10 Things You Must Know Before Cold-Pitching Big Publications

It goes without saying that getting something published on a big site like Entrepreneur can be massive for your brand and business.

It can open doors you didn’t know previously existed, boost your brand awareness and give you some serious SEO traction.

But how do you make that happen? What steps should you follow?

In this article, I’ve laid out the 10-step process that has helped me get published on Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, The Next Web, Elite Daily and many more.

It’s not a short process, but it does work.

Here is an infographic I created that summarizes this process for the visual learners:

Cold Pitching Publishers - Infographic

Infographic co-produced by Venngage Infographics and X3 Digital.

1. Have a track record

One of the first things editors are going to look at is whether you can actually write. They receive literally hundreds of submissions and most of them are from rubbish writers. If you want to get their attention, they need to know that you’re a good writer.

How exactly can you do that? By showing off your track record.

Have you written for any well-established publications already? Ideally, they will be related to the niche you’re pitching. If you’re pitching to Shopify, for instance, it helps to demonstrate that you’ve written about website builders and eCommerce before.

Even if you haven’t written for any major websites, make sure your pitch includes a list of your qualifications and links to any content you have had published online. I’d recommend having at least 3-5 strong published posts before pitching to a large website.

If you have absolutely nothing published online, don’t despair! You have two options:

  1. Bring other value to the pitch. This might be social share numbers, hard-to-get interviews that you can obtain or industry connections you have. Don’t pitch just for the sake of pitching. If you can’t show a valuable track record, then quickly explain your history, and how your perspective and experience means you can add value to the publication’s audience.
  2. Start your own blog. If you don’t have any live posts anywhere, you’re going to need to create a website and start publishing some high-quality pieces. Then pitch to smaller sites with the pieces you’ve written on your blog to showcase your ability. After you’ve guest posted on smaller sites, you can climb the ladder higher to bigger sites like Entrepreneur.

2. Build strong relationships

It can dramatically increase your odds of getting published on a popular website if you cultivate relationships with their editors or contributors.

How do you build relationships? Here are a few simple ways:

  • Engage with them on social media
  • Repost their top social media content
  • Comment on their blog posts
  • Backlink to them in your blog posts
  • Genuinely read their content

The goal is to make them aware of who you are and establish yourself in their circle of contacts. Building trust is key here.

After using the above tactics for a while, consider reaching out to them personally via email. If they’re an editor, send a professional email asking them if they are open to pitches. If they’re a contributor, ask them how they got started and if they can share the contact info of an editor.

On Neil Patel’s podcast, Marketing School, Neil suggests that building relationships with authors by providing advice that could help them with their own career is a valuable tactic. Did the writer make a small typo somewhere? Do you have a few pieces of content research that they might find useful? Let them know.

By going out of your way to help someone else, you stand a better chance of being noticed and appreciated as a result of your action.

3. Email people, avoid forms

Many websites or publications will ask you to fill out a contact form or Google form. This is okay when it comes to getting the attention of smaller sites, but I’d advise against doing it for larger publications.

The reply rate is nearly non-existent, and the success rate is even lower. Hundreds of emails pour in through these contact forms – making it extremely likely that yours will get buried under an avalanche of enquiries.

Personally, I make a point to never email ‘admin’, ‘hello’ or ‘support’. I always email a person. The odds of getting a response are astronomically higher if you contact an actual person. And not just any person, but the right person.

If you wish to contribute to a publication, the job titles you’re looking for are Editor, Contributing Editor, Managing Editor, Assistant Editor or Associate Editor. Check out the publication’s masthead, About page, team page or LinkedIn profile to find these people’s names and titles.

It’s easy to find email addresses using web tools like MailTester, Rapportive or FindAnyEmail.

Whatever you do, don’t start your email with ‘to whom it may concern’. Show that you’ve done your research or the editor will immediately hit the delete button. Acknowledge that they’re busy, tell them about your track record and the value you could add to their publication.

Pitching is selling, so act like it. You need to convince the editor that you’ll add some serious value to the lives of their readers. Don’t be wishy-washy about this. Keep your email short, sweet and concise.

Place a solid call to action at the end. Specifically, ask the editor to get back to you. Put some healthy psychological pressure on them to respond.

Here’s an example of how this looks in an email:

It’s not perfect, but it gets to the point, it’s personalized and it shows a good track record of writing for established publications.

4. Follow up like a pro

Becoming a contributor to large publications is like playing chess, not checkers. You’re in it for the long game, so be prepared to nurture your initial email with numerous follow ups.

I get hundreds of pitch emails a week for my web design agency publication, many of which contain an impersonal, low-quality pitch, then they never attempt to pitch or follow up again. This is not the way to get published.

