The Secret of My Proven Freelance Follow-Up System

Staying OrganizedIt’s a question that plagues every freelance writer who’s trying to get new assignments.

You send out a query letter or letter of introduction, to a magazine editor or a business’s marketing manager.

And then, you wait.

And wait and wait. And wait some more.

There’s no response.

Now what do you do?

You’re dying of suspense. You want closure. Will they give you a freelance gig or not?

The best way forward

This agony of not knowing causes writers to ask me:

It’s been weeks…should I follow up on this?

To end the mystery, here is my own followup system.

I’ve been using it since I first started as a brand-newbie writer in the ’90s, and have used it more recently as an experienced freelancer. It’s worked great all the way through.

Ready?

I never follow up.

Yes, really. I just don’t.

My system is that I send query letters out and then immediately forget about them and move on to send more queries.

I assume if they’re interested, they’ll be in touch.

The problem with follow-up systems

I know other writers who have follow-up systems. Two or three weeks after they send a query, they send a reminder.

Here’s what I don’t like about that…

In the meanwhile, writers will often fritter away the hours worrying about the fate of this pitch letter, and fantasizing about how great it would be if this assignment would happen.

Waiting and worrying is negative. You want to be a writer, not a waiter.

Also, there’s the anxiety of wondering if you’re doing follow-up right. Should you have called instead? Waited another week? Emailed at a different time of day? Mailed a nice note?

My policy of never following up allows me to skip all these stresses.

Yes, I’ve heard from writers who say they’ve had success landing the gig with that follow-up call. The editor realizes your email went in spam originally. They pull you out of the slush pile and look again. And maybe it pays off.

I just think the dynamic of begging an editor to pay attention to my pitch feels sad and desperate, and I don’t want to go there. I’d rather crank out more marketing and connect with clients who love my ideas and are dying to work with me and get right back to me with a “yes.” So that’s how I do it.

How to up your success rate

To begin, accept that the norm for freelance pitching is no response. It doesn’t mean anything about you as a writer. It’s just how it is.

This may hang out there forever, unresolved. Get comfortable with that.

Editors are very busy. You probably won’t hear back.

If you never get responses to your pitches, it could be that you aren’t developing salable story ideas and are writing weak pitches. It may be worth taking some time to learn more about how to pitch.

Beyond that, moving on instead of puzzling over why this pitch didn’t get an immediate response means you can send more queries. It also keep you in a more positive head space, which is bound to help you be more productive.

The one thing we know about pitching is that it’s a numbers game.

No follow-up means more pitches. More lines in the water mean you catch more fish.

It also means less paperwork. I jot a note in a Word file about who I pitched what when, just so I don’t forget and pitch the same editor the same thing again a month later.

Other than that, I move forward immediately to the next pitch. That’s the system that’s gotten results for me.

What’s your follow-up system? Leave a comment and share your approach.

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41 comments on “The Secret of My Proven Freelance Follow-Up System
  1. As you say, Carol, you may still land that gig with that follow-up call.

    But the fact that you’ve had to follow up in the first place could also be the early sign of a high-maintenance client.

    You get the work and you think ‘great’. But then the pattern continues and you find you’re the one doing the chasing about everything – including payment.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted…Two crafty conversion tricks copywriters can learn from eCommerceMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I so agree — I didn’t want clients where I had to call them three times to convince them to use me.

      Also, I just hate followup. I’d much rather pitch someone else…so that’s my system. Pitch. Someone. Else.

      Moving on immediately is mentally healthy, I find.

  2. Amen to that. I used to be required to make follow-up calls the next day when I pitched newspapers while working in PR. I absolutely hated it. Nine times out of ten, success would come from an original pitch email anyway, and follow-up just annoyed people and cost me time, energy, and sanity.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’ve had so many clients ask me to do PR pitching for them…and I just won’t. When I was a staff reporter I felt like PR calls were like I was being nibbled to death by bees or something. So few of them were relevant.

      For instance, yesterday I got an email asking if I would do a “desk-side” meet with someone two states away from me, for a blog I stopped writing for nearly a year ago. Most pitches are just so awful! They have no idea where I am or what I do.

      Maybe that played into my lack of interest in following up on my own pitches…I don’t want to risk being annoying. Would rather pitch that same editor another story idea in a month or two.

