How to Set Up a Freelance Master Doc to Keep Track of All Your Pitches

My pitch doc has kept me from missing deadlines, losing emails, and taking on too many (or too few) stories at once.

When I left the editorial world in the fall of 2021 to pursue freelancing full-time, I was certain that adjusting to my new day-to-day routine would be a cinch. After all, I’d done occasional freelance work on the side for years, and thanks to my experiences as both an editor and writer, I was so familiar with the pitching process that I’d even taught classes on it. That first week, wanting to start off strong, I sent out nearly two dozen pitches to outlets both familiar and new—and by the weekend, my inbox was so full of assignments, rejections, follow-ups, and introductions that instead of feeling confident, left me feeling really, really overwhelmed.

Although I considered myself to be an organized person, what I hadn’t expected about freelancing was just how many balls I’d be juggling in the air at any given time. Not only did I have to keep tabs on every pitch I sent out, but I had to remember which outlet(s) I’d sent it to, when I’d emailed them, when I’d heard back (if I even did), which ideas were being talked through versus assigned, which editor(s) I was working with, who had or hadn’t paid me yet… you get the picture. I quickly learned that to successfully stay on top of everything, I couldn’t just rely on my calendar or Notes app — I needed something way more precise. So, that first weekend, I opened up Google Sheets and started a new spreadsheet: my Pitching Master Doc.

Over the next several hours, I set about filling the base with info on every aspect of the process: brainstorming, pitching, writing, and publishing. I created individual sheets for categories like Sent Pitches and In-Progress Assignments, in addition to pages listing contact info for editors and publicists. I made a sheet for all my half-formed ideas (painstakingly collected from a chaotic mess of notepads and apps), as well as one for all my past, published stories. And I labeled each page clearly and concisely, so I’d never waste a minute figuring out where to find the info I needed.

By the end of the afternoon, I had a doc so comprehensive it’d be impossible for me to lose track of a single detail. The following week, I put it right to use. Whenever I sent out a new pitch, got an update on an old one, or took on an assignment, I immediately added the info to the spreadsheet. Having all the details in one place was hugely helpful, and it instantly took so much of the stress of freelance life away.

Now, over six months since I started freelancing full-time, I continue to use the doc religiously. It’s kept me from missing deadlines, losing emails, and taking on too many (or too few) stories at once, among so much else. I can’t imagine managing this career path without it—which is why I think that every freelancer should make their own version of the spreadsheet and reap the same benefits.

While I use Google Sheets for mine because of its ease, accessibility, and the simple fact that I’m used to working with it, you can use any program that lets you create and customize a spreadsheet. Excel is always a good choice, as is AirTable, and while I haven’t used Notion or Apple Numbers myself, I’ve heard positive things about both platforms. Jotform has a solid roundup of the best spreadsheet software options on the market, so if you’re not sure what to go with, peruse the list and check a few of them out. But really, as long as the tool you use has basic organizational functions and can be navigated without issue, the actual software doesn’t matter—it’s all about the content that goes in it.

Below, I’ve outlined the six elements I consider essential for any freelancer’s master doc, all of which are present in my own. This isn’t to say, however, that you can’t add more, or alter the ones I include here to fit your own needs. Your pitching master doc (or whatever you want to call it) is meant to be specific to you and your workflow; with so many different types of freelance careers possible, no writer’s base is going to look exactly the same. Take these suggestions and make them your own, whatever that means to you—or if you just want to copy what I have exactly, that’s totally fine too! It’s up to you.

Sent Pitches

The very first tab in my master doc is for all the pitches I’ve sent out that haven’t yet been picked up. It includes six columns: Pitch (just a short description), Category (i.e. reported feature, e-comm roundup, TV review, etc), Pub(s) Sent To, Date Sent, Date Followed Up (if needed), and Status. The last column is where I note things like if the pitch is in the discussion stage with an editor or if I need to send it to a new outlet after receiving a rejection from another. I’ll also use this column to note if a pitch is on pause for whatever reason, if I should step back and adjust the angle before sending it elsewhere, or if I’m in the process of negotiating the rate.

Here’s an example of how it all looks in my doc (albeit with a fake pitch, because I don’t need anyone stealing my ideas and also, #manifestation):

A screenshot of a single row of a spreadsheet that reads "Pitch: Taylor Swift Interview Pubs Sent to: W Magazine Date Sent: 3/2 Date Followed Up: 3/8 Status: Waiting on her reps to confirm Category: Celeb

Maybe one day, Taylor.

Assignments

The next tab in my spreadsheet is for assignments, aka stories that someone is nice enough to pay me to write! It has seven columns: Story (i.e. a short description), Publication, Editor, Rate, Deadline, Pub Date (if known), Status (i.e. unstarted, in-progress, complete, or in edits), and Draft Link. I used to not have that last column included and would waste precious time searching for the story link in my Google Docs or history, which was very dumb. I’ve learned!

Let’s keep going with the Taylor Swift example and show how this sheet would look if I was actually given the interview, as would happen in a fair and just world:

A screenshot of a single row of a spreadsheet that reads: "Story: Taylor Swift Interview Publication: W Mag Editor: Maxine Wally Status: In Progress Rate: 1000 Deadline: 3/15 Pub date: Early April Draft link: URL

(Note: while Maxine Wally is actually an editor at W, the rate is not based on any real info, just my imagination.)

