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The Art of the Pitch Letter: A Secret Weapon To Sell Your Ideas

C.S. Jones March 31, 2021 · 7 min read

For freelancers of all stripes, a well-written pitch letter can be just the ace of your sleeve you need to land a gig. Just like a cover letter when you’re looking for a 9-5, it can make the difference between an application that nets you a call and one that ends up as recycled paper.

But it isn’t as simple as it seems: a good pitch letter is a balancing act. How do you write in a manner that’s professional but still distinctive enough to get the attention of an employer? How can you demonstrate your creativity without crossing the line into gimmickry? And how are you supposed to talk to an employer without seeming too casual or worse, crass?

Wait… Aren’t These for Writers?

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Image from LilliGraphie on CreativeMarket

Yes, pitch letters are more commonly associated with magazine and article writers than any profession in the visual arts. But that’s why they can be such an effective secret weapon. Clients won’t be expecting them.

They’re also instrumental in creating jobs for yourself. An enterprising web designer can send out a pitch letter advertising his service to local businesses with crappy websites, offering to do them better. A painter whose apartment overlooks a blank wall might propose a mural to the building’s owner. An illustrator might land a job working for her favorite magazine if she shows them she can build a better infographic.

This humble format has a variety of other uses, too: For example, artists in today’s oversaturated market now often have to pitch interviews to magazines and bloggers themselves, or request reviews of their own work, as opposed to sitting back and waiting to “be discovered.” Similarly, sending an eye-catching letter to a gallery can also land you a spot when you may have otherwise been passed over.

These days, when so many of us get gigs via email correspondence with strangers online, it’s important to know how to send ideas to potential clients in a professional manner, or how to answer a job ad in a way that definitively lets them know you’re the best candidate.

Formatting Your Letter

For the purposes of this article, we’re assuming you’re already familiar with letter formatting. So, without going into the details of how it’s structured, we’ll just tell you what each section should contain.

Your subject line should be descriptive, simple, and let the client know that you’re applying for a gig, as well as specifically what gig it is. Sometimes an employer will give specific instructions on what to write here. Make sure you pay attention to that, as it’s always a test for how well you can follow directions.

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Image from Mashable

The inside address is largely unnecessary in emails (although it’s still crucial in paper letters), but you should still use the salutation. If you don’t know your potential client’s name, use whatever Google-fu necessary to find it and address them by it.

You don’t want more than a few body paragraphs, the more concise the better. Unless this is an unusually elaborate project, you shouldn’t need more than that to describe why you can do it. However, make sure to also convey your abilities and experience—a link to your website or portfolio somewhere in the text is almost mandatory—and your enthusiasm for working with them.

Make sure to include closing contact information if it’s not in your signature. I don’t recommend putting it in your signature, since some mail clients, like Gmail, clip those off by default and make you click on something to see them. Make sure to have your full name, email, phone, website, and any relevant social media links.

Etiquette

It is vital to be taken seriously, no matter how “casual” and “cool” you think your field is. Remember your pleases and thank-yous. However, you don’t want to sound too formal. Some amateur letter writers also make the mistake of stilting their language, removing contractions, and writing what they think a formal letter “should sound like.” And if the correspondence you receive in return is much more casual than your own, it can be a good idea to tone down your own formality in kind.

A good rule of thumb is to write to your clients the same way you’d talk to them in a professional setting. In other words, it should sound natural if it were coming out of a human being’s mouth, but not slangy or over-familiar.

In addition to the language and tone of your writing, you should also take into consideration time you send it. Many of us as freelancers might work odd hours, but a pitch letter sent at 3 am on a Saturday might be buried under a pile of new mail by the time your client checks their email at 10 am on Monday. Luckily, plenty of mail client plugins and extensions, like Boomerang for Gmail, allow you to set when you want your email to be sent.

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Image from Mashable

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do use natural-sounding and conversational language. Write in a way that would sound natural if you were saying it in person.
  • Don’t use slang, internet acronyms, or anything too politically incorrect or profane. (Even if the assignment itself might include that stuff.)
  • Do use emphatic language and concise descriptions for easier reading.
  • Don’t use caps. Bold and italics should also be avoided unless absolutely necessary. This isn’t sales copy.
  • Do be confident in your abilities and try to directly convey the benefits your design work can give to your client.

  • Don’t show an unwarranted sense of self-importance or make exaggerated promises about what your work can deliver.

And finally…

Follow Up

Your clients probably get a ton of email, especially if they work with major outlets. If they don’t respond the first time, don’t take it personally, but do remember to follow up on your pitches, either by email or by phone, a reasonable amount of time after sending them.

Keep your follow-up even shorter than the original: there’s no reason you should need more than a paragraph. Politely ask the client if they got your message and request that if so, they get back to you at their convenience. Never, under any circumstances, write in a manner that makes you seem like you’re too important to have been kept waiting this long, or that you’re offended by their lack of response. Impatience and entitlement will kill your project before it even starts.

How long you should wait? If this is someone you’ve corresponded with before, who usually responds quickly, one week is acceptable. Many people recommend two weeks. If you think your client might be exceptionally busy, or trying to sort through an unusual number of emails, a month might be more appropriate. But that’s probably the longest you should wait, unless they’ve let you know somehow that their response times may run longer than that.

The follow-up is even more of an esoteric art than the pitch-letter itself, but if done right, it can prove that you have both patience and the tenacity to see things through to completion.

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Happy pitching!


Some templates to create a killer pitch letter:


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About the Author
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C.S. Jones

C.S. Jones is a freelance writer, artist, and photographer.\r\n\r\nIn the past, he co-founded an art gallery and worked at a product photography studio. These days, he does photo tutorials (and gigs), online copy, and content marketing for a living. He also writes about webcomics at Webcomicry.com…

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1 Comments
  • " one week is acceptable. Many people recommend two weeks. If you think your client might be exceptionally busy, or trying to sort through an unusual number of emails, a month might be more appropriate." -- didn't know that one would have to wait up to a month to hear back from a message. Guess you would have to keep track of all of these with a calendar marker for every pitch message sent out. 6 years ago