  3. Interesting post. I agree with a lot of it. Especially the part about spending energy thinking about a pitch you have sent. I eliminate a lot of that by making my goals be something that I can control and not dependent on hearing back. For example, I will send 10 LOI’s this week. I have found that if I meet the goals that I can control then the other goals (getting work) take care of themselves. I cause myself too much stress by making goals that are dependent on other people. Since a lot of freelancing is a numbers game (assuming you are sending well thought out and written pitches), I have found this system to work well for me.

    I do the same as you with queries where I don’t know the editor. However, if I am sending pitches to an editor that I have a relationship with and I don’t here back, then I always follow up and almost always get an assignment from the follow up. In fact, my editors usually thank me for following up.
    Jennifer Gregory recently posted…Freelance Friday – When to Say Yes to a Freelance Writing Project: Love, Money and FameMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Agreed – I’m definitely talking about situations where you don’t have an editor relationship. I might well poke an editor I write for regularly if I’m not hearing back!

  4. Terri says:

    While I think this non follow-up method is a good one, I find the art of the follow-up truly beneficial to me. There are times when I get assignments from a follow-up and there are times when the follow-up continues to go unanswered. But then there are those times when I get valuable information from follow-ups. For example, there was one situation in which I followed up and got inside information in regards to upcoming issues or that a popular section in the magazine will be eliminated in the spring issue, etc.

    One might argue that, I could probably get the information from a general email or phone call, but in my experience it hasn’t worked that way. Editors seem to be more willing to provide that helpful information when I follow-up.
    Terri recently posted…The Reason Why Plan B is for LosersMy Profile

  5. Hi Carol, your post makes a lot of sense! But what do you do if someone responds to your query with a request for samples (which you send over), and THEN doesn’t respond? He clearly expressed enough interest to reply. Is that an exception to the rule?
    Patrick Icasas recently posted…Read This FirstMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Not for me — I figure if they liked my samples they’ll be in touch.

      Sometimes you get those requests and they pop back up 3 months later, finally ready to move on it.

      I guess I just don’t like bugging people, and have lots of ideas, so I’d rather just put more of them out there. Works for me.

  6. Jan Hill says:

    Hi Carol,

    Good points. I’m in the process of sending a direct mailing to the marketing directors of legal technology companies to try and snag some copywriting work. I just started sending out 10 a week, starting with an introductory email to each of them to let them know that my package is coming. I’ve gotten a surprising number of replies to my email, but I’m dragging my feet on making follow up calls. In this instance, would you make them if you were me, or just keep doing what I’ve been doing?

  7. Hi Carol,

    I enjoyed your post, and totally agree with the necessity of spending no emotional energy thinking about pitches. However, I’ve had a lot of success in following up. I’d say a third of the time I end up either landing the pitch or being invited to pitch again. Often the editor liked my pitch initially then blanked it out, so a quick, courteous reminder is appreciated.

    I haven’t noticed such editors being harder to work with, but I think I’ll try tracking that in the future because it makes sense. It definitely seems like the easiest editors are the ones who seek me out.

    EWM

  8. Steve Adams says:

    I’ve been taking your course and it’s nice to read that I’m doing it right . I’ve been writing for years and instead of worrying about my last write I move on and Continue to write something fresh new and exciting . Thank you for confirming I’ve been doing it right , Thanks for your teaching , Steve

  9. Ruksana says:

    Agreed! I dont do follow-ups either…at least, not any more 🙂 I did do that in the beginning, starting out, felt I should show that I am really interested in working for these folks I write to. But then I realized I was the one losing out wasting my time on a response. Now I just query or pitch and leave it at that. If they are interested they mail me back. In fact, I have had several occasions where I have received a response, completely unexpected, after a few weeks or months, and then once they see my work, they are happy to give me more assignments! That feels so much better than beating myself up over why I got no response 🙂

    • Carol Tice says:

      Exactly. I think a lot of writers are emotionally sensitive about rejection, and following up just gives you a chance to think more about how you’re being rejected here. Why go through that?

  10. Tracy says:

    Wow, this one surprised me. I almost always follow up and I’ve had a lot of success with that. Usually it just takes a second email to ask if they’ve have had a chance to decide on xxx? I once wanted to write for a magazine really badly so emailed like 5 times. She finally emailed back and said she’d contact me soon but never did. So I just checked in every few months or so and one day out of the blue she contacted me. Now I write for her consistently and its one of my favorite gigs. **However, I totally agree that it’s horrible to be in that place of mind games where you waste too much time and energy worrying about what will happen. Following up is only useful if you can separate yourself from the outcome which can be really hard!
    Tracy recently posted…Green Beans, Butter & Fear, or What I’ve Learned from My DogMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sounds like you’re able to follow up in a healthy way and it works for you…so that’s great.