I followed up with literally dozens of editorial contacts at Entrepreneur for at least five months before finally making my way through lots of forwarding and replies, to the appropriate editor.

You can follow up like a pro by automating your email workflow.

  • This streamlines sending repeated emails, typing the same text multiple times, and any other task that you will do repeatedly.
  • For email automation, you can usually integrate tools with a Gmail Chrome extension. There are several high-quality options like The Top Inbox, Streak and Hiver.
  • For repeated text, tools like TextExpander are fantastic.

Marketing thought leader Ryan Stewart has said that he saved himself hundreds of hours by automating most of his email tasks. Speaking of the thousands of email requests his agency gets per year, he notes:

We’ve managed to automate lead qualification, follow ups and appointment scheduling to the point where all I have to do is wake up and check my calendar for appointments. It’s amazing.

You can achieve the same ease of mind by automating your editor outreach efforts.

5. Bond on a human level

Listen, editors are real people with real emotions. When you start sending out a lot of pitch emails, it’s easy to forget this. You might be tempted to think of editors as just another email contact, but it’s important to remember that there are real people on the other end of your outreach email.

Digital marketing thought leader and CEO of Ignite Visibility, John Lincoln, writes frequently for large publications including Search Engine Land, Inc. and Entrepreneur. When Lincoln recently keynoted at a PRWeb event in Huntington Beach, he discussed the long-term value of bonding on a human level.

Lincoln recommends the following:

These are all great ways to personalize your relationship with the people that you’re pitching to. Just don’t forget to treat everyone with respect in your emails. Address them by their name. Thank them for their time. Be respectful of their position and acknowledge that they must receive loads of these emails.

This allows them to see that you’re not just mass spamming a bunch of editors.

6. Don’t submit garbage

This is huge. If you get a chance to submit a post, take it seriously. You have one, maybe two chances max to gain the editor’s good opinion.

Make sure your content is well-researched and high-quality, that it fits the guidelines, will be interesting to the target demographic and address appropriate topics.

If you submit a garbage post, you will never get another chance to write for the publication again. They can’t afford to waste their time with bad writers.

7. Be ready to revise

And don’t be offended when you are asked to rework your submission. There is a 99% chance that this will happen. It doesn’t mean the editor in question doesn’t like it. They just want it to be as good as possible.

Whatever you do, don’t push back against this. This is a surefire way to get blacklisted from their contributor list.

Thank them for their feedback and make timely revisions. Don’t ask questions about why certain style guidelines are in place. Don’t protest that your original edit was better.

Even if they want to cut a piece you slaved over down by 2,000 words, grit your teeth and don’t whine about it. Being adaptable and open-minded is much more likable than being inflexible and pedantic.

8. Express gratitude

This one is hugely underrated. People rarely make time to go out of their way and show their appreciation for anyone, especially editors. When my first post on Entrepreneur was published following five months of back-and-forth emails and numerous revisions, I emailed this to my editor:

Simple, straightforward and effective. The modern version of a thank-you card.

Expressing gratitude will go a long way towards building a genuine relationship and connection with people, not just building a contacts book. In the long run, this is far more valuable to both you and the editor anyway. It opens the door for future posts and can even help you forge valuable business connections.

You don’t need to fawn, just acknowledge that they were invested in the piece, too.

9. Be prepared for rejection

Rejection is inevitable. It may not be Entrepreneur, but sooner or later, the person you contact at a website or publication will turn you down – or simply not respond to your numerous emails.

Don’t let it stop you in your tracks. Be insanely committed to your goals, regroup and keep moving forward.

Tim Ferriss had his book The 4-Hour Workweek rejected a staggering 26 times before it was published and became a massive bestseller, and we all know the story of how J. K. Rowling experienced loads of rejections before Harry Potter was published.

Rejection is simply part of writing for public consumption. Don’t let it phase you.

When you do get rejected, turn your attention to another editor.

Think of it as a numbers game.

It takes hustle and thick skin, but you will prevail.

10. Be generous

It’s easy to get caught up in the me-first culture we seem to be living in.

If you’re lucky enough to get the chance to write frequently for a large publication, treat the opportunity with care. Focus less on what you can get out of the post, and more so on how to create value for the publication’s audience.

Share the work with other talented people in your niche. Try to help the thought leaders you respect. Even selfishly, this works better in the long term.

Building a strong network of people who know, like and trust you is far more valuable than any set of incoming links will ever be.

If you’re generous toward others, they’ll be generous in return.

In summary

I’m not going to lie: getting published on a large site like Entrepreneur can take a ton of work, but it’s worth it. It allows you to reach a larger audience online and it establishes you as an author. This grows your brand.

It can generate valuable incoming links for SEO purposes and all the hard work strengthens you as a person.

Trust me, with the above 10-step process, you’ll be on your way.