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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Before you Sign on the Dotted Line: Contract Advice for Freelancers

You just received a contract from a market that's new to you. You flip to the signature page, sign your name, and return it immediately, right?

Wrong!

Don't rush to signed on the dotted line. While many writers simply accept the language in contracts they receive, you can negotiate better ones when you keep these strategies in mind:

• Read it! Believe it or not, many freelancers don’t read the contracts they sign—or they don’t read them closely. (I did this early in my freelance career—I cared about clips, not contracts.) Highlight anything you don’t understand, and if you have questions about what it means, gather more information and ask a lawyer or other freelancer for help.

• Ease the way. I never start a contract negotiation in a hostile manner. In fact, I express how much I appreciate the assignment and let the editor know I’m excited about it. Then I say something like, “but there are a few parts of the contract I’d like to talk to you about…”

• Guard your rights. Much of contracts are boilerplate, but some provisions can affect your bottom line if you’re not careful. Take exclusivity provisions. Many magazines ask for exclusive rights to a story for a certain period of time, say three or six months. But sometimes the provisions seek to prevent you from writing about a similar subject during that time for other publications. If you specialize, like I do, that may be a real problem. Read indemnification clauses carefully, too, to make sure you’re not signing on to insure the publisher if a lawsuit arises out of the story.

• Don’t give it all away—unless you have to. I’m often asked about all-rights contracts. Should you sign them? On principle, no. But I will sign them if the publisher is offering me enough money, and I don’t think I can reprint the story elsewhere. (I did sign them when I was starting out—remember, I wanted clips, connections, and experience and wasn’t as worried about contract issues.)

• Offer an alternative. If a contract asks for all rights, for example, suggest all rights for a limited time—say 90 days—or for first North American serial rights and electronic rights for a limited period of time. I’ve found that many editors are amenable to changes like this, especially when I’m willing to work with them to create an agreement that will make both of us happy

Sure, sometimes editors refuse to change their contracts, and then you have to decide whether to accept an assignment with the contract “as is.” But often editors are willing to make reasonable contract changes—if you’re willing to ask for them. So why not try?

Don't forget to tune in tonight for my free teleseminar on Six-Figure Freelancing...hope to "see" you on the call!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One More Thing about my Teleclass

I'll be making an announcement for those of you interested in learning more about ghostwriting...hint: after years of teaching face-to-face classes and speaking at writers' conferences, I'm going to make the jump to e-classes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Free Teleclass Coming Tuesday, August 31

You've read my blog...now hear me live via telephone on Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 8:30-9:30 p.m. ET (Note that this is East Coast time; please check for the correct time in your time zone. Also note that this is PM, not AM!)

My topic? Six-Figure Freelancing: Techniques to Help You Get There. Here's a teaser about the teleclass, brought to you courtesy of http://www.therenegadewriter.com/:

Want to hit the six-figure mark as a freelance writer--or simply make more for the writing you're already doing? Learn the techniques successful freelancers use to command higher rates, crack top markets, negotiate for more money, develop ongoing relationships with publications, and work more efficiently and productively in this jam-packed teleclass. Whether you're an experienced freelancer or new to the field, you'll come away with new insights about how to maximize your writing time and boost your bottom line in the process.

The conference number: 218-895-0763. **

Passcode: 2244#

**This is not a toll-free number. If you have unlimited long distance, you won't pay for the call, but if you pay for calls by the minute, it will appear on your bill.**

Here is the link where you can access the participant keypad controls: http://www.freeconferencepro.com/support.aspx. This will tell you how to mute the call, how to get help, and more.

If you're interested in taking part in the call, please e-mail Linda Formichelli of the Renegade Writer at lindaformichelli@gmail.com with "RSVP Kelly" in the subject line so she can get a rough tally of how many people to expect. (If you prefer to remain totally anonymous, that's fine too.) Don't worry if she doesn't reply to your RSVP -- if you send it, rest assured that you're in!

