9 reasons your freelance writing pitch was rejected (or ghosted)

Want to win more freelance writing pitches, but keep getting rejected (or not hearing back at all)? This guide shows you why it happens and what to do instead.
First published on:
August 22, 2022
Last updated on:
August 22, 2022

When you decide to pitch potential clients, you’re taking your freelance writing career into your own hands.

It’s when you stop depending on one specific job board, agency, or freelancing platform to send you work. Knowing how to pitch makes it easy to increase your pitching efforts when current work dries up, and pause it when your plate is full for the next while.

The job of each pitch email you send is to prove to someone that you’re a capable writer and a trusted partner—and do so in a matter of seconds. When a marketing manager or a content lead chooses to work with you, they’re telling you you’re worth their budget, energy, and time.

They’re also putting their reputation on the line because they’re counting on you to deliver writing that brings results (traffic, brand awareness, conversions, sales—you name it).

But writing great pitches—those that create that type of trust—is quite a challenge. If you’re already pitching potential clients and keep getting rejections (or no response at all), this guide is for you.

1. Your pitch direction is generic

You’ll often hear advice to include some topics, titles, or keywords you’d write about when pitching a potential freelance writing client.

In theory, this is a solid piece of advice. By doing this, you can help them choose a topic to assign you for your first project—they don’t have to develop one for you.

But the problem is that most of these types of pitches are generic. They could apply to any business within that niche (or worse: even broader than that).

Allie Decker, Head of Content at Omniscient Digital, told me:

“I love when writers include a fully fleshed-out narrative and explain how their pitch ties back to my publication/audience. Why should I and my readers care? When they forgo this information in favor of a title or keyword, I typically reject the pitch.”

Let’s say you’re pitching a CRM software company and you suggest a few topics you could write about, including ‘sales tips for phone sales’ and ‘sales skills examples.’ These topics are fine, but they could be published by a sales training company, a sales speaker, or even a commerce company looking to hire sales reps.

The person on the receiving end of that pitch won’t get the confidence that this content will match what their current and potential customers need. And if they’ve already received similar pitches (as it’s easy to pitch generic topics), you won’t stand out—and won’t win the client.

What to do instead:

Pitch a topic that matches the company’s existing content, resource pages, and target audience. This, of course, doesn’t mean you should write a full article and pitch that (unless the company asks for it in its pitching instructions).

It means you can write a couple of paragraphs and bullet points to present your thought process for the article, referencing specific details about the company.

For example, you notice that the CRM company you’re pitching has a few case studies about real estate companies, but not much educational content about real estate sales. Your pitch can then include:

  • The working title “How to manage your pipeline as a real estate agent”
  • References to the case studies and examples to quote
  • Mentions of the sales calculator the company published as a resource
  • A rough outline of sections you plan to include
  • Your plan to source quotes from 2-3 external subject matter experts (real estate pros, as well as sales trainers in the real estate industry)
  • How this article will tie into company’s other educational content, with links to and from it
  • Traffic potential based on search volume for related terms

This doesn’t have to be long—even 1-2 paragraphs and a short list of bullet points will do a fantastic job and help you stand out and delight potential clients.

2. Your pitch is obviously mass-sent and unpersonalized

Check out this email I received from an agency:

Screenshot of a poorly written agency pitch

There is nothing about this email that tells me the sender knows anything about me. My name is not mentioned, nor is my website, my business name, or anything that has something to do with me.

My guess is that this email was sent to hundreds or even thousands of people with a business email address. These people don’t care if I reply to them or not. The irony is that their service might actually be decent—but we’ll never know.

What to do instead: 

The first section—going specific vs. generic in your pitch—already prepared you for this.

But it’s worth repeating: tailor each email you send to the person on the receiving end. If they choose to open your email, you’re becoming a minute (or 10) of their day, so make them feel good about it.

Why are you reaching out to them specifically? What about their work or their company got them on your radar?

Lead with that and focus on writing an email to one person, not a generic list of leads.

3. You don’t specialize

No matter where you sit on the ‘to niche or not to niche’ spectrum, here’s something you should know: content managers are reluctant to hire a freelance writer who can write about anything.

Remember that niching down has two aspects: picking a topic niche (e.g. personal finance, ecommerce) and picking a format (e.g. blog posts, email sequences, ebooks).

