How to Follow Up on Article Queries (Without Being a Stalker)
Editor | 51 Comments

WaitingFor freelancers, waiting is the hardest part.

But editors receive too many unsolicited queries to respond to each one instantly. And some won’t respond at all unless a query catches their interest immediately.

Good ideas also fall by the wayside if they hit editors’ inboxes during deadline, while they’re on vacation, or if they’re out of the office at a conference or because of an unforeseen event, like an epic storm.

Sometimes it pays to follow up on article queries — as long as you do it in a way that doesn’t make you seem like a stalker.

Follow-up can mean more income

I eventually got a $300 assignment from an editor of a magazine who missed my original message, because his office was in shambles after Hurricane Sandy.

Another time, an editor who had assigned me a story stopped returning messages. A quick check of LinkedIn and a call to the publication confirmed she had moved on.

After following up with her successor to find she wasn’t interested, I reworked the story, pitched it to a different magazine, and added another $300 to my bank account rather than letting the finished piece go to waste.

A system that keeps it pro

Whatever the circumstances, most editors fine with a getting a follow-up email or call about a query, as long as it doesn’t come within days of the initial submission.

Here’s my process:

  • I add an entry to my Google Calendar to follow up about a month after I send the initial query.
  • When that date comes, I write a brief message that references the original query.
  • If I see the editor I originally sent my pitch to has jumped ship during the wait time, I try to find someone else in the magazine’s editorial department. I search the masthead or call the magazine to get up-to-date information.
  • If I can, I include fresh writing samples and breaking news that make a query more timely, to show professionalism and persistence.

Put a face to your name

While you’re waiting to hear back, keep active in building your network. Make connections online, at writing conferences, and other industry events to help elevate your work to the top of the query pile.

That said, it’s also important to know when to move on.

A writer and editor may have a great conversation over cocktails at a conference, but that doesn’t mean the freelancer should send the unsuspecting editor every query they’ve ever crafted.

Even if an editor showed some initial interest, don’t keep following up after they’ve cut off contact.

And definitely don’t go stalker style and try to friend them on Facebook.

If you don’t succeed…

What should you do when you’ve followed submission guidelines to a tee, followed up with polite emails, and received rejections or no responses at all?

Reheat a cold query, rework the lede and headline and send it to a new market.

I recently placed a story based on a query I originally wrote in 2012, after I updated it and sent it to a different magazine.

How do you follow-up on queries? Tell us in the comments below.

Charlene Oldham is a freelance writer and teacher in Saint Louis.

51 comments on “How to Follow Up on Article Queries (Without Being a Stalker)

  1. Laura Ryding-Becker on

    Hi Charlene – what a great post! I sent out two queries in early October and haven’t heard from either of them. I have not followed up, and now I feel as if too much time has passed. I think I will rework the stories and try again somewhere else. Thanks for such practical and inspiring advice.

  2. Philippa Willitts on

    I used to follow up pitches until I got a grumpy “if I’d been interested, I would have replied” response from one editor.

    It put me off a bit and I’m far more likely to pitch to new publications instead, these days. Plus, I very rarely had success with follow ups, so it didn’t seem worth the time I had to spend documenting and checking it all.
    Philippa Willitts recently posted…Don’t work for free – people die of exposure!My Profile

  3. Raspal Seni on

    Hi Charlene,

    Thanks for detailing your process. I’m saving some points from this post.

    My tip below is about using reminders, though, not about queries. I’m still like a n00b in that area.

    I don’t use Google calendar because GMail isn’t my main e-mail. I use a paid e-mail. So, for reminders, I use followup then, and I don’t have to leave my e-mail for this.

    I could send an e-mail to 1month@followupthen.com (or onemonth@followupthen.com, 30days@followupthen.com, or even 4weeks@followupthen.com). After the specified days or weeks or months, I get the same e-mail I sent, back in my Inbox.

    I see myself using this service a lot these days. It helps not worrying. I also use it for e-mails I intend to reply later. Helps keeping my Inbox Zeroed.

    GMail users could use Boomerang, but more than 10 reminders/month would cost $5.
    Raspal Seni recently posted…Your Domain Registrar Sucks — and What can You do About ThemMy Profile

    • Carol Tice on

      I’m not sure I follow, Raspal — are you creating a followup email folder you’re sending a reminder to, with those emails?

      I personally just throw things into my calendar…right now, using iCal, I believe. Or maybe it’s Google Calendar — I don’t even know! But whatever it is, I just immediately calendar future reminders when I send something out, if I think it needs followup.

      Usually, I just move on and market more. 😉

  4. Tom Bentley on

    Charlene, good info here. I don’t often follow-up on queries (though I keep a dated record of all) unless I unreservedly feel that the article is truly on point for a particular publication. And I’ll usually wait a month or so before inquiring again.

    However, I often send out the original query to other markets, re-tooled to suit. And Catherine, thanks a lot for the clear breakdown from the editor’s end.
    Tom Bentley recently posted…Stories, the Bread and Cheese of the BrainMy Profile

    • Catherine Hamrick on

      My pleasure, Tom. Many editors are underpaid (for the hours they devote) and understaffed. More than ever. A few are “stars” spared in-the-trenches work, but many slug it out 8 to 12 hours a day, especially when on deadline. Moreover the “wall” between editorial content and advertising no longer exists. It seems “brand journalism” is creeping into “commercial journalism” (lifestyle magazines). More pressure on editors.
      Catherine Hamrick recently posted…What age am I? Facebook leaves me wondering.My Profile

      • Carol Tice on

        In my first staff writing job, I had editors who literally had sleeping bags at work and sometimes worked so late they just curled up under their desks for a few hours and waited for the next day to begin.

  5. Katherine Swarts on

    Was a little disappointed that no samples of “follow-ups” were included here–that’s a topic I have a major need to brush up on. Specific timing and wording aside, I’d guess that anyone who writes a follow-up under a cloud of anger (“How dare they keep ME waiting?”) or desperation (“I need SOMEBODY to confirm I’m not worthless as a writer–or a person”) is liable to let a sense of that leak through and poison the message.
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…Onward and UpwardMy Profile

  6. Carol J. Alexander on

    Before I follow up I check the pub’s guidelines. If they say it takes three months, I don’t follow up in a month, I wait for three.

    Something else I do. When I do follow up, I copy and paste the original query in the email, just in case they never saw it in the first place. Otherwise the editor is clueless.

  7. Catherine Hamrick on

    I worked at three national magazines. One, with a 4-million circulation, drew the most queries. Every morning, I popped open my email–at least 60 queries. Then my editorial assistant dropped off my snail mail–about a 6- to 8-inch stack, which included more queries.

    1) Limit your email subject line to 40 characters or fewer
    2) Grab attention in the 1st paragraph, with a clear head and deck (make the “hook” fit in the text box)
    3) Know the audience
    4) Propose a story idea that previously has not appeared (research)
    5) Follow guidelines
    6) Do not attach a document
    7) Do not include your life story–perhaps a few relevant points as to why you are qualified to write this story (after your pitch)
    8) Do not follow up asking whether I received the query
    9) Follow up politely after 2 to 4 weeks (be clear in the subject line of your email)
    10) Do not call to pitch or follow up
    11) You may be experienced, but avoid “attitude” (believe me, I’ve seen my share of arrogance)
    12) In effect, respect that my job requires a long day–most of it spent producing content rather than answering queries
    13) It’s not personal; it’s business
    14) It is difficult to answer every query personally or offer career advice
    Catherine Hamrick recently posted…What age am I? Facebook leaves me wondering.My Profile

    • Carol Tice on

      Thanks for this insider’s look at the process, Catherine! I think most writers can’t imagine how many queries editors are getting every week…and how important it is to bring something that’s fresh, well-researched, and well-written, in the style of the publication.

