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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Common Freelancing Mistake #1: Dropping the Ball

This week we’re going to be talking about common mistakes both new and experienced freelancer make—and how to overcome them.

Years ago, I chaired the mentoring program at ASJA’s Annual Writer’s Conference, matching ASJA members who were experienced, successful freelancers with newer freelancers seeking career and publishing advice. I did my share of mentoring as well, and I’ll never forgot one “mentee” I met. He was an emergency room physician who wanted to freelance and had sent his first pitch to Outside. The editor didn’t assign the piece (the magazine was already covering the subject), but had been impressed with his writing and asked him to follow up with other ideas.

The writer never did.

Let me repeat—his first pitch as a freelancing was intriguing enough and well-written enough to spark interest from an editor at Outside—and he never did anything about it. That’s a mistake. A big one. He threw the door open with his first pitch, and then dropped the ball. (Puns intended.)

Failing to follow up is one of the biggest mistakes freelancers, especially new ones, make. You send a query to a potential market, and you hear nothing. After a reasonable time (say, four to eight weeks), follow up. Send a brief email that includes your original pitch, and ask if the editor’s interested in the idea. If so, great; if not, let her know (politely) that if you don’t hear from her in say, two weeks, you may market the idea elsewhere. That often triggers a response, and shows you’re serious about your business and marketing yourself.

After all, if you don’t bother to follow up on your own pitches, what kind of research job will you do if you get an assignment from the publication? Following up isn’t being a pest; it’s being professional. Follow up on every query and LOI in a reasonable time frame—you’ll get more results and be taken more seriously as a freelancer.

I follow up on queries and LOIs to new-to-me markets in four weeks; regular markets in two to three weeks. What about you? Do you have a follow-up rule of thumb?