I often hear from content leads about their hesitancy to hire non-specialist writers. It boils down to having deeper knowledge about an area than an average person—and a generic writer—would have.

When you specialize in a topic, whether that’s pets, healthcare, legal, marketing, commerce, analytics, or art, you can navigate statistics, sources, interviews, and in-depth information with ease. And when you specialize in a format, you know how to make the most of it each time you write.

What to do instead: 

If you’re not currently focused on a niche, don’t panic—there’s still something you can do about pitching a company you want to write for.

The content manager in that company wants to hire writers who demonstrate interest and focus on a topic, which means you can:

  • Write 2-3 quality pieces within a niche you’re targeting just like you would for a client and publish them on your own blog (this is if you don’t already have existing client pieces, or if they’re ghostwritten and you can’t use them)
  • Pitch for guest posts in publications in your industry to get industry-specific bylines (e.g. The Fintech Times for finance, Content Marketing Institute for writing and content topics)
  • Connect with practitioners in the field so you can always have a source of insights and a network of people you can interview for articles (e.g. retail/ecommerce owners for commerce niche)

Of course, getting proficient in a niche takes time, but once you get started, your experience and portfolio will start compounding. And remember: if you realize a niche you chose isn’t right for you, you can always tweak it or choose a different one (although hopefully not too often).

4. You’ve sent irrelevant writing samples or your full portfolio

Let’s say you’re pitching a parenting brand. You’ve done fantastic work in that field, but in your pitch, you do one of these two things:

  • You link to a portfolio with 40 pieces of your work, only 5 of which are about parenting, and your potential client is either confused by the rest of the topics you wrote about or frustrated that they spent several minutes finding relevant pieces on the page, or…
  • You list three individual links to different pieces, none of which are about parenting

The person on the receiving end might have the patience to reply and ask you to send parenting-specific writing you’ve done. But they might not—and that’s a wasted opportunity.

What to do instead: 

Use a tool like Authory to maintain your entire portfolio, i.e. everything you’ve written for clients.

Then, use Authory’s Collections feature to sort your portfolio by different topics. For example, in my portfolio you’ll find topics like ecommerce, creator economy, video marketing, and email marketing.

You can then make a collection public and only share the page with a specific collection with a potential client—check out my own collection of creator economy articles.

A tool like Authory will make it easy for you to share a topic-focused portfolio or quickly grab links to a few relevant pieces for your pitch.

P.S. If you sign up for Authory through this link, you’ll get an extended, 30-day trial instead of the usual 14 days.

5. You aren’t confident about what you can contribute

It’s worth repeating: people who hire freelance writers put their budget, reputation, time, and energy on the line. When a freelance writer is confident about their work, those who hire them have a much easier decision to make.

I see people posting about looking for writers on Twitter and LinkedIn almost daily. And almost every time they do, I see a writer reply to the post with something like:

  • “Hi I can do that for you, I need work”
  • “I’m not a great writer but I’ll always help when I can”
  • “I can try, I know about [topic 1] but not [topic 2]”

I wish these were exaggerations—they’re not. My guess is that many email pitches written by these same writers equally lack confidence and firmness about what they do and how they can help.

Think about some pitches you sent and never heard back—were they self-doubting, or weak?

What to do instead: 

When writing your pitch, look out for phrases and words like:

  • I might…
  • I hope I’m not bothering you
  • Sorry to trouble you
  • I’m sure you’re busy
  • Maybe
  • Potentially

Remove these from your pitches (and while you’re at it, from other emails and messages you send) and get clear about what you bring to the table. Here's just one of 20+ responses I heard from content managers/leads when I asked what makes them reject a pitch from a freelance writer:

6. Your rates aren’t transparent

I firmly believe you should list your rates on your website. They don’t need to be detailed or take away your chances to upsell, quote a higher rate, or change the scope of your services.

The reason many freelancers don’t do it is because they fear it will discourage prospects from reaching out or that they won’t be able to negotiate from there.

But the truth is that many marketing and content leads don’t want to waste their time (and yours!) if they aren’t sure they can afford you. James Sowers, Director of Marketing at The Good, confirms this in one of his tweets:

The benefits that come with publishing your rates (or at least your starting/minimum rates) on your website outweigh the perceived risks of it.

