You’ve carefully researched the market, polished your query letter, and sent it into cyberspace. Now comes the hard part: waiting. Fortunately, many writers find that a tactful, well-timed follow-up can significantly boost their chances of landing the assignment.
Just ask Steph Auteri, a freelance writer, editor and career coach based in New Jersey, who says, “I’m pretty sure at least 70 to 80 percent of my assignments from stories I pitched were the result of following up.”
Tim Beyers, a Colorado-based freelance writer and financial analyst, agrees, adding that “even the [editors] who know you aren’t likely to respond to your first pitch. They could be handling any number of other assignments when your e-mail lands in their inbox. A quick follow-up can move your idea back to the top of their queue.”
Here’s how you can finesse your follow-ups and ensure that your query gets noticed—for the right reasons:
• Consider the market. Daily newspapers tend to jump on stories more quickly than monthly or quarterly magazines, so consider the market’s editorial cycle and time your follow-up accordingly. “For most Web publications and newspapers, I’ll only wait a week to follow up, as the news cycle is so much quicker,” Auteri explains. “With magazines, on the other hand, I’ll oftentimes wait three to four weeks.”
The timeliness of your idea is another consideration. If you’re pitching a breaking news story, your window of opportunity is narrower than if you’re pitching an evergreen topic (the kind of article that could run at any time and not feel outdated).
• Use phone calls carefully. Some editors hate phone calls, while others don’t mind it if you wow them with a great idea. I occasionally use the phone to follow up on a time-sensitive topic. Keep the call short and use the phone sparingly. Beyers generally calls around mid-morning in the editor’s time zone, because “it’s typically before big editorial meetings and stuff comes in to edit.” Sometimes you can get an editor’s extension by calling the main switchboard or checking her e-mail signature if you’ve already had an e-mail exchange.
• Make it easy on the editor. Don’t make an editor search for your original query. Instead, include it in your follow-up e-mail, along with a note. Auteri says she uses a message along these lines: “Hey there! Just following up to confirm that you received my pitch on BLANKETY BLANK BLANK. I’d love to hear what you think! I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks.” If you’ve uncovered new research or another juicy tidbit that will make your idea irresistible, include that in your note, too.
• Don’t be a pest. Some freelancers miss out on possible assignments because they’re afraid of bugging editors. Don’t let follow-up fear stand between you and your dream market! However, there’s a fine line between nagging and gently nudging, so strive for the latter.
As a part-time editor for YourTango, Auteri has experienced queries from the editor’s perspective, too. Her advice? “Don’t follow up mere hours—or a day— later, with a ‘didja get my query? do ya want it?’ e-mail,” she says. “Don’t follow up every single day. This … leads us to assume that you’ll be a high-maintenance writer to work with and, well, we’d rather not deal with that.”
• At some point, move on. Most veteran freelance writers can tell you a story about an editor who loved their idea—and promptly disappeared. Sometimes the editor resurfaces months (or years) later ready to offer that plum assignment. But sometimes after multiple follow-up attempts, you just have to move on to other markets.
In a situation where an editor expresses interest, then stops responding, Auteri says, “I don’t want to harass an editor, but I will follow up maybe once a week via e-mail. I’ll do this for a few weeks. No dice? I’ll send out that standard ‘I assume that you’re no longer interested’ e-mail. That way, I can create an e-mail trail that proves that I gave this editor every chance in the world to take on my story, and I can feel free to re-pitch elsewhere.”
It helps if you keep generating new ideas and don’t get too attached to one. “If you’re an idea factory, an MIA editor won’t bother you much,” Beyers says. “Besides, she may come back later with an unrelated assignment.”
Be courteous but persistent in your follow-ups, and you’ll be well on your way to securing new assignments.
Susan Johnston has contributed to The Boston Globe, Self magazine and other publications. She is also the author of an e-book, The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets. Web:www.susan-johnston.com.