Ideas

The third sheet in my doc is, to be honest, the messiest. It’s where all my unsent pitches and half-baked ideas live, as well as info on publications that are currently looking for pitches (often taken straight from Study Hall emails!). I don’t have any set structure for this sheet—it’s just a long, messy list full of non-sentences (“wedding pets?” “fidget thing?”) that make perfect sense to my extremely ADHD brain but probably to no one else. This works for me, but if that’s not your thing, here’s how I suggest organizing things instead.

First, set up a column that briefly summarizes your ideas. Then, set up another that’s for more thorough descriptions, with any necessary context. Next, add a third for any relevant notes, such as if you’re waiting to pitch it until a later time, if it’s tied to a product or pop culture release, or if it requires additional research and information you’re in the process of obtaining. And finally, add a fourth column (or row at the bottom, depending on how you set your sheet up) listing any outlets/editors you’re interested in writing for that are currently looking for pitches, so you can keep them front-of-mind when brainstorming or tweaking your ideas.

I’m not going to show you what my sheet actually looks like since, as said, it’s a garbage fire, but here’s a fake example of how it could look:

A screenshot of a few rows of a spreadsheet wit a few different pieces of information. The first row includes: "Idea: Eyeshadow review Description: Product review of new green eyeshadow from MAC Notes: pitch it closer to St. Patrick's Day." Another column includes "Pubs currently looking for Pitches: Glamour, personal essays, send by 3/31 Cosmo, fashion/beauty reviews and roundups"

(Again: not real, I don’t know what Glamour and Cosmo are looking for right now, I’ve never worn green eyeshadow in my life, etc.)

Editor/Pub Info

The next tab is, thankfully, far more orderly. Here, I list contact info for all the publications and editors I’ve worked with so far, as well as ones I haven’t worked with yet but hope to soon. It has five columns: Vertical (i.e. Entertainment, Lifestyle, etc.), Outlet, Speciality (i.e. Music, Op-Eds, etc.), Editor(s), and Email(s). The reason I put Vertical before Outlet is because when I have a pitch I want to send out, it’s way easier to scan the Travel section, say, and see all the options within there, versus search the whole page for specific publications that may cover not only travel but other content areas, too.

I don’t have a Notes column in my sheet, but if you wanted to add one (for, say, if an editor is someone you’ve worked with a ton, or if a publication pays especially well), you absolutely could.

Here’s a (real, because his info is publicly available) example from my doc:

A screenshot of a row of a spreadsheet which reads "Vertical: Entertainment Outlet: NYT Specialty: Movies Editors: Mekado Murphy Email: mekado.murphy@nytimes.com

(Please don’t spam him with pitches, though. Be kind!)

PR Info

The fifth sheet I include in my base has a lot in common with the one before, but with a slightly different focus. Instead of containing the contact info of editors and publications, it has contact info for publicists. Depending on the content you write about, you might not need this tab, but for many freelancers like myself who regularly find ourselves finagling interviews or working with brands, keeping track of PR contacts is an essential part of the job.

My version of this sheet has four columns on the top half: Celeb, Publicist Name, PR Firm, and Email, and then four similar columns underneath, with Celeb changed out for Company and PR Firm for Title. Like with the Editor/Pub Info sheet, you can also add a fifth column for notes, if you’d like, such as if they handle specific projects or if they’re particularly quick at returning interview requests.

Here are two (real) examples from my doc, one for a celebrity and one for a company. I’m not including the section for emails, though, because tracking those down (especially for celebrities) is hard and you can do it on your own, thank you very much:

A screenshot of part of a spreadsheet, containing the following information: Row 1 "Celeb: Emma Stone Publicist Name: Alexandra Crotin PR Firm: Lede Company" Row 2: "Company: HBO Publicist Name: Yoonie Yang Title: Director Media Relations"

Published Stories

And finally, the sixth and last sheet is for all the freelance stories I’ve ever published. When I first made my doc, it took a long time to track down the links and info for every freelance article I’d ever done, because I unwisely had previously not put them together in one place (don’t do this!). But once I managed to find them all and added them to the sheet, it felt incredibly satisfying to see just how much work I’d done over the years, how the rates had increased, and so forth.

This sheet isn’t just about patting yourself on the back, though. It’s actually the most helpful component of the whole doc, in my opinion, as whenever I need to quickly grab a few writing samples to include in a pitch to a new outlet, I can just go to this page and pick some off the list. I have it organized in seven columns: Title, Publication, Editor, Rate, Pay Status (i.e. paid or invoiced), Pub Date, and Link. I have it all organized by date (oldest to newest), but if you prefer to do it by category or publication, you could of course do that instead.

Here’s a real sample of mine:

A screenshot of a row of a spreadsheet, showing: "Title: 18 Essential Episodes of This Is Us Publication: Vulture Editor: Emily Heller Rate: 400 Pay Status: Paid Pub Date: 1/4 Link: [a long URL]"

And that’s it! If you follow these guidelines, it shouldn’t take you more than a few hours to set up your own pitching master doc. Trust me when I say that once you do, you’ll be beyond grateful for how much time and effort you’ve just saved yourself. Being a freelance writer is stressful enough as is; why not take a load off your back by creating a database that keeps all your hard work and ideas in one tidy, accessible place?