Hope to "see" you on the call! :)

From Contributor to Contributing Editor: Making the Jump

If you read my blog, you already know that I'm all about relationships, especially when it comes to my clients. I've worked with most of my current clients for years, many for nearly a decade. In addition to less formal arrangements, I've been a contributing editor at a number of magazines, and am currently a CE at Complete Woman, For the Bride, and The Writer.

What about you? If you're already writing for a publication, why not take the next step and become a contributing editor, or a freelancer with a recognized ongoing relationship with a magazine?

Contributing editor relationships vary. Some CEs have an agreement to write a certain number of stories for a certain amount of money each month; some write as many pieces as the editor needs for that issue; and others receive a retainer regardless of what they produce that month.

If you’re going to approach a market about becoming a CE, you should already have a good relationship with the publication. Consider the benefits to the editor about making you a CE so that you can make a strong argument in your favor. For example, as a CE, you’ll always be available for assignments, which will save them time and the hassle of looking for other writers. If you’ll come up with ideas for the editors, show how this will benefit her as well.

Whether you receive a retainer or are paid per story, there’s another plus to becoming a contributing editor. CE gigs tend to be a little more stable than simply writing for a magazine as a freelancer. In theory at least, you're more likely to get work from an editor before another writer does.

One drawback? As a CE, the magazine you work for may ask you not to write for its competitors. That’s the possible tradeoff to the relationship, but for most writers, it’s worth it. If you want the opportunity for steady work, a higher profile, and possibly extra cash, take a closer look at the markets you write for regularly—a contributing editor gig may be waiting to be discovered.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Turn a Rejection into Two Opportunities: The 24-Hour Rule

If you freelance for magazines, you use a query letter to get your foot in the door and introduce yourself to an editor. But you can't develop a relationship with an editor until you write an article for her. Right?

Wrong! When you employ what I call the “the 24-hour rule,” you can start a relationship with an editor even before you get your first assignment.

When I started freelancing fulltime 14+ years ago, I came up with the 24-hour rule to help keep me focused. Within 24 hours of receiving a rejection (what I call a “bong”) from an editor, I'd do two things:

First, I’d tweak the query and send it to another market (what I call a "resub"). That gets my query letter back "out there"--it won't do me any good sitting on my hard drive. Second, I’d send a new query to the editor who had rejected me, starting with language like, “Thank you very much for your response [not rejection!] to my query about women and weight-lifting. While I’m sorry you can’t use the idea at this time, I have another for you to consider.” Then I’d include my new query.

The 24-hour rule enabled me to transform each rejection into two new opportunities. It also kept my name in front of editors I was pitching, and hopefully impressed potential clients with my persistence and professionalism. Just as important, it eliminated the question of “what should I do now?” that I would have otherwise wondered about after receiving a bong. I didn’t get derailed by the rejection; I simply used it as opportunity to apply my 24-hour rule.

If you're not freelancing fulltime, the 24-hour rule may be too ambitious. But what about a 48-hour rule? A three-day rule? A one-week rule? Choose the timeframe that works for you and your schedule, and start looking at those dreaded bongs as opportunities rather than rejections—and a way to create a relationship with an editor that will lead to your first assignment for her.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Swim Like a Shark: The Time-Boosting Impact of TK

I’m going to let you in on one of my biggest time-saving strategies. When you're writing a first draft, I want you to swim like a shark.

If you've seen the movie Annie Hall, you may already know what I mean. There’s a scene near the end of the movie where lovers played by Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are on a plane, returning to Manhattan from Hollywood. Allen’s character realizes the relationship is over, explaining to Keaton: “A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

What does this mean for writers? Keep moving. Keep writing. Don’t let yourself get blocked or stopped while you’re writing a draft—you’ll lose valuable time, momentum, and motivation. Can’t think of the right word? Need to add a statistic, quote, or example? Use the old editor’s “TK” trick. If you get stuck, type the letters “TK” and keep going. The TK means “to come;” it’s basically shorthand for “fix this before we go to print.” Then, when you edit your initial draft, you can fix the TKs. (The letters TK don’t appear together in any word in English, which makes it easy to locate them by using the “find” function in Word.)

Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser novels, used to say, “I can’t edit a blank page.” Get the words down. Write what Anne Lamott would call a shitty first draft. Just get the words on the screen—you can fix it and clean it up and make it beautiful later.

My shark-swimming tendency makes me a faster draft writer, and for me, the first draft is the hardest part of any piece of writing. Ease up on your perfectionist tendencies, if you have them, and just keep writing—and swimming. You’ll boost your productivity and your bottom line.

p.s. Did any readers notice that my last post, on writers’ mistakes, was about mistake #4? It should have been #5...I've corrected it. You’ve got to appreciate the irony!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Freelance Mistake #5: Missing a Deadline

Back to freelance mistakes...today's is missing a deadline.

Several years ago, one of my regular editors called me with an emergency. She needed a 1,500-word story turned around in just a few days. Why? She'd originally assigned the story to a freelancer she'd worked with before. Well, the writer never turned in the piece ... and never returned the editor's calls or emails. Ever! I don't know what happened to this writer (I do know she was still alive), but I know she'll never work for my editor again. Regardless of what happened, she could have called or sent a quick email to the editor to tell her she couldn't complete the assignment rather than dodging her calls.

Don't be this writer. Don't blow a deadline.

In 14+ years of freelancing, I've never missed a deadline—for one simple reason. I've never taken on a deadline I couldn't meet! Meaning—I will (and I must) turn down work when I know I won't be able to complete it in the time allowed. Before I accept an assignment, I always make sure that I've built in enough time to research and write the article or book—and I assume that each step of the process will take a little longer than planned.

The first step to making every deadline is to ask for more time than you think you'll need to complete the project. Next, get started on the background research, including identifying potential sources, as soon as possible. You can't interview your sources until you know who they are—and the earlier you get cracking on this essential aspect of researching the topic, the better.

If a problem develops along the way, don't wait until the last minute to let your editor know. For example, with a recent story, I was having trouble reaching an essential source. I called my editor, and explained the situation. She told me to "keep trying," but agreed to push the deadline back a few days if necessary. After more than a half-dozen more calls, I was finally able to rope him into an interview. Happily, I made the original deadline—but I had more time if I'd have needed it.

Get up early, stay up late, miss sleep if you have to. But if it's becoming clear that you absolutely are not going to make a deadline, let your editor know as soon as you do. Offer her some alternatives. Can you finish the piece if she gives you an extra couple of days? An extra week? If that's not possible, can you at least hand over your research or suggest another writer who can easily step up and take it over? You've screwed up, so address the issue and be as helpful as you possibly can be. With luck and professionalism, a missed deadline won't mean a broken relationship as well.

What about you? Have you been faced with a deadline you couldn't meet? How did you handle it?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Counting the Minutes: Why you Should Track your Time

Your biggest asset as a writer is your time, but most freelancers have no idea of how they spend theirs. And if you don't know how you're spending your time, you don't know what your average hourly rate is, which is a strong indicator of your productivity.

Consider this: you accept an assignment that pays $500. Say you spend 10 hours researching and writing it. You make $50/hour on that piece. But if you wind up spending 20 hours researching the story and another 15 writing it, you’re making less than $15/hour!

That’s why I suggest newer freelancers create a timesheet for each of their assignments. Each time you work on the piece, make an entry on it, like so:

Assignment: IGA profile ($600/1200 words, due April 20)

Date/Task/Time (in hours)

April 4/Background research/1.5
April 6/Research & arrange interview/1.0
April 9/Interview & transcribe notes/1.75
April 12/Draft story/2.0
April 14/Revise draft/0.75
April 15/Proof & turn in/ 1.0

My timesheet reveals that I spent 8 hours on this relatively simple one-source piece. That means I made $75/hour—not bad. If I have to revise the piece, I’ll add the time on, which brings my overall rate down. (If I had pitched this idea, I’d include query-writing time as well as that is part of the "cost" of the assignment.)

