As with any transformation, the process from point A to point B will take time, endurance and, of course, a thick skin. For writers who are ready to make the leap from one niche to another, one of the most difficult ways to break into a completely new subject is convincing editors — whether current or aspirational — that you’re worth the investment.
If you’ve ever been a manager yourself, you know how risky it can feel to assign a story to someone you’ve never worked with before, or who doesn’t have experience in the general topic. More than anything, editors are concerned about their own time investment to get a piece ready for publication.
They also want to ensure accuracy in reporting, and that can be tricky if they take a chance on a niche newbie who doesn’t have the specific track record they’d prefer.
But before you bow your head in defeat and raise that white flag, remember there is a silver lining. And often, it’s found in strategy. Expanding your portfolio and moving your way to another region of journalism that interests you isn’t impossible — but it’s better traveled when you follow a few tidbits from writers who have done that, pitched that and have the byline to prove it.
Here, an insider’s look at how you can get editors on your side with some carefully crafted emails and tactics.
Examples of emails to convince editors you can tackle a new niche:
1. Start with honesty.
It seems simple enough, but humans like to work with humans. Consider your favorite editors — they probably treat you like a friend, or at the very least, someone they trust and depend on.
No one wants to spend all of those hours chatting with a robot who merely delivers without personality or character. Rather, they’re more likely to prefer people who are unafraid to be themselves.
Lifestyle reporter and photographer Wendy Rose Gould recommends writers be forthright and honest with current editors about goals to break into a new niche. “Be humble and human, and briefly explain why it’s important to you to tackle this new vertical,” she says.
I know we have been working together on various stories surrounding mental health and happiness. I’ve loved developing these pitches, but I have discovered a newfound interest in exercise and nutrition. In the spirit of being candid, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and reading up on the latest and greatest trends, and it would be wonderful to work on stories within this niche with your __________ publication. Below, I’ve outlined some ideas. I truly appreciate your consideration and thank you for all of the opportunities.
2. Remind your editor you’ll put in the extra work.
Or as Gould puts it: “Reassure your editor that you’ll be there from start to finish to ensure your story sparkles.”
When your go-to person for travel writing hears you’d like to dabble in investigative business reporting, it will probably catch him or her off guard. After all, once they associate you with a specific topic, seeing you as the journalist for something on the other end of the spectrum may surprise them.
One way to break out of this mold, according to Denver-based travel and lifestyle writer Brittany Anas is to express curiosity as your superpower:
“This shows you’re eager to do the research and thorough interviews and learn as much as you can on the topic. You will bring a fresh perspective and you’ll explain to readers some nuances that a more seasoned writer might overlook.”
When you acknowledge it’s a step outside of your traditional assignments and remind them that you’ll be there for every editing round, they will have more confidence in taking a walk out of the comfort zone with you.
Below you’ll find a pitch I’m really excited about. Though it isn’t typically within my wheelhouse, I’ve found myself fascinated by the trend and I’m excited to work on the piece with you. Rest assured that I’ll be there for edits, questions or revisions, since it is a new topic we’re exploring together. If it’s helpful, I’m happy to hop on the phone and chat about the approach and how I’m viewing the piece. Thanks for the opportunity!
3. Discuss your background.
Sure, you may not have many — if any — bylines on critiquing culinary masterpieces. But, you do have proof of your ability to dive in, pen first, into a topic and execute to perfection. This illustrates that you are not only hard-working and creative, but it is one of the tactics Gould recommends to get a pinky toe into the door of a new niche.
“I recommend gently referring to your past experiences working together — maybe cite a situation where you took on a difficult story that was out of your usual realm and knocked it out of the park,” she explains. Since you know you were a superstar with that particular story, your editor will note your tenacity and perhaps, be open to helping you branch out.
Hope you’re doing well! I wanted to run an idea by you that’s a little out of my normal ballpark. I’ve recently studied __________, __________ and __________, and I found this trend that I believe would be fascinating for readers. Even though my experience is traditionally in __________, I’ve been able to tackle other stories outside of this niche and deliver great articles. Remember when we worked on the __________ story? It is still one of my favorite bylines, even if it isn’t part of my typical field. Would you be interested in exploring the __________ idea above? I’d love to get started ASAP!
4. Find similar ground.
Even if you aren’t schooled in a particular topic, you likely have the chops to write about, well, anything. This is part of the argument you should use when you’re dabbling into a new niche, according to Anas.
She shared when she switched from being a newspaper writer to a freelance travel writer, she was able to show off personality profile clips, even though they weren’t wanderlust-related.
“An editor commissioned me to do a package of travel stories about Denver because I made a strong argument that I would approach it like a personality profile — but the subject would be a place, rather than a person,” she explained.
Using your own portfolio, you can execute the same tactic by drawing parallels that make sense for your assigning editor.
Below you’ll find a story idea I’m excited about. Even though I typically do not write about fitness, my extensive background in nutrition makes me an ideal writer for this particular angle. Because I’m up-to-date on the latest research and studies surrounding food and vitamins, I’ll bring a unique voice to this series on exercise mishaps. I can weave in my clean eating knowledge to add character and dimension to the story. Let me know your thoughts, I’d love to dive in!
5. Be more detailed with your pitch.
For full-time freelance writers, a solid relationship with editors who will assign stories to you with a headline and a sentence is a wonderful feat. But you won’t get away with short-and-sweet pitches when you’re trying to move from one niche to another.
As Anas says, it’s much more impactful to provide a detailed, in-depth summary of your idea when you want an editor to take a chance on you with a new topic. “If it’s not your usual realm, I think it’s a good idea to go a little more in-depth about what sources you plan to interview and what questions you can answer for readers and why you are the person to write the story,” she explains.
3-4 sentence summary:
Possible sources, with links:
Any relevant clips:
Also see our phenomenal Freelance Writer’s Guide to Pitching for more tips.