The 5-Minute Freelancer Q&A #14 – Lyndsie Bourgon

In this regular feature, Story Board asks Canadian writers to share a few details about their work habits and their strategies for navigating the ups and downs of freelance life.



1. What’s the most important thing you’ve done over the years for professional development?

I took a feature writing course at Ryerson and that was really helpful for me. Because most of my assignments were shorter pieces for various magazines. They were all under a certain word count. I knew that I wanted to go longer and I needed some guidance in how to write a long pitch. And I just got back from doing a residency at the Banff Centre and that was really helpful, as well. So I guess I’d say I’ve enrolled myself in lots of different opportunities to learn from other freelancers and other writers. Also, in 2012, I left Toronto and I did some travelling. I went to Haida Gwaii BC and then I moved back to Calgary and that was actually really helpful for me just because there were a wealth of story ideas elsewhere and not as many people to cover them.

I think I’ve had a good balance. I went to Toronto and met a bunch of editors and I did some good work for them. But it was also really important for me, I think, to have ideas that were not stemming from there.


2. A lot of writers are saying lately that it’s harder than ever to get editors to respond to queries. What’s your routine for following up on queries?

Usually if it’s a regular time of year, if there’s no holidays or anything I know of coming up, I’ll wait two weeks, unless it’s particularly timely. And then I’ll follow up. And then I’ll wait two weeks again and then I’ll follow up. And I usually only do it twice. Sometimes I’ll do it three times, just because you never know if they’re actually going to get back to you.

So if you haven’t heard back after the second time do you let them know you’re withdrawing the pitch?

No I don’t let them know. I just figure if you’re not going to email me back and say no, I’ll take it elsewhere. If it’s someone who I’ve worked with before, they will at least always be respectful enough to get back to me after the first or second follow up. And if it isn’t someone that I’ve worked for before, I don’t worry about it.


3. What’s your strategy for getting over a non-answer or a rejected pitch?

It depends on how much work I’ve put into it or if it’s a story I really want to do. If it’s something that I’ve put a lot of time into, I probably have a few places in mind where I’m going to pitch it next. So I’ll just re-tool my query a little bit and send it off. I don’t really get discouraged by that because I know there are a lot of reasons why people don’t take stories. I’ve had a lot of dead ends, too, and I guess I find it easy just to move on, or I’ll work on it a bit on my own and see where it takes me.

For lack of a better term, it’s just about having a thick skin. Unless there’s a particularly catty response saying it’s a bad idea, I don’t usually worry too much about it.

And most editors are very good at telling you why they don’t want it, I’ve found. And it’s usually that they’ve either run something similar or someone’s already working on something like it or something like that.


4. What are your thoughts on the issue of writing for free? Is there ever a situation when it makes sense for a writer to do it, and if so, when?

I wrote for free a lot when I was in school. And I wrote for free when I had a day job. And I have not written for free since I’ve been freelancing full time. But you know what, I’ve written almost for free. It’s such a tough thing. I think [freelancers] understand that there are some very good national publications who just don’t have any money. And so they pay you very, very low. And to me it’s still worth it to write for them because they run really good writers, and they have really good editors and therefore it’s still worth it. And maybe it’s a story that only they can run. So when I’m balancing it out, that’s kind of what I [consider]. If the name of the publication is big enough to support what you’re not going to earn through a cheque… I find that more understandable than publications that you know could pay you more than a certain amount but they’re not going to. I find that, in a sense, a bit more insulting. But no, I don’t write for free. I haven’t in a very, very long time.


• Lyndsie Bourgon is a Calgary-based freelance writer whose features have been published in Slate, The Walrus, Canadian BusinessMaclean’s, the Globe and Mail, the National Post and elsewhere. Her feature on Parks Canada is in the current issue of Maisonneuve. You can follow her on Twitter at @lbourgon.


How many times do you follow up on a pitch before you give up? Do you think it’s best to email an editor to withdraw a pitch before sending it elsewhere?


Posted on December 11, 2013 at 9:05 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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