      I just find too many writers get way overinvested in waiting and seeing, and then they feel like they want to follow up because they can’t stand the suspense anymore, and it’s all just emotionally negative.

      If it is something that’s quick and easy for you and doesn’t take up your head space, and you get gigs from it, then that’s YOUR proven freelance follow-up system. 😉

  11. Kadee says:

    Hi Carole – I really enjoyed this article. I’ve never done much follow-up either though I felt (from status quo) that I was “doing it wrong” b/c I didn’t bother with the follow up. I’m so glad to hear from someone as successful as you doesn’t follow up either. It just doesn’t feel natural to me.

    I see that you said you use Word to remind yourself who you pitched and when. Out of curiosity, do you use any other relationship management software? I’ve been looking for something other than an Excel doc that I can keep track of this stuff and remember conversations, etc.

    Thanks!

    Kadee

    • Carol Tice says:

      I really don’t! I’m a very low-tech person. My joke is my next blog will be called “The Last Adopter,” because I never want to try any new gadgets or software. Would prefer the contenders duke it out and then someone tells me which one ended up being best.

      Remember that I started writing in the era of Selectric typewriters and intranets being the only email! So it’s just not something I’m naturally born to, to use a piece of software for tracking relationships. I still own a physical rolodex, too. 😉

  12. HeatherL says:

    I totally disagree. I don’t wait at all, but I follow up with all my pitches after two weeks and I’ve gotten more assignments after that follow up than I do with the first pitch. I’d be broke if I didn’t follow up.

  13. Willi Morris says:

    I like following up, because it also helps me keep track of what pitches I send where, but I liked the idea from the last blog post about using Excel. I did that for regular jobs, querying is no different!

    I have had following up work a lot, but for the most part it ends up being a reminder that they never responded, and I get sad. Definitely not worth feeling let down or rejected.
    Willi Morris recently posted…How to Begin Your Freelance Life: My Story – Part 4My Profile

  14. Rae says:

    What about queries that would be suitable for multiple magazines? I’m not sure what’s good to do as far as simultaneous submissions go, but if I have a query for something fairly timely, should I send it to three magazines or wait a month before sending it somewhere else or just forget about it and come up with different story ideas?

  15. Lisa Baker says:

    I’m still experimenting with my follow up method, but when I do follow up, I always do it with a new pitch. So my email says something like, “Hey, I sent you a pitch a month ago, and I’ve pasted it below in case you want to look at it again, but also, here’s a new pitch I think would be great for your publication!” And really in my mind, the point isn’t really to follow up on the previous pitch but just to show them I’m not a one-hit wonder and that I have lots more ideas where that came from. 🙂

  16. Everyone has their own system, I would say, depending on their personality type and personal preferences, but I would have to say I agree with yours. The only time I would follow up is if I truly, honestly believed there was a ‘direct fit’ with the editors needs, and perhaps they may have missed something. But otherwise, follow ups can be perceived by the editors as ‘annoying’ or ‘here she goes again’. I guess if following up is part of your system, then it would have to be very tactful, as to ensure you’re not spamming and damning.

  17. I welcome any validation for the principle of not following up; besides the emotional stress, most systems are a lot of time and bother, period. One possible exception: I know of a few who have been highly successful by adopting a two- or three-part approach: first a letter of introduction saying the proposal/query will follow in a week, and sometimes (I wouldn’t recommend this with publishing house editors, but many businesses respond well to it) sending that second package with a “will telephone on Wednesday next week” note. The problem with most follow-up is it doesn’t say anything NEW, and writing just to ask “Did[n’t] you get my query?” does sound rather like groveling.

    I do have a couple of questions:
    1. What about following up with “pure network” contacts–the ones you don’t expect to hire you themselves, but may meet someone who could? I know business owners who swear by sending a handwritten note and an invitation for coffee to every new contact they make.
    2. How long should you wait before pitching a “no-response” editor again (I assume with a different idea most times)? What if (it does happen) you suspect you made a bad first impression, and would rather the editor NOT remember you?
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…Confused and MisusedMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Katherine —

      I think networking is different from pitching an editor. If you don’t follow up, I don’t know how you’re building the relationship!

      On #2, you know, once again, I’ve never kept track! I pitched them again if I had another idea for them, as it came up. I don’t think of ‘no response’ as meaning anything.

      I think writers imagine editors are remembering who they are and worrying about the impression they made, but likely you made no impression. If you get 500 pitches a month like national magazine editors do, probably they have no memory of the previous pitch if it didn’t get assigned.

