Two Huge Freelance Writing Mistakes I’m Tired of Seeing

help me help you

Written By: Jon Finkel

Why Jerry Maguire? Why not, first of all? Second of all, this if from one of my favorite scenes in the movie. It’s from the ‘Help Me, Help You’ scene, where Jerry is begging Rod Tidwell to listen to him, to do what he says, to stop defying him…all in an effort to give Rod what he wants, which is a big contract. It’s one of Tom Cruise’s finest moments. He knows he can do his job. He wants to do his job. He’s willing to do what it takes…but Rod, the man who would benefit the most, continues to sabotage him. What does this have to do with freelance writing mistakes? Everything.

When a freelancer sends in a pitch to an editor, he’s essentially asking this question:

“Please help me get published.”

And as an editor, we want to oblige. We’re dying to oblige. The best thing that can happen as an editor looking for new writers is to get a submission that is well-thought out, perfect for our publication and written clearly in a compelling voice.

The second best thing is that we get something close to that, something that has potential from someone who presents themselves and their writing in a way that we’d be willing to work with them to get better.

Unfortunately, this almost never happens. Ever. It’s astonishing, actually.

What’s even more amazing is that it’s rarely the actual writing itself that causes resumes and submissions to be tossed aside. I’ve found that I never even make it to the writing for about 60% of the submissions. Maybe more.

I have worked at many of the biggest names in publishing, as well as freelanced for many more, and while I’ve seen dozens of common problems with submissions, there seems to be two common issues that have developed lately that are deadly, both of which have to do with a lethal combination of technology and laziness.

In the old days (a staggering 10 years ago), if you wanted to write for a magazine, you wrote what was called a Query Letter. I won’t go into the basics, but it was a pitch for an article idea. You printed up the letter, as well as copies of your best writing samples, put it all in a big envelope and sent it to an editor at the magazine you wanted to work for.

Today, all you need to do is send the editor an e-mail and attach links to your best work. Sounds simple, right? I thought so too.

Buuuuut, here’s what I see over and over:


Putting dead links to a writing sample in a submission e-mail seems to be happening at an alarming rate, mostly from younger writers – and I understand how it happens. You wrote a great article three years ago for Awesome Magazine Online or for your college paper or blog and you want me to read it. You’ve had the link saved on your desktop forever and when you saw that I was looking for writers, you pasted it in, thinking, “the editor is going to LOVE this piece.”

Unfortunately, Awesome Magazine went out of business, or changed how they archived their articles, or simply killed the link… Which means that when the editor clicks it, he gets nothing. And with an in-box full of submissions and a deadline looming, what are the odds an editor is going to take the time to write you about the dead link?

Please check to make sure the link is still live when you send it to an editor. But really, why is this even an issue? If you’re a writer in 2016 you should, at the very least, have a website with your name on it that has all of your writing. You don’t need to have a blog, you don’t have to do anything fancy, but you do need an online business card / portfolio that houses all of your content. That way you can send links from a site that you own and that you control.

I know, you killed yourself for the byline on or wherever and you want me to see it on that site so I get that you’re legit. Understood. But if you’re a writer you need to be playing the long game. Just put at the top of your piece that it originally ran on Big Time Site X and you’re covered. If I care enough, I’ll Google it.


This is inexcusable on every level. Do not send an introduction e-mail to me that doesn’t mention my publication and why you’d be a great fit. Flatter me a little bit. Tell me that either a) you’re a long time reader (only if it’s true) and that you’ve always wanted to write for us and this is a great opportunity… or b) be honest and say you only recently heard of our publication but after having spent several hours on the site and really enjoyed article X, Y and Z, you think you’d be a good fit because article Z is really along the lines of this feature you just did for publication AA, which got a great reception, etc…

Got it? It’s so easy. An intro like that can’t take more than 10-15 minutes to write. And honestly, you should have about 80% of it written as a template that you can then plug in the new information about the specific site, why you’d be perfect, etc…

If you can’t take the time to actually read the website or magazine that you want to write for, why on earth would an editor take the time to read your material? Voice, tone, topic, style… If you haven’t done your homework to sell me that you’re a good match, I’m not going to waste my time deciding if you’re a good match. Period.

I am positive that among the hundreds of submissions I’ve sent out over my career I’ve done both of these things a few times, so who knows how many jobs I didn’t get by being unprepared or naive or just dumb. The point of today’s piece is: don’t be careless.

Treat every submission like it’s the only one you’re sending out all week. Good luck!

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Jon Finkel is the author of Forces of Character with 3x Super Bowl Champion and Fighter Pilot Chad Hennings, Heart Over Height with 3x NBA Slam Dunk Champion Nate Robinson, as well as Jocks In Chief, the hit fatherhood book, The Dadvantage – Stay in Shape on No Sleep with No Time and No Equipment, and all twelve volumes in the Greatest Stars of the NBA book series for the National Basketball Association, which won several ALA Young Reader Awards.

As a feature writer, he has written for Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, GQ, Details, The New York Times,,, Yahoo! Sports’ and many more. His work received a notable mention in the 2015 Best American Sports Writing anthology.


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