Not quite pitching the world

It’s tough being a self-employed writer. You can be the best writer in the world (or merely in the top 20 in my case), but unless you can sell yourself, you’ll never get the work that your talent deserves.

If I was a builder, I wouldn’t have to ring up random people and ask if they wanted me to knock a couple of walls down, or to do some rendering. People would actually pick up the phone and call me.

Writing is different. Sometimes you get the call asking you to do some work, but on the whole you’re the one expected to do the running and convince editors that they should employ you.

To do this requires pitching, which involves communicating your article ideas to editors. It sounds simple for a writer, but there is definitely a knack to it and it’s one that I haven’t mastered yet. Despite the title of this blog, selling myself is not something I’ve ever been particularly comfortable with.

I’ve had the odd successful pitch, but more often than not they’ve failed to win me a commission. For reasons detailed in the post below, I haven’t really needed to do much pitching during my time as a freelancer. I do have to send a weekly pitch to an editor for the football column I write, but I tend to just pop a vague email over, saying something like: “Was thinking of doing something on Joey Barton and footballers on Twitter.” To which my editor will normally always reply: “That’s fine mate.”

Selling yourself to an editor who doesn’t know you is a trickier business. This week saw me pitch a couple of pieces, neither of which I’ve yet to receive a reply to. Actually that’s not true. The second pitch prompted an automatic out-of-office email reply, informing me that the editor in question would be out of the office for a month, which inconveniently started on the very day that I’d sent in the pitch. So I re-pitched the article to the editor stepping into his shoes. He hasn’t replied, but at least he seems to be in the office, which in these desperate times qualifies as some kind of success.

I’ve got to do more pitching next week and will need to chase up the existing pitches that have been sent out. When you fail to even get a reply, it’s easy to be dispirited, but if I need inspiration I pop over to a hilarious blog called Pitching The World, which details one writer’s mission to pitch every newspaper and magazine in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook – mainly from his nan’s dining room in Boscombe, where he currently resides.

At least I haven’t got to pitch the likes of Black Hair magazine and Carp Fishers Monthly, which is the gargantuan task that the blog’s author ‘Pitchy’ has set himself. It may sound like an impossible task, but the process has seen the wily old ‘Pitchy’ pick himself up a top literary agent.

As much as I’d like a literary agent, I’m not quite up for the task of pitching the world. I probably need to at least double my pitching efforts, but the editors of The Squash Player and Motorcaravan Motorhome Monthly are unlikely to be receiving correspondence from me anytime soon.

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Who am I and how did I get here?

You’ve got to sell yourself these days, which is why I’ve set up a website to promote my writing services, a mere three years after registering the domain name.

I’ve entitled it ‘Typing Whore’ – to both wittily illustrate that I am a writer for hire and also because when I used to write a blog named ‘Comedic Whore’ a few years ago, I would receive lots of extra hits from people searching Google for the word ‘whore’.

Obviously the majority of the people who find their way to this site when it’s whores they’re after, will be annoyed to find the musings of a 34-year old male journalist, but I’m hoping that amongst these desperate men will be the odd editor, who will slip himself back into his trousers and sign me up for some work.

So, who am I? I am a freelance journalist who currently doesn’t have enough work. Only last year I had too much work and ended up having to cancel some regular gigs in order to concentrate on better paying work. I’m now earning about a third of what I was this time last year and am facing a tax bill in January for the year between April 2010 and April 2011 when I earned more money that I ever have done in my life, at a stage where I’m currently earning peanuts.

The answer is to get more work, which so far during my three year period as a freelancer, I haven’t proved terribly good at. I fell into the world of journalism rather than dived in. I have no formal training in the subject and had no real desire to do this for a living, until a chance miraculously presented itself and coquettishly flashed it’s wares in my general direction.

My plan in life was to become a screenwriter. I completed an MA in the subject and had picked up some script report and editing work, while also earning a few quid writing jokes for a company that sold material to radio DJs. In order to keep myself financially afloat, I also worked in a thoroughly dispiriting call centre on a part-time basis.

The scripts that I was writing weren’t perfect, but with each effort I was becoming more assured in the craft. I was slowly getting somewhere, but money was always tight and I was living in a damp hovel of a flat in Norwich, sleeping on a futon that could have passed for a medieval torture rack, with neighbours who would steal my post if they thought it contained something worth nicking.

To improve my standard of living I applied for a full-time phone monkey job with a betting company in London. The beauty of it was that it was night-shift work. I would work four days on, four days off. There would be plenty of time to write and I would have loads more money coming in. What could go wrong?

Well, what could go wrong was the fact that switching from being awake at night for four days, to being awake during the day for the next four days, was an extremely tiring situation. On the four days I had off, I was generally quite knackered and as I was now living in London rather than Norwich, there were lots of distracting things to do, rather than write.

Also, I was heading towards 30 and for some reason I started panicking about the lack of success in my chosen career. Instead of continuing to write personal stories that meant something to me, I started trying to write things that I thought could prove commercial and give me my big break. It almost goes without saying that all of these efforts were shit and generally abandoned within 30 pages.

Just to make things worse it was announced that the night shift job was to come to an end. I had six weeks to find new employment and ended up getting an administrative day job within the same company. I had gone from being skint, but happy in my work, to the 9-5 office drudgery that I had always been desperate to avoid.

It was at that moment when journalism saw me at my lowest ebb and decided to move in for the kill. The betting company were going to open a new website featuring previews of events and general sports articles. They were looking for writers who knew about gambling. Someone who I once met by chance at the office Christmas party, put my name forward and I was signed up.

I started writing a weekly football column. Unlike screenwriting, the work was relatively easy and I was getting paid for it. Before long I was branching out into writing match previews for domestic and European games and had built up enough regular work for the site to consider ditching the job and going freelance.

In September 2008 I worked what I hope will be my last day at a job that I despise and went off to get married and start a new career. While on my honeymoon I received a voicemail from someone else within the company offering even more regular writing work. Most freelancers begin their journey within a blizzard of pitching. I was somehow just being given work, without any of the begging.

Looking back I was spoiled somewhat. For around two and a half years I was given loads of work by one company and had no real need to look elsewhere. I enjoyed what I was doing and wrote articles of subjects as diverse as the Olympics, boxing, Big Brother and footballers that look like women.

Every now and again I would worry about the fact that my eggs were stored in just one basket, rather than several, but my efforts to expand my employer base were somewhat half-hearted. I picked up the odd bit of extra work here and there, but the biggest incentive to pitch is starvation and I was lucky enough to be spoon-fed regular foie gras from a kindly benefactor.

It had to stop eventually and it did. Certain jobs were curtailed for budgetary reasons. People who gave me work left the company. Rather suddenly I didn’t have enough work to keep me afloat and we were forced to take my daughter out of nursery for three days of the week. I was now a part time writer/full time dad.

I love looking after my little girl, but I also love writing and need to do more of it – both for my own sake and our family bank balance. This is the blog where I will detail my quite possibly hapless efforts, to expand my journalistic career.

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