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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?


  1. Great post! I follow up with most markets, new to me or not, in two to three weeks. I keep a Gmail folder called "Follow up," and every week or so I go through it and follow up on the queries and LOIS I haven't heard back on.

  2. Love the follow up folder idea. That would help with keeping track. I think I'm good at following up on queries, but need to improve on pitching a new idea after a response while I'm fresh in the editor's mind.
    Also, have to admit, follow up is maybe that's why some people don't do it.

  3. I had to send an email with several ideas in it MULTIPLE times because the editor said she kept not receiving it (though she received my emails asking if she received it) It finally got through on like the- 8th try? Now have sent follow-up twice and no reply and I don't have any way of knowing if she received it! At what point do you just CALL?

  4. Hi, Anonymous...

    First, I'd suggest you include the query itself in your follow-up--that way if she receives your follow-up, she receives your query. Second, I would have called at the third try or so. Just keep in mind that most editors abhor phone calls (especially from writers they don't know), so I try to keep calls to a minimum.

    Just my $0.02. :)

  5. Thank you! I've written for this magazine before- more than once-and it's just a matter of it being for a newly appointed editor. I did include the query in the follow-up. Maybe it's too early for them to have decided. Or she thought my ideas sucked (????)

  6. When I realized how few editors were replying to my LOIs and queries this summer, I instituted Follow-Up Fridays. Whether it's once a month or every Friday, I see go through my records to see which of my letters, e-mail, or calls have not been responded to within the past month, and send follow-up e-mails. Not everyone replies to the follow-ups either, but it demonstrates my professionalism and ability to follow things through.

  7. I love the Follow-Up Fridays idea, Paula! Very smart. (I have "Friday Fun Days" with my five-year-old but it's not quite the same thing.) :)

  8. Kelly,
    I'm back to report that maybe my follow up is not what I thought it was. Immediately after reading this post, I did what you said and sent a brief email to all editors I had not heard from in a month. Here are the results:
    13 editors responded
    5 said no
    4 are still considering the piece
    3 wanted it and had just failed to let me know!
    and one said, "Thanks, but we get so many writers' queries, it's difficult to answer them all." Whatever that's supposed to mean.
    I also want to report that one of them was a magazine I've written for many times and they never received my query because they changed their email address. Another ball dropped but retrieved.
    Now, my follow up antennae are up!
    Thanks so much!

  9. Thanks, Carol! Nice work--so far, you're looking at close to a 25% success rate...and that will be higher if any of the four editors considering your work say yes! I think you've already proven my point about the necessity (and potenial payoff!) of following up! :)