What to do instead: 

There are a few ways you can go about making your rates clear right from your pitch:

  • Publish them on your website (like your ‘Work with me’ page) and link to it in your pitch
  • Have a private page you only share with leads that outlines details of your rates and process, and link to it in your pitch
  • Outright state in your pitch, e.g. “My rates start at $XXX for [number of words/articles/etc.]”
  • Include a conversation about rates in the call-to-action of your pitch, e.g. “If this sounds good and you want to talk about my rates, process, and timelines, [hit reply/book a call on this link] and we’ll take it from there.”

When you do this, you save both yourself and your lead a few back-and-forths in case their budget doesn’t match your rates.

7. You don’t know how your past work performed

Even if your work shows you’re a really good writer, potential clients might be hesitant to hire you because they want their investment into you to yield results—and your pitch and/or your portfolio haven’t convinced them it will.

Rankings, traffic, conversions, customer journey influence, direct revenue… It all counts towards the impact you made with your writing. There are articles I wrote for clients 3+ years ago that are still among the top 3 traffic drivers to the company’s blog.

The results of that one article will be more powerful in a pitch than listing 10 generic portfolio pieces.

What to do instead: 

This is a tricky one because more often than not, past clients won’t proactively share content performance metrics with you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask.

The easiest way to do this is email a current or past client with a simple question: “I’d love to know about any results my work helped create for [company], like new traffic, conversions, revenue, and more. This will help me show the value of my work to new potential clients. Could you please share these metrics with me?”

If the client can’t or won’t share metrics with you, you can try these:

  • Search for the target keywords for pieces you wrote on Google and see if your content ranks at the top of page 1
  • If you use a tool like Ahrefs (or know someone that has a subscription), check reports for backlinks and organic traffic for your work
  • Paste links of your work into the search bar on Twitter and Facebook to see the public shares they received

Use what you’ve learned in your pitches and portfolio. Potential clients will love it!

Pro tip: If you use a portfolio tool like Authory, you’ll get access to an Analytics tab, which shows you social media analytics for each piece in your portfolio, including on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Super useful for grabbing engagement numbers to share with your freelance writing leads.

8. You haven’t followed instructions

If you’re replying to a call for pitches or a posting on a job board, there are typically some instructions that come with it. Things like…

Send a certain number of portfolio pieces.

State your project capacity and next availability.

Pitch at least two topics.

Share your rates.

Use a specific email subject line.

The list goes on. Whatever the requirements and instructions are, if you don’t follow them, it’s often an earliest signal to the person hiring writers not to reply to you.

What to do instead: 

This one’s deceptively easy: follow the directions from the job posting or call for pitches!

You can definitely add your own, customized touch to the pitch (I encourage you to!), but make sure you complete all the job/pitch requirements first.

9. Your email or message was poorly written

The way you write your pitch tells your potential client how you write when working. It shows them how you’re thinking, the way you package that message for its intended reader, and, crucially, how you edit what you write.

First, are there typos, grammar mistakes, or poor style in your email or message? And second, is it too long, drawn out, and/or vague?

Diana Briceño, Head of Content at VEED, wrote this in her 7 things that show me a writer really knows their shit article:

If a writer sends a 2,000-character message that could've been 500 characters I assume they cannot self-edit well enough. Every strong writer I've worked with has sent me a concise and intriguing DM. The ones whose skillset isn't quite there yet have sent painfully long messages listing off everything they've ever done and thought.

Consider this: If you were the one receiving your email or message, would you think of the sender as a good writer?

What to do instead: 

The more you improve your overall writing craft, the easier it will be to write strong pitches. To get there, here are a few tips you can follow:

  • Use a tool like ProWritingAid to improve your style and grammar. Pro tip: select Document type: Email (General) or Email (Sales) to get customized tips for your pitches!
  • Use a tool like Hemingway to highlight complex, fluffy sentences and make your writing clear and bold.
  • Get a trusted peer to review your pitch and give you feedback.

Start improving your pitches

There’s probably one or two of these nine reasons for pitch rejections that stood out to you more than others.

Start there. Look at your recent pitches and pick them apart through the lens of that reason. If you were to write that pitch again, what would you change? What can you do with it to create more reasons for the potential client to feel you have what it takes?

P.S. If you don’t hear back within a week of sending your pitch, don’t forget to follow up!

Make those improvements and keep pitching. You’ve got this.