The fine line of the follow-up

by Brittany Duggan

Following up with editors after sending a story pitch can be anxiety-inducing.

“Why have I not heard back?”

“Is it a bad idea?”

“Are they just too busy?”

Ultimately, the radio silence you hear after sending a pitch is likely because of a combination of busy schedules, email overload, and – unfortunately for freelancers – a bunch of factors specific to each editor.

There’s no magic rule to the follow up question. But because it’s such an important step, it helps to know what editors think. After all, editors love hearing about a great story idea just as much as you love pitching one. What they don’t love is being hounded. It’s a fine line.

Here’s what a few Canadian editors had to say on the topic.

Editors weigh in

“I advise people to not get too pushy too early,” says Janet Smith, arts editor at Vancouver’s Georgia Straight. “It can take me a production schedule of several days before I can get sorting through pitches. And then, if I am very interested in a story, I often tell the person they will have to wait till I have space and not to lose faith. Nagging me during that time is usually not necessary.”

Smith says it’s fine to follow up by email until you get some response but consider the workflow of the outlet you’re pitching to.

A daily paper or website will have a quicker response time. But if your pitch is very timely, you might need to include a deadline by which you need the editor to respond. A line such as ‘As this pitch is time-sensitive, I will need to pitch it elsewhere by tomorrow at noon if you are not interested. Please let me know before then if you’d like to discuss the idea or commission the piece.’

A bi-monthly magazine, however, especially if the publication has a small team, is not likely to get back to you for a couple weeks.

“I’m a one-person operation at This, so it takes me a while to get back to freelancers,” says Erica Lenti, editor of This magazine. Lenti says she does try to get back to every single pitch even if the response is a “no thank you” or “not right now.” Her rule of thumb: “If I haven’t gotten back to you after about a month, you should feel free to bring your pitch elsewhere.”

In the meantime, after a week or two, feel free to follow up with a friendly reminder. Even follow up a second time, but after that consider the editor not interested. And while it’s going to be different for every editor, Lenti, for one, is not a fan of being called.

“I love to tell this anecdote about a freelancer who called me two days after I received her pitch over email,” she says, explaining this happened during the throes of production and she was unable respond right away. “When I told her I received her email, she proceeded to re-pitch it over the phone, even when I told her it was not the best time. We spent seven minutes on the phone. I still didn’t get to her pitch until the next week.”

The takeaway? Read communication cues.

“My advice would be to read the level of reply and or engagement of the editor,” says Lee Slinger, the editor of The Dance Current, currently on maternity leave. “If you are pitching out of the blue, and receive no reply whatsoever or a stock reply, I would suggest allowing at least a couple of weeks between follow-ups. If you got some kind of reply, that shows more interest and a quicker reply suggesting changes or alternatives would be acceptable.”

Follow-ups can be quick reminders about your unanswered pitch. Or might even include a new development to the story in case the first pitch didn’t quite hook the editor and that’s why they never replied.

The takeaway

Anxiety over following up on pitches can increase the feeling of low agency that many people already struggle with when working freelance. But the skills you use when chasing stories can also be used when chasing editors.

“I appreciate persistence,” says Robin Perelle, editorial director at DailyXtra. “One follow-up email per pitch is fine to nudge our editors to respond if they haven’t already.”

One thing is for sure: it usually is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. So don’t stay too quiet for too long. “People who did follow up — reaching out, pitching ideas — stayed at top of mind and I was more likely to go to them,” adds Slinger.

Do your homework about who you should be pitching to and the realities of their publishing schedule. If possible, pitch to a specific editor rather than a general email address. And then go forward considerately but with confidence. Be patient and polite but firm. And may all your pitches be responded to!


Brittany Duggan is a freelance journalist and editor based in Vancouver. Her work has appeared on CBC Radio and in the Georgia Straight. Brittany is a research assistant for Canada’s The Conversation and is a lover of the arts. Follow her on Twitter @brittanynduggan and find on her LinkedIn.

Posted on June 21, 2017 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: ,

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