  18. Tom Bentley says:

    I’m pretty much with you Carol: I don’t follow up unless I think the article REALLY belongs in a certain magazine, and when the pitch is truly targeted. Or when I already know the editor.

    I’ve only had one instance of “No, I never saw that query,” and where I did indeed land a story from the second pitch round. But mostly, I do what you do, pitch and move on.
    Tom Bentley recently posted…Writing Contests: Yea, Nay, or Meh?My Profile

  19. Koren says:

    Hi Carol,
    A very thought-provoking idea and one I’m in two minds about. I’ve had several “yeses” to pitches after following up a few weeks later. But on the flip side, I’ve had plenty of “no responses” and if this happens a few times in a row, many weeks can pass after the initial event or idea with little chance of publication.
    So I like your approach. But my question is – what happens if two publications with similar circulations or markets come back with a yes at the same time? What do you do?
    Thanks,
    Koren
    Koren recently posted…Recipe: Canarian baby potatoes with mojo sauceMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Koren —

      The thing is, that almost never happens. Honestly, it’s never happened to me. Linda Formichelli from the Renegade Writer told me it happened to her once in 15 years. And she just told the second “yes” it was already taken and they said, “Whoops! Guess we’ll have to be faster next time.”

      Most stories have a place they belong, so you don’t tend to get more than one yes.

      If you’re worried about it, you can just pitch simultaneously but to non-competing publications, so that if they both say yes it’s not a problem. For example, a national trade magazine for a particular industry and a local newspaper don’t compete.

      • Koren says:

        Hi Carol,

        Thanks for setting my mind at ease. I’m absolutely going to give this a go.

        I’m just after one final piece of advice on the issue. I’ve got this one particular pitch, a reported essay, that I think would work for a bunch of different literary magazines, most likely in Australia. So, do I pitch three or four pubs, wait a week, then pitch the next three or four? Or just go on a pitching spree to all at once? I’d love to know your secrets on how you handle this.

        Thanks,
        Koren

        • Carol Tice says:

          Koren, I don’t often have a pitch I’m sending to 8 publications…at this point most of what I do is pitching editors I already have relationships with, sending them something I know they’re probably going to want.

          I’ve also never pitched literary magazines. When it comes to consumer magazines, I’d just pitch them all at once, but have to say I don’t know the etiquette for a short story or something…but likely you should follow the same routine — just send it out, everywhere you’re thinking of.

          Most stories have a place they belong. It’s really very rare to end up getting more than one acceptance. And if you do, you just tell the second one they’re too late. Just makes them think you’re hot and in demand.

  20. Joe says:

    I’m a freelance copywriter for the health industry, and I can’t even imagine NOT doing follow ups.

    I have lost count the number of jobs I got by doing a follow up a week later.

    And that is thousands of dollars!

    They either didn’t get my e-mail or it got lost in the number of e-mails they get.

    They are also busy, and sometimes they forget to get back with me.

    Doing follow ups should be part of the job.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sounds like following up a week later is YOUR proven freelance followup system, Joe. Doesn’t sound like it keeps you from doing more marketing in the meanwhile, that you plan that quick followup.

      For me, and I think many article writers pitching magazines, the dynamic is different because your idea is on the line.

      And it’s easy to obsess and wonder and worry about whether the editor likes your idea…so I find it healthier to just move on and send more queries.

  21. Sherri says:

    I send out letters of introductions to businesses. I’ve found when I do a follow up phone call several weeks later, the person is nice, but I get “Yes, we saw your stuff. It’s nice. We don’t have anything right now.” So I’m thinking just sending a one-shot email is enough in most cases, at least for businesses where you’re not pitching. They do see your stuff and either they’re not interested, or not interested yet.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah…it feels like you’re annoying them. Which is sort of how I evolved to my point of saying, “You know, I think if they need me or like my story idea, they’ll be in touch.” I don’t like annoying people.

  22. Joe says:

    It’s the nom to do a follow up, whether it’s pounding the sidewalk looking for a job, or doing this.

    It’s expected.

    A lot of opportunities are lost when follow ups aren’t done.

  23. Marijke says:

    I follow up most times, but I don’t stress over it either. I send off the query or LOI. A few weeks later, if I notice I haven’t heard back, I’ll shoot over a quick follow-up email. This has landed me some work and it only took a few minutes of my time.

    In other words, you don’t need to have “follow up” and “stress about non-responders” in the same thought, let alone the same sentence.

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