre-acceptance and others that should not be asked until acceptance.

The Problem
Pitch from freelancer includes information about how qualified the freelancer is and then launches into questions like this:
  • What is the length of the pieces?
  • What can I expect as payment?
  • Which rights do I get to keep?
  • How long will my bio note be?
  • Will you use my material online?
  • Etc.
Sometimes, there is a short pitch after the barrage of questions. More often, the freelancers suggest they'll send over an idea or two after I give them these answers.

As I've posted previously, I like pitches that jump straight into the proposed article idea and that give me a good idea of what the proposed article will cover. However, let's look at why the questions above are not typically appropriate.

What is the length of the piece?
For me, I don't give the answer to this pre-acceptance for two reasons. First, I need to review other pitches first to determine if I just want a sidebar from the freelancer or a full blown article. Second, most freelancers have the ability to go to a bookstore or library and skim through a previous edition of Writer's Market or Poet's Market to get an idea of how long the articles are. This is research 101 for freelancers.

What can I expect as payment?
Never ask an editor about this before acceptance. There's probably a 99.9% chance that I'll never ever assign an article to a freelancer who asks me this pre-acceptance, because I don't want a freelancer who is distracted by the money and/or money-to-work ratio that they're putting into an article. The time to talk money is after I fall in love with your great article idea.

Which rights do I get to keep?
Listen: Rights are very important for freelancers, but as with the discussion of money, it's best to wait until you get the assignment to negotiate how those rights will be distributed. If I have a writer with an almost paranoia about rights before I've even accepted their pitch, then I start to develop a paranoia that the writer will be difficult to work with.

How long will my bio note be?
Talk about "all about me and more about me!" Seriously, this isn't even the most important question to ask, but you can probably discover the answer by doing a little of that Research 101 mentioned above.

Will you use my material online?
In today's shifting media environment, the answer to this question will probably be "yes," or at least, it should be. However, this is a question that is better left up in the air until your pitch is accepted. Once the editor contacts you with the assignment, it is appropriate to ask this question.

The Fix
If you have questions, that's a good thing, but make sure you ask the correct questions at the correct time. Many of the "business" questions should be discussed once the pitch is actually accepted.

That said, there are appropriate pre-acceptance questions an engaged freelancer can ask (if they aren't already mentioned in the submission guidelines or call for submissions):
  • When is the deadline for pitches?
  • Is there a limit to how many pitches a freelancer can submit?
  • Are there topics that editors wish were getting more coverage?
Of course, if the editors have really good guidelines, then don't try to ask a question just for the sake of asking a question. Just make your pitch and move on to the next one.

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