feature writing

Following up with editors – a guide

By November 20, 2019 16 Comments

There are certain things that happen time and again when you’re freelancing. You pitch, you wait to hear back, you follow up. My attitude to following up has changed over the past few years. When I first started freelance writing I would put lots of energy into my pitches and then sit back and wait. I might send one email follow up if I didn’t get a reply, but more often than not, I would take the initial silence as a big, fat ‘no’. But you know what? Around 20% of my stories get commissioned after a follow up email. And there’s one new technique I use that is having such a big impact on my commission rate. Here’s my guide to following up with editors.

Following up with editors – a guide

It is so important to follow up with editors and clients. Yes, editors and content managers are incredibly busy people. And it doesn’t take long for their inboxes to fill up and for your carefully crafted email to be pushed off their screen.

But a simple follow up email, sent at the right time can be just the thing to get you a commission.

You’ve sent your pitch. Now what?

After you send your pitch

Well, hopefully you’ve got some kind of pitch tracking system in place that quickly tells you when you’ve sent off a pitch and when you should follow up.

In terms of the time you wait before you follow up – there are different opinions on that. If the pitch is time sensitive I follow up within 24-48 hours, but if it’s not I tend to follow up after a week.

I used to wait 10 days – 2 weeks before I would follow up, but recently I’ve started getting impatient and following up after just seven.

Why?

Because I think a week is long enough for an editor (unless they are away) to see, read and respond to an email.

I’ve met editors who have inboxes that reach 200 emails before lunch, so I understand that for some, my expectations are unreasonable.

But I also know that most editors I’ve worked with don’t mind a polite follow up email. And I also know that many editors know from a pitch’s subject line whether they’re interested or not.

What to say in your follow up email to an editor

It can be tricky to know how to word your follow up emails to editors, so below is a guide of what I say.

I always make sure my original pitch or query is in the body of my follow up email.

First follow up:

Hi [editor’s name],

I hope you are well.

I’m just checking in to see if my pitch below about XXX is of interest?

Thanks,

Lindy

TIP: I find that if I get more responses if I change the original subject line from:

Pitch: The surprising truth about eating organic food

to

Follow up to pitch: The surprising truth about eating organic food

 

Second and final follow up:

Hi [editor’s name],

I hope you are well.

I’m emailing to see whether you have had a chance to consider my pitch below.

I’m keen to write this story for [publication], but I know you are incredibly busy.

If you’re not interested, please don’t feel you have to reply – if I don’t hear from you by Friday, I’ll look to pitch it elsewhere.

Thanks,

Lindy

No reply? Here’s what to do

Some people will send more than two follow ups and may also send an email to let the editor know that they’re taking their pitch elsewhere.

Personally, if an editor has not replied after a pitch and two follows up, I’m letting it slide and pitching elsewhere.

I’m also not a fan of sending a ‘withdrawal’ email (and I’d never call it a withdrawal email – sounds kind of like you’re crabby).

If a miracle happens and the editor gets back to you and says they do want it after all (but after when you’ve said you’ll pitch it elsewhere), you can easily reply with “As I didn’t hear back from you after I followed up so I thought you weren’t interested and have placed this story elsewhere.”

I remember that once an editor replied to me 3 months after I’d sent her a pitch (and two follow ups). She asked if the story was still available. It wasn’t. She totally understood that I had pitched it elsewhere.

A new tip that really works

I’ve been travelling a lot for work lately and while I’ve always managed to get at least one commission before I go on the trip, I’m often waiting to hear back on some pitches.

Recently I’ve been trying a new follow up technique with some of my editors.

Before I go away I pitch a story idea about the trip.

If I don’t hear back, I tend to wait until after I’ve done the trip (or had the experience that I pitched) before I follow up.

Why?

Because in my follow up email I can give additional information about the experience and why I think the publication’s readers would be interested.

Following up after a famil or press trip

For example, in a recent email I said:

Dear [editor],

I just wanted to touch base with you about my pitch (in the thread below) about [experience] in [country].

