How Do Editors Really Feel About Follow-Ups?By Susan Johnston Taylor October 21st, 2016
Most freelance writing advice will tell you to follow up on a pitch if an editor doesn’t respond. Editors get a ton of email, not just from freelancers but from colleagues, publicists, photographers, and others, so it’s easy for your idea to slip through the cracks the first time.
But how do editors really feel about follow-ups? And how soon is too soon?
We talked to editors at three very different publications—Fresh Cup, GOOD magazine, and SheKnows—to get their takes.
Don’t be accusatory
It’s generally a bad idea to broadcast your impatience or desperation when following up.
“If a freelancer sends me a message that is clearly impatient—’Hello? Are you gonna look at this?’—that is an immediate turnoff,” said Cory Eldridge, former editor at Fresh Cup, a magazine that covers specialty coffee and tea. “Even if it’s a good idea, I’ve been spooked away from it because the person doesn’t seem like someone I’m going to be able to work with.”
Eldridge sees this problem more frequently with freelancers who work primarily on the digital side of publishing. “Online happens a lot faster,” he said. “Sometimes an article might not go to print for several months—that’s just the nature of a print publication. There is finite space, there’s only going to be so many features or stories for a particular section in any given month.”
Unless you have a friendly relationship with an editor, broadcasting your anxieties in follow-ups never helps your case.
Include your original pitch
Give the editor context by resending your original pitch with a reminder note above it.
“If I missed it the first time, it may have gone to spam or may not be in my inbox at all, so this saves me having to ask you to re-send,” explained Jeanne Sager, parenting and living editor at SheKnows, a lifestyle site for women. “It also makes it a lot easier for me to review and give you a yes.”
Timely ideas should get a swifter follow-up than a story that could still run six months from now.
“If something is breaking news, I’d encourage you to be forthright in your expectations, and to clearly delineate your expectations on follow-up time in your initial email right down to the hour,” said Katie Wudel, articles editor at GOOD magazine. “And if an editor doesn’t get back to you within your stated constraints, you’re free to pitch elsewhere.”
For pitches that aren’t time-sensitive, Wudel suggests waiting between one and two weeks.
“If you’re following up more than once or twice, I suggest you have something new to add,” she said.
Sager said it’s okay for writers to follow up multiple times. “I just ask that writers give me some time between those emails. Usually that second email is all that I need. Often a first pitch is simply missed in an inbox that’s overflowing. When a second pitch is ignored, however, it may be that the editor is busy with a certain task.”
Step away from the phone
If you don’t hear back via email, be careful how you pursue different means of communication. All three editors had the same preference when asked about freelancers following up with a phone call: Don’t do it.
“I really don’t like being cold-called on the phone,” Sager said. “It feels very sneaky.”
Eldridge agreed, saying, “you’re probably going to catch me at a moment where I’m not thinking about [your pitch].”
Checking back over social media, however, is a bit more palatable.
“Hitting me up on Twitter with a quick ‘Hey, did you get my email?’ is totally okay,” Sager said. “It gives me a chance to sneak a peek at your social voice, and I might end up following you.”
Once you’ve established a relationship with the editor, the way you communicate could evolve beyond email.
“There was a time when I was working with a reporter on the ground during the recent coup in Turkey. Her web-based internet went down so all our communications took place over Facebook message, as her cell phone data still worked,” Wudel said. “She sent her story draft via Facebook. This was, of course, totally fine.”
Remember: Even if it takes editors a while to respond, they still want freelancers with great ideas.
“We’re on the same team,” Wudel said. “I want to create something cool that will fit in with my publication’s editorial vision. I’m sure you want to do work you’re excited about too. Let’s get excited. Let’s exchange ideas. Let’s push each other to be better and smarter about what we put out into the world.”Image by Getty Images