Use this method to track your writing time. (Software like Traxtime makes it even easier.) You'll soon discover which assignments are most lucrative—and which take more time than they're worth.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hate Query Letters? Five Reaons to Write Them

Novice freelancers often despair over queries, and I understand why. It can take a lot of time and work to pitch an idea that may ultimately be rejected, but a well-crafted query increases your odds of getting an assignment, especially with a market that’s new to you. But there are other advantages to querying as well:

• It focuses your idea as you come up with the appropriate angle for the story. As you flesh out your query, you may come up with other approaches you hadn’t considered—which can lead to reslanting possibilities where you query other markets with different approaches to the subject, maximizing your time.

• It forces you to do background research—unless you’re pitching a subject you’re already well-versed in. What's that? You’re not thrilled about the idea of having to do research before you even sell the idea? Well, consider that that research lets write a better query—and talk intelligently about the topic when an editor calls you. And once again, thorough research is also likely to lead to other possible story ideas.

• It gets some of the writing out of the way. Often, the lead to your query winds up as the lead to your story. As you work on the query, you’re envisioning the piece in your mind—including what structure it will take and who you plan to interview. When you get the assignment, you’re not starting from scratch. A lot of the work is already in the bag.

• It improves your writing. Most freelancers start out with vague, poorly focused queries. As you write more queries, though, your skills improve, and that bleeds over into the articles you write as well.

After 14+ years of fulltime freelancing, I no longer dread queries. Instead, I look at each one as an opportunity to focus my idea and clarify my approach to the topic. If the editor wants something different, I’m happy to comply, but if she assigns the piece, I’ve already accomplished much of the background work for the story. And most of the time, one of the trickiest parts of the article—the lead—is already written!

Approach each query not just as a sales opportunity, but a way to maximize your time, clarify your approach, and improve your writing skills. Over time, pitching ideas can do all of those things and more. And remember I have dozens of query samples in each of my books on successful freelancing, Ready, Aim, Specialize! and Six-Figure Freelancing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The State of Freelance Income: A Continuing Look

I'm happy to report that freelancers are still contributing to my ongoing survey of freelance income. I'd love to collect more responses (the more responses, the more accurate the survey), so if you haven't done so already, please visit http://www.kwiksurveys.com/online-survey.php?surveyID=KNMIOF_cdf53ce4&UID=2614948357 to share your data. And please ask other fulltime freelancers to do so! It will take you 3 minutes or less, is completely anonymous and will give freelancers more info about the state of the market these days. And if you've already participated (or are about to do it this minute!), thank you! :)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Question: How do you Write a Quiz? Answer: Read this Blog Post

While I've written and published just about everything (articles, books, essays, and novels, to name a few), I'm primarily a service journalist. Most of my writing is about how and why to do something--think easy ways to get more veggies into your diet, how laughter can make you healthier, and how getting more active can also improve your sleep habits.

But even I get burned out on taking the same old, same old approach to topics. That's why I write a lot of quizzes and use them either to start an article or as a sidebar. Quizzes can be a fun change from the typical service article, and they’re simpler to write than you might think. In addition, editors love them—they’re a popular way to test readers’ knowledge of a subject and to share information in an accessible, often entertaining format. And they add the essential interactive element for online markets.

Once you’ve chosen the subject matter of your quiz (for example, “what’s your money personality?”), consider the length and format of the quiz. Will it be a multiple choice, for example, or true/false? Also determine whether the quiz will be the main feature of the piece, or an accompanying sidebar.

As with any other nonfiction article, you’ll have to conduct background research, interview experts, locate relevant studies, statistics and the like before you begin writing. The more you know about the subject you’re covering, the stronger the quiz will be. As you research the subject, keep a running list of possible questions and answers—this will make it easier when you it’s time to draft the questions.

When it comes to writing the questions, here’s a tip I figured out early on: if you’re writing a self-assessment quiz (e.g., “test your sex IQ”), order the answers so they correspond with the categories you’ll eventually break down the results into—for example, all “A” answers correspond to “Wild Child,” all "B" answers correspond to “Hot and Heavy,” and so on. Or you can assign points to answers (4 points for every A, 3 points for every B, etc.) and have readers tally their scores after taking the quiz.