The tour was this morning and it was amazing.

[Then I wrote 3 sentences about why the trip was so great].

After doing the tour, I think it would really resonate with your readers and would love to write it for you.

Look forward to hearing from you,

Lindy

The results

And you know what? I got an email 5 minutes later commissioning me.

I tried this method a few days later and bingo! Another commission.

It makes sense that editors, especially travel editors, are more likely to commission a story after you’ve been. Your pitch can include quotes, colour and information that isn’t always available before you go.

Following up with editors is a simple and effective way to increase your commission acceptance rate.

If an idea gets passed on, it also gives you a chance to tweak and improve it before you pitch to a different editor.

I really believe that following up is one of the lost arts of freelance writing. I think it’s time to revive it.

How do you follow up with editors? Do you have any tips?

16 Comments

  • Collette says:

    I’ve always struggled with the ‘withdrawal’ follow up, I worry that I’ll sound rude. Your examples are great, and if it’s ok with you I might use them as a guide.

  • Rosie Bell says:

    Hi Lindy,

    As always, this is exceptionally useful and to the point. Thanks again! Rosie Bell x

  • Hi Lindy, I found this post really useful. I was curious – with your time-sensitive posts, do you follow up in 24 hours, and then 24 hours after that for the second follow up? Or do you just do one follow up when you have a time-sensitive article and then move on?

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Thanks Kirsten 🙂 So with my time-sensitive pitches I tend to either let the editor know that because it’s time-sensitive I’ve also pitched to other publications (and first in best dressed) or if I have a little wriggle room in terms of time, I send a second follow up and say something like, "I know you’re busy so if I don’t hear from you by XXX I’ll assume it’s a pass and I’ll look to pitch elsewhere".

  • Linda Hansen says:

    What if the editor’s name is unknown? Other than that, great tips for following up on a pitch!

  • Hi Lindy,

    Thank you for your informative post. As someone who is just beginning to freelance, I found your advice extremely helpful.

    Quick question: If a pitch is not time sensitive, do you also wait 10 days to 2 weeks between your first follow up and your second (and final) follow up?

    Thank you,
    Ashley Jordan

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Hi Ashley, thanks for your message. That’s a good question. No usually with the second follow up I wait a week or so and then follow up because by then I’m usually keen to find out if I should move on and pitch it elsewhere. Hope that helps?

  • Dawn says:

    Hi Lindy, just wanted to say this post was SUPER useful. Sent an editor 1 follow up. Didn’t hear anything. Sent the second one which was a month from the initial pitch (was 90% sure I wasn’t going to hear back). Told the editor if I didn’t hear back in a week I’m assuming she’s not interested. And exactly 1 week later, I finally hear back and got the story commissioned! I was a skeptic about follow ups but now I’m a convert. Thanks Lindy!

    • lindyalexander says:

      Oh Dawn, that’s so great! I really think follow ups are a quick and simple way to maximise your chances of getting a commission. So glad that you got a yes.

  • Michaela says:

    This is a timely piece and a reminder that I need to follow up with an editor I pitched two weeks ago. Usually I am impatient and follow up much sooner, but I have been so busy I actually forgot about it, lol!

    • lindyalexander says:

      That’s not a bad thing! But yes, follow up – a yes is probably just around the corner. Nice to hear that you’re pitching again 🙂

  • Briar Jensen says:

    Great post, as always Lindy! I too note ‘follow-up to pitch’ in the subject line, which works well. One thing I take into account when timing follow-ups is whether the publication is weekly, monthly or quarterly. I usually leave follow-up for a quarterly a little longer than a weekly or monthly. Do you do that or not? Thanks, Briar

    • lindyalexander says:

      Thanks Briar. Oh yes, that’s a really good point about stretching out the time to follow up if it’s a less frequent publication. I do do that, but I must admit I tend not to pitch quarterly publications because of the time lag between submitting the story and payment!

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