Working as a freelance writer, teacher, and author for 35 years, I’ve found that it can be very difficult to get top agents, editors, and publishers to respond to cold pitches, unsolicited ideas, and job requests. Most often, a single email doesn’t catch their attention, so I’ve had to hone my follow-up skills in order to be successful.
These strategies aren’t necessarily specific to editors—they could be applied to anyone who is waiting for a response in any business.
Send a secret second round
Instead of officially announcing “I am following up from something I’ve already sent you that you haven’t responded to,” I sometimes wait a week and pretend I never sent anything. I e-mail again, deleting the “forward” so you can’t tell it’s been sent before. I do not add a note asking, “Did you miss this the first time?” I don’t know if my first try was missed or the person feels guilty they ignored it, but I’ve received many positive responses this way.
Butter up the boss
Most people, when they’re making a pitch, launch right into what they want. I research the person I’m pitching first, find something they have recently written, and e-mail, “I love what you wrote on the hurricane. Congrats. I wondered if you had a chance to look at my pitch.”
Say mazel tov
Next I look up the person’s company on social media, find something significant happening, and mention their good news, e-mailing, “Congratulations on the expansion of your section. How awesome. I wondered if you have time to take a look at my pitch yet.”
Several times after radio silence, I assumed it meant the higher-up I’d tried hated my work or pitch. Then I found out the real reason: The person I targeted was on maternity leave for four months. Another time, the one I’d emailed was fired. The staffer at a magazine I worked with watched her entire publication fold. A bigwig I’d loved working with took a bigger job elsewhere and never even received my email. So I started looking up submission and hiring guidelines and when I don’t hear back, I check Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and publication websites. Editors, managers and bosses often tell you their requirements, update their professional status, and mention vacations, sabbaticals, promotions and new jobs. This can be a good way to make sure they are still where they were and learn their rules, new titles and time frame.
Pull the e-mail chain
If the higher-up I am chasing has said something nice in the past or encouraged me to try again, I find our old correspondence. I include the last encouraging note she sent, with an updated cover letter, to subtly remind them we are not complete strangers and she liked my previous work.
Respond well to rejection
Once, a Cosmopolitan editor quickly rejected a pitch I sent her. Then a publisher friend at a small regional magazine liked the pitch and offered me one hundred dollars. After it came out, I sent the Cosmo editor a nice note starting, “Thank you for your prompt response to my last piece. It finally did find a home,” and linked the clip. The Cosmo editor shocked me by offering $500 to run the same piece they’d rejected. I guess it looked better in print, with artwork. It reminded me of when I was single and went to parties alone and no guys would check me out. When I walked in with a date, all of a sudden I was hotter. It never hurts to keep in touch with someone who is being responsive. Sincerely thanking someone for time and consideration might give you more to be thankful for.
After checking the one I want to reach is still in place, I usually follow up three times. If I don’t hear anything at all, I give up. Yes, it’s frustrating when I’m sure my latest political theory is perfect for The Wall Street Journal, as do one thousand other aspiring politicos each month. Now is the perfect time to rethink and re-strategize my pitch to send to someone else.
This article has been adapted from the book The Byline Bible.