Finally, write the quiz key, which conveys information to the reader. If you’re writing a self-assessment quiz, the key should offer specific advice and tips geared to the different categories you describe; if it’s a quiz testing a reader’s knowledge of a subject, make sure you include an explanation of each correct answer.

Writing quizzes isn’t rocket science, and magazine editors appreciate freelancers who can enliven evergreen subjects with these kinds of interactive elements. It’s one more way to help set you and your work apart from the other freelancers out there.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Freelance Mistake #4: Skipping the Proof

Truth be told, I'm a bit embarrassed to share this mistake...but since I just committed it, I figure it's timely.

I had a book deadline today. And I met it...with four hours to spare. But I worked all weekend to make that happen. I finished the final draft on Friday, and printed it out. I knew the manuscript was in great shape, and considered skipping the proof--after all, I'd edited and proofed each chapter as I was writing it. My conscience and my ego battled for a bit--I knew I should proofread it, but hey, I knew I'd done a great job. And I was sick of looking at it, you know?

Fortunately, my conscience won, and good thing...when I read through the manuscript word for word, I found mistakes. A lot of them--all minor, but mistakes nonetheless. I also discovered, reading aloud, that I had used the word "typically" over and over...and included the phrase "get your foot in the door" nine times. (So apparently I typically like to get my foot in a lot of doors!) Seriously, proofing the mansucript word for word and then inputting those changes took me another 11 hours or so...but it was well worth it when I finished.

Don't rely on a cursory read-through before you turn something in, be it an article, essay, or a query letter. Print it out and read it aloud--you'll be surprised at how much more you catch when you "hear" the words, not just read them.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Break from Mistakes: A Rule of Thumb for Word Count

We'll return to freelance mistakes next week, but today's post is about a common question I hear from newer writers--how close do you get to word count must you come when you write an article?

Here's the scenario: you’re finishing up your killer 800-word piece, and you’re thrilled with your work. After all, you’ve written a scintillating lead, addressed all the issues your editor wanted you to cover, included insightful quotes, and wrapped the piece up with a strong close. You’ve pruned every unnecessary phrase and extraneous word, but the story is still running long—at 862 words. What do you do?

In this case, nothing. While there’s no set standard in the publishing industry, the basic rule of thumb for word count I use is 10%. That means a story can be 10% over or under the assigned word count without worrying about it.

Of course I’m going to get as close to assigned word count as possible. I love turning in a story that's been assigned at 1,000-word story at 999, 1002, or even 1000 words. (Truth is, hitting the exact word count gives me a thrill! Sad, I know.) But that 10% bumper means I don’t fret if a story is running a little long. (If it's coming in at more than 10% over, then it’s time for some judicious editing.)

However, in 14+ years, I have never turned in a story that was 10% short on words. First of all, I always have more than enough for the piece, and second, an editor is bound to think you didn’t do your job if you didn’t use every word she’s paying for.

Instead of tearing your hair out over an extra 20, or 30, or 90 words, try the 10% word count solution. It may give you the flexibility you need to write a strong piece without sacrificing a critical element in the name of brevity.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Freelance Mistake #3: Failing to Market

What's the mistake to discuss today? Failure to market...or failure to market enough...or failure to market consistently.

You don’t have power over the amount of work that's assigned to you, but you do control how much time you spend pitching ideas and marketing yourself. The tricky thing is that when you’re swamped with assignments, it’s all too easy to stop querying . . . only to find that a month later, you’re completely caught up and have no new work coming your way. (Alas, I'm living this firsthand and it's my own fault. I've spent the last two months engrossed in researching and writing Goodbye Byline, and guess what? I'm close to finishing the book, but am looking at few assignments at the moment, which means I'm going to have a lousy fall money-wise unless I bust my marketing butt immediately.)

