Pitching: To Follow Up or Not to Follow Up?

Research pitch. Write pitch. Send pitch. Crickets…

You sent a pitch to your dream magazine or a letter of introduction (LOI) to your favorite company. You worked hard on it. You were proud of it. And, even though you sent it weeks ago, you still haven’t gotten any response from it.

Should you follow up or let it go?

Every writer will have their own opinion on this, but my advice is to follow up.

Emails get lost, they get filed as Spam, they disappear in the recipient’s inbox under an avalanche of other emails, they’re deleted accidentally, or moved to the wrong folder.

Editors and marketing heads of companies are busy. On top of their regular work, they can get hundreds of emails a day. Chances of any of the above scenarios playing out are doubled under these circumstances. It’s not at all far-fetched to think that your email didn’t garner a response because it was never received.

When I send out a pitch or an LOI, I generally wait two weeks before following up (like I said, these people are beyond busy, so it may take them some time to get to my email). Once the two weeks are up, I’ll send a short, polite reminder. Something like this:

[box] Hi [Editor Name],

About two weeks ago, I sent you a pitch about [subject of pitch]. I just wanted to follow up to see if this is something you’d be interested in for [Name of Magazine].[/box]

If it’s an LOI, edit accordingly.

Then, I make sure to do two things:

1. Give an ultimatum. I like to do this by giving them a specific time frame in which to reply, usually an additional two weeks.

Then I add that if I don’t hear from them within that time, I will take the pitch elsewhere. This lets them know that I’m serious about getting this idea published and, while they are my first choice, I do have other alternatives lined up.

Sending a second email increases the chances of the email getting to the right place so they can see it, open it, and respond accordingly.

But sometimes that silence is the equivalent of a resounding “No, but I don’t have time to write out a response telling you so.” The ultimatum gives them an easy out. If I don’t hear back from them in two weeks, I know to take that as a definite No.

That part of the email looks a little something like this:

[box] If I don’t hear back from you in 2 weeks, I’ll assume you’re not interested and move on.[/box]

 

2. Copy-Paste the original email. This is just a common courtesy. By tacking the original message to the bottom, I save them having to scroll down to find it. This also allows me to fix any typos and generally clean the pitch up further so they’ll be reading the prettiest version.

[box]I’ve copy-pasted the pitch below. Thanks again and I look forward to hearing from you.[/box]

 

I’ve secured a number of gigs simply by following up.

Like the time I pitched a story to a regional parenting magazine. I sent the email and heard zilch. Two weeks later, I sent a follow up. Six hours after that (I sent the follow up at 1 am), I had a response from the editor. Not only did she want the idea, she said it was perfect timing as she was just setting the editorial calendar for 2016. She assigned the article on the spot and my deadline is mid-November.

Or when, on whim, I sent a pitch to a big newsstand magazine. I actually sent two follow up emails for that one. The first just reminded the editor that I’d sent her a pitch and copy-pasted the original. After two more weeks of silence, I sent a second follow up that included a two week ‘deadline’ to nab the piece. A few days later, I had a reply, going so far as to apologize for taking so long to get back to me. They were interested and just needed to get the particulars squared away before getting back to me with an official assignment. It’s been a few months and I’m still waiting, but even if it never comes through, pitching that magazine and that editor will be much easier in the future.

Then there was the time I pitched a national parenting magazine. I sent it to their editors@ email address and didn’t hear anything back… for over a month! Found an email address for one of the editors and sent the pitch to her explaining that I’d sent it to the general address, never heard back, and just wanted to follow up to see if they wanted it before pitching the idea elsewhere. She apologized (I had used the correct email address, no idea why no one responded), said they were interested, and forwarded it to the right editor. I had an official assignment within 24 hours.

Another time, I pitched a dance magazine and got a reply from the editor. She thought it would be a better fit for one of their sister publications and would pass it along to the editor there. Weeks went by without hearing anything from the sister pub. So I decided to follow up with that editor. I told her I’d originally sent the pitch to the editor at the first magazine who had mentioned it being a possibility for the sister pub, and copy-pasted the original. By the end of the week, I had an acceptance from the sister pub’s editor. The article will be appearing in the November/December issue.

No idea what happened to the original emails, but I can pretty much guarantee none of those things would have come about if I hadn’t followed up.

It could also be that the person you originally contacted no longer works for the publication or company. This is especially true with magazines, where editors change jobs almost as frequently as most of us change underwear. Which means it’s also worth checking to see if that person is still actually employed there before pitching again.

I pitched one publication at the end of July and just recently discovered that the editor I pitched moved to another magazine at the beginning of August. You can bet I’ll be doing some online ‘snooping’ to figure out who replaced her and sending a follow up along to them.

Another, perhaps less noble way to determine whether or not to follow up is by tracking emails. Tracking emails helps you to know if, when, and by whom your emails are opened.

There are tons of apps that help you do this. They typically operate by attaching a tinier than tiny, 1×1 pixel image (also called a bug) to the outgoing email. When that email is opened, it triggers the bug, which then enables you to get all kinds of information from the recipient’s server.

Depending on which service you use and what kind of account you have, you’ll be made privy to things like when the recipient opened the email, what server or device they used, where they were when the email was opened (city, state), whether or not any links were clicked or attachments opened.

The free version of a lot of these apps limit the number of emails you can track and the amount of information you can access. I use the free versions, both because I’m cheap and because I’m only interested in a small fraction of the information these apps provide.

I mainly want to know if my email was opened. This lets me know that the email went through and was viewed. If it wasn’t, I definitely want to follow up. Maybe even do some research to see if this person is still with the publication or company and if the email address is correct or still valid.

It’s also nice to know how many times the email was viewed. That helps me gauge how interested the editor or contact was in the contents. And how receptive they’ll be to a follow up.

Also useful, though less important to me, is which links within the email are clicked. My email signature contains a link to my writer website and I’ll often pop a link to my online portfolio in the body of my emails. