Pitching editors takes a lot of energy, and there’s not always a guarantee you’ll get a return on your time investment of precious writing mojo. It’s a gamble that all freelancers have to make in order to survive. Sometimes it pays off. Sometimes it’s a total freakin’ bust. After you’ve spent hours researching a cool idea, gathering the details you need to present it in an interest-grabbing way, and then tailoring your pitch to suit a specific outlet, you click “send” and the waiting game begins. Let’s shed some light on the dark, gloomy period of post-pitch anxiety and how to keep your sanity when all hope seems lost.
I feel your pain. Really. We’ve all been there. Waiting to hear back on a pitch can be torture. Will it be rejected? Will you land a sweet gig? Will you even get a response at all? In the Internet age of rapid communication waiting for more than a day or two for a response feels like an eternity. Waiting a week or two? Christ, that feels like the passing of geological time. The reality is you never know if and when you’ll hear back once you pull the trigger. Here’s how to deal with that.
Fire and (Almost) Forget
You’ll drive yourself bat-shit crazy it you spend every waking second checking your e-mail to see if you got a response to your article idea. Don’t do that. I know it’s hard. You have to keep moving so you don’t drown in a kiddy pool of craziness. Focus on other work you’ve already got cooking, explore other possible article ideas, and fire off more pitches. The more pitches you get out there, the better your chances are at scoring an assignment. Keep ‘em coming. Stay forward thinking about what comes next and you’ll stave off the gnashing of insanity threatening to take over.
It’s good to train your focus away from your mewling babe awaiting its uncertain fate in the dark, cold depths of cyberspace, but don’t let it sit there for too long unattended. It’ll sprout fangs and tentacles. But seriously, you should follow-up with the editor you pitched if you don’t hear anything back after a week or so. Sooner if it’s a time-sensitive piece. Don’t be a pain in the ass. Just touch base to make sure they got the thing and see what they think.
HelloooOOOoo? Is Anybody Out There?
Alright. So your polite and well-meaning follow-up after a week or two went unanswered. Much like the original pitch. Don’t panic. *Ok, fine, panic a little to get it out of your system.* Feel better? Good. Wait a little longer and follow-up again. Sometimes it takes a few gentle pokes to rouse a busy editor from their mountain of work. Besides, there are few possible good reasons why you haven’t heard anything back from them about your pitch just yet. Well, not all of them are actually *good* for you, of course, but they’re reasons nonetheless.
1) Editors are BUSY. “Oh great, he’s banging that drum again,” you say. Shush. It’s true. It’s entirely possible that your pitch is waiting in a queue next to many others like it, and it’ll soon make its way to someone’s eyes. Be patient.
2) Those spam-destroying cyberspace demons are hungry bastards. There are times when your pitches will never make it to their target. Overzealous junk mail filters and Internet gremlins have a way of wreaking havoc with your best laid plans. This is one of the most nerve-wracking pitch doomsday scenarios to have bouncing around your in your brain. Did it even get there? Who knows? Cross your fingers.
3) The editor received your pitch, and they hate it. This is one of those worse-case situations. Perhaps you failed to read the publication enough to nail the tone and style? Maybe the idea wasn’t a good fit for the outlet or it’s already been written about there? Did you botch any grammar or spelling? It’s possible the editor just didn’t like it for some other totally legit reason. You’re less likely to get a response in this case, though nice editors will take the time to drop a quick “thanks but no thanks.”
4) Your pitch fell through the cracks. Sometimes editors drop the ball. They’re only human, after all. For whatever reason, they’ve read your pitch and forgotten about it. Maybe they loved it. Maybe they hated it. Then again, it’s possible they haven’t read it at all. It’s tough to tell, since – well, y’know – they haven’t responded.
Not knowing what’s going on is sometimes worse than flat-out rejection. The way to combat this is to be diligent with following-up. Does that mean pinging your editor with e-mails on a daily basis? NO. Don’t slip into the “are we there yet” syndrome. A little gentle reminding is totally ok, as long as it’s not a steady barrage of “OMG I NEED TO KNOW NOW I’M EATING MY OWN FACE OFF GNAAARRRR!” Editors hate that, and it makes you look bad. If it’s been more than two weeks without any response, draft a polite, professional, to-the-point e-mail to check in about your pending pitch. It sometimes takes a few follow-ups to get a response. Space them out with a reasonable time distance, and keep them professional.
Melting Down and Moving On
Following up often yields some kind of response. Hopefully it’s the one you’re looking for. If that’s the case, hurray for you! Awesome. But be prepared for the times when you get an unfavorable response or none at all. There will be many.
Sometimes even the slickest pitches and the politest follow-ups will get you nowhere. When you’ve fired off a half-dozen messages over the course of a month or two without a peep back, that usually means it’s time to pack it in and move on. It’s frustrating as hell, I know. Everyone has their boiling point. It’s best to pull back before you reach yours and wind up writing an e-mail or saying something that’ll bite you in the ass down the road.
If you don’t have any luck getting a response from an editor at a particular outlet – despite your exhaustive efforts – consider trying again with another editor for the same publication. Sometimes that does the trick. If it doesn’t, shelve the idea for another day, retool it for a different outlet, or drop it and move on to something better.
Keep in mind that rejection is common in this industry. I’ve pitched ideas for columns and articles to a dozen editors before finally getting a bite. I’ve had to kill pet ideas because I couldn’t find a home for them. That happens. It stinks, but it happens. You have to suck it up and move on.
Want to read more Shop Talk? Why not scope out the archive for past installments!
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