So, do as I say, not as I'm doing at the moment. One of the techniques I’ve used to help ensure a steady stream of work is mentally dividing assignments into three categories: work that’s been completed and accepted (and for which I’m awaiting payment); work that’s been turned in but hasn’t been approved by the editor or client yet; and assigned work that I still have to research and write. I then try to maintain a certain amount—say, $5,000—in each category at any given time. (The more you want to make, the more that amount should be.)

Let's call these categories A (work that I'm awaiting payment on), B (work that has been turned in but needs client approval), and C (work I still have to do. If I’m looking at $6,000 worth of work in category A, and another $5,000 in category B, that’s great, but if I only have a $2,000 assignment in category C, I know I need to get cracking to line up some more assignments or my checkbook will look pretty thin a couple of months from now.

Get the idea? Market aggressively, market frequently, market consistently--or your freelance business will suffer. Now I've got to sign off--and follow my own advice.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Freelance Mistake #2: Forgetting What your Client Wants

Welcome back...we're talking common freelance mistakes this week.


I have a client I syndicate content for. She publishes small custom magazines, and relies on me to provide her with articles in specific areas. I have a number of freelancers I work with who provide me with a list of their relevant stories. I keep a master list of what's available and provide it to my client. She chooses the stories she wants, I request the stories from the relevant writers, check them over, send them on to my editor, and take care of paying the writers. It makes me valuable to my client and has resulted in a lot of reprint sales to my stable of freelancers.


But here's the thing--my client is only interested in articles of 750+ words. When soliciting for writers (I have plenty right now but will post here when I need more writers), I was very specific about that. So I was disappointed when my client asked for several stories from a writer I hadn't worked with before. When the writer sent them in, I discovered they weren't anywhere close to 750 words. I couldn't buy them as my client couldn't use them...and yet the writer had listed them at 750 words on her story list. Not cool--especially when you can see the word count of a manuscript at the bottom of an open Word document!


I won't buy from her in the future--I have several dozen writers who will give me exactly what I need, and I don't have time to work with people who won't. And that's the mistake I'm talking about--ignoring (or forgetting about) your client's specs. Before you turn a story in, double-check your assignment and make sure you're giving her what she asked for in terms of subject, sources, tone, word count, and format. Make her happy and she'll make you happy--with repeat assignments.

By the way, in a future post I'll talk about word count...how close you need to get and a simple rule of thumb for freelancers. Stay tuned!


Big News for Would-Be Ghostwriters, Coauthors and Collaborators

It's time to announce my big news, at last!

What do Hillary Rodham Clinton, David Beckham, Donald Trump, Naomi Campbell, and Clay Aiken have in common? They’re all well-known, and they’re also all book authors—authors who used ghostwriters. In addition to the estimated 80% of celebrity-authored books which are ghostwritten, the market for ghosts and collaborators is broad and growing. Publishers, agents, book packagers, individuals, subject matter experts, and corporations all hire ghostwriters.

Yet often even experienced writers know little about this lucrative area of freelancing—ghostwriting and collaborating on books. Typical book projects start at about $10,000, with many paying in the mid-five-figures, and once you’ve established yourself as a ghost, it’s easy to market yourself to potential clients. (Three out of four of my last projects all came through word-of-mouth referrals.)

Intrigued? Want to know more about this lucrative field? Then you'll want to read my new book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks! The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books, which will be in print October 15, 2010. Just as Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money shows readers how to suceed as self-employed writers, Goodbye will help you launch a thriving ghostwriting business. You'll learn what skills are essential, what kinds of clients hire ghostwriters, how to find clients, negotiate fees, work efficiently, and address problems that can arise in the ghostwriting/coauthoring process. If you're a book author who wants to make more money, or you want to expand into a lucrative area, you'll want to read this book.

I'll remind readers when the book is available. Can't wait until then, or want one-on-one advice from me? I'm teaching a ghostwriting class starting September 13, 2010, through RenegadeWriter; check out http://www.therenegadewriter.com/new-renegade-writer-classes/#kelly for more info about the class and the other excellent courses RW offers.

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?