Early in my freelance career, I spent countless hours brainstorming killer ideas for my dream publications, only to hit a brick wall when I realized I had no idea how to contact the editor. (This was before you could simply stalk them on Twitter, but that’s still a hit-or-miss strategy.)
Sometimes I’d resort to emailing the general submission inbox (pitches@____.com or editor@___.com, for instance), but often that felt like sending my carefully crafted pitch into a giant black hole. Other times, if the editor had a personal website (usually because she freelanced on the side), I’d email her there. That met with mixed results, because not everyone appreciates getting a work-related email in their personal account.
Here’s the thing: Many publications (and in-demand experts) make it deliberately difficult to find contact information for already overloaded employees. It’s understandable, but if the students in my freelance writing course are any indication, the practice results in regular frustration for many well-meaning freelancers.
Over several years of freelancing, I’ve amassed an arsenal of strategies for tracking down hard-to-find emails for editors, sources, and other important contacts. Here’s how to find contact info for almost anyone.
Do your homework
Online resources like MediaBistro.com and FreelanceSuccess.com have a wealth of editor names and contact information available for paying members. Oftentimes this is the easiest solution; just visit, search, and hopefully your quest for contact information will be completed.
The catch is that the information listed on these sites are often outdated. So don’t depend solely on these lists, as you don’t want to be send your pitch to the editor who was fired five years ago. Instead, try cross-referencing with other sources such as LinkedIn or a publication’s masthead before you hit send.
Find the email formula
Most large magazine publishing companies use the same email formula for staff, so as long as you know the person’s name, you can plug it into the formula.
Ed2010, for example, posted the email formulas for Hearst, Meredith, Time Inc., and others. If you’re trying to contact someone at a different company, you may find it easier to locate an email for an advertising or salesperson. Based on that email formula, you can make a reasonable assumption by substituting the name of an editor.
This doesn’t always work, but usually you’ll just get a “could not deliver” notification from your email service informing you of your incorrect guess.
Try online tools
Sometimes, though, you’ll send off a pitch to the wrong email, with no “could not deliver” notification to let you know your perfect pitch is now in no man’s land.
Tools like Anymail Finder and Verify-Email.org will ping a recipient’s email server to verify their email address for you. If you’ve plugged a name into an email formula and want to verify the email, you can try Verify-Email.org. With Anymail Finder, all you need to do is provide the person’s name and the website domain and it will tell you what is most likely to be their email address.
Both require subscriptions after a certain amount of uses, but unless you’re a PR professional who uses it a lot you can probably get away with using the free versions.
Don’t forget LinkedIn
LinkedIn can be a great source for finding an editor’s name or locating sources. Many approach the network with the idea that their profile may solicit potential job offers, so their contact information may be more readily available.
When you’re doing an advanced LinkedIn search, be sure to choose “Current” from the pull-down menu under the job or company field so that you filter out people who are no longer in that role or at that company. In some LinkedIn profiles, you’ll find a tab labeled “Contact Info” under the person’s name and title. Not everyone makes their email visible here, but I’ve come across a few editors who do.
LinkedIn also allows you to send up to 15 free one-to-one messages to fellow members of LinkedIn groups. If you’re in the same alumni group or special interest group as an editor or source and you can’t find their email elsewhere, LinkedIn’s internal communications system gives you another mode of contact.
And if you’re a Premium member, you can of course use InMail—though be aware that some editors may check their LinkedIn’s irregularly or may even be annoyed to receive pitches on the platform. Instead, ask them politely for their contact information (or if they’re okay with receiving a pitch on LinkedIn) so you can discuss a pitch in a more comfortable way.
If you’re truly stumped, you can ask other freelancers for help (either individually or on a freelance forum, listserv, or group), but never name-drop another writer to an editor without getting permission first.
Be ready to reciprocate when someone asks you to return the favor. If you’re the kind of freelancer who pumps others for information but keeps her own contacts closely guarded (within reason—you don’t have to open your entire Rolodex to everyone who asks), you may find that others are less wiling to help in the future.
If after all of these methods you still can’t find their contact information, it doesn’t hurt to (politely) ask someone at the publication to put you in contact with that person. In many cases, they’ll do it without a second thought, or they’ll ask the editor if they’re willing to hear from you. Many of my editor relationships originated though a personal referral—sometimes even unsolicited ones.
If the answer is still no, then pursuing it any further would be time better spent moving onto the next publication.