Looking for work is an integral part of freelance writing, something that should be part of your daily routine. If you’re not pitching and following up with those pitches, you won’t last long. The follow-up pitch is the more pernicious of the two because you’ve already invested time in constructing a pitch and now, hold up, you have to go back?
But the pitch was so good, it was so heartfelt. How could it be ignored?
Shelve the indignation. This profession is built on neglect, rejection, prioritizing, and an inadvisable amount of caffeine. Here’s what to do and how to do it.
Wait a couple of days.
Editors are looking for stories, but that’s not all they’re doing. Unless the piece is extremely time-sensitive – a blog post about the Trump administration’s latest lie or a movie’s box office performance, let’s say – give the editor at least a few days to respond.
That time is also for you. When you have a great idea for a story, you want to share it with the world. Your mind hums with the energy of discovery. That can be overpowering. You need to operate from a place of practicality, so you can write your follow-up without sounding desperate or overeager. Save the passion for the story.
It’s better to err on the side of formality than to cross over into the brand of faux familiarity reserved for bad salesmen and good morning show DJs. Start with “Dear.” Use “Mr.” or “Ms.” (If you’re not sure of the editor’s gender, use the first name, or find their bio.) Can the jokes about the Monday blahs or what you think about the Met Gala. Nobody cares.
Think of follow-ups as shopping on Christmas Eve: Get in and get out. Your message should be two or three short paragraphs – tops – reminding the editor what your story covered and why it would work for their publication.
Here’s an example of a follow-up email to an editor:
Dear Mr. Ravioli:
How are you?
A few days ago, I sent you a pitch about Sister Pop N’ Lock, the breakdancing 95-year-old nun from Bethesda, Maryland, who will be a featured dancer on MTV’s reboot of The Grind in January. I just wanted to see if you received my email and clips and if you had any interest in a story.
Again, a feature about Sister Pop N’ Lock would provide the color and nuance readers of Nuns Having Fun have come to enjoy. If you have any questions or requests, please don’t hesitate to let me know. My contact information is listed below. Thank you very much. I look forward to hearing from you.
Don’t send a separate email.
Include the original email so the editor can easily refer to what you’re describing and doesn’t have to sift through spam or deleted messages.
Let it go.
You’ve sent your follow-up email, and you have heard…nothing. Now what? Cry? Fill out law school applications? Call mom?
You might want to try a final quick hit a week later. I wanted to follow up with you one last time before moving on… After that, rework that pitch for another outlet. (My record number of attempts in finding a story a home is, I think, five.) There is no such thing as one true home for a story. The best home is the one with the editor who devotes the most energy and time to enhancing your words and gives you the best rate. The writing is the thing. The outlet is immaterial.
But let’s say your original target outlet is the Tom Hanks to your Meg Ryan. You keep at it until the editor finally accepts the pitch. Celebrate all you want, but you are already in a position of weakness. Editors, like everyone else, are not saints. If you get the wrong one, they’ll use your eagerness as leverage, treating you as stallion that needs to be broken to suit their benefit.
Consider this for a moment: maybe don’t deal with the person who considers a polite email from you to be a massive inconvenience, who can’t be bothered to reply “yes” or “no.” A publication does not define your professional and personal worth. If it does, perhaps you need to (re-)watch The Devil Wears Prada.
It’s never personal.
An editor who doesn’t respond to your pitch doesn’t hate you. They’re either still whittling their to-do list down to double digits or have no interest. Just because the story is important to you does not mean it’s important to them. And that’s OK. Pitching is an elimination game. Now you can move on to the next option.
For the love of all that’s holy, don’t write to the editor demanding a response.
Nothing blows a bridge to future publication to smithereens quicker.
Time is your ally.
The longer you do this, the easier it gets to handle the slights and focus on the bigger picture. I have freelanced since 2006, and I’ve submitted countless pitches. I have been ghosted by strangers. I have been ignored by people I know. I have been neglected from outlets big and small. I stopped living and dying with each pitch years ago. As a freelance writer, you’re running a business. And you can’t do your job while pouting or pining.
Freelancing is about moving ahead. You don’t have the luxury to obsess. Moving on to another assignment or doing something else in support of your business – preparing taxes, ordering office supplies, wrapping up another story – is not just advisable but necessary. You must do something to keep yourself sane and solvent. Holding on to the past doesn’t pay the bills or feed your soul. It holds you back.
Veteran freelance writer Pete Croatto (Twitter: @PeteCroatto) is working on his first book for Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.