      • Catherine Hamrick on

        Hi Charlene–fit in email subject head:

        “Query: ‘title of piece (as best you can fit it)’ If it goes over 40 characters, make sure your 1st 40 characters capture the article.

        Also, a 9- to 11-month lead time may work. Once you reach a 6-month lead time, most stories are well in progress. For example, Christmas issues are put together in July. However, every magazine differs.

        (On one staff, we planned articles 1 year in advance–though subject to change if fresh ideas arose.)

        Sometimes a “breaking news” story may fit in a front column. Draw attention to that in the subject line. “Breaking news” is a relative term for monthly or bimonthly magazines. Evergreen stories with a fresh twist may be easier to pitch.

        Follow pitch guidelines per specific magazine. Make sure you query the appropriate editor for the section. Any query sent to the editor-in-chief lands in the trash. If you have a question about the proper editor, call an editorial assistant for advice. Do not call the editor.

        Rejection is part of the experience. Now a freelancer, I do not blink when rejected. I move on after a month or two or repurpose. Editors are overworked, so many do not send rejection letters. Since 2008, if not sooner, the industry has bled creatives. The competition is tougher than ever.

        Carol offers many alternatives to writing articles. Please review her previous posts on other opportunities and her training sessions. She delivers reality.

        Most articles are not aesthetic works of art–unless fitted to literary ‘zines or a handful of sophisticated magazines devoted to the art of the essay.

        Do not get over-attached to words. The other day, I told an author that her book needed gutting by 25,000 words. It was too long per industry standards. However, she said it was her “baby.” A piece of writing is important because of the care you have poured into it. Nonetheless, it is not a living being whose arm you will chop off (figuratively speaking). It is a product–even if part of your soul. Love the language but know when to cut it loose if extraneous. If you adore a turn of phrase, save it for another work.

        Again: it’s business; it’s not personal.
        Catherine Hamrick recently posted…What age am I? Facebook leaves me wondering.My Profile

          • Carol Tice on

            Raspal, editors are working feverishly on the upcoming issue…planning future issues…taking meetings with the ad staff and publisher…reading widely so they know what competitors are doing…working with existing writers to develop ideas. And on and on. It’s a total bottomless pit!

            And they do know how many unread emails they have. I know my email shows me that.

            I’ll never forget the stack one of my editors had on his desk of competing publications he needed to scan. It reached over his head! They are so, so busy. That’s why your pitch really needs to blow their minds.

  8. Jireh on

    this is even more confirmation that I have the skill set to pursue my passion of writing. I am just getting started. In sales and marketing its all about follow up and seeking feedback.
    Thanks.

  9. Mateeka Quinn on

    This came at a perfect time. I’m in the heat of pitching right now and it’s hard to know when it’s appropriate to follow up..the worst is when you’ve been accepted, sent off your piece, and then receive silence. I’ve made the mistake of following up too soon (within a week!) and I think the editor was put off. Thanks for this post!

  10. Lori Ferguson on

    Very good points, Charlene. I work with one editor frequently who takes virtually every story I pitch, but I always have to follow up with her at least once and sometimes twice before she answers. I allow a good bit of time to pass between messages (a month or more), and she has always thanked me for checking in. I’ve found that if you approach someone as you would like to be approached, it generally goes well. 🙂

  11. suzie brown on

    Hi Carol, I find your blog very helpful since I myself am just starting a freelance writing career. On that point, do you mind me asking what it means to send a “query” to an editor? Is that just sending them an idea for an article? Do you have any helpful hints as to how to format the query?
    Many thanks for all your useful information so far!

    • Charlene Oldham on

      Thanks for the kind words. I teach a similar class myself. As part of the last session, I looked through some of my failed queries and took the time to rework them to share with students. I landed a few assignments!

  12. Daryl George on

    You’re right – nothing worse than sending a good query, then waiting and wondering whether or not the editor saw it, meant to reply but then got caught up, or straight up isn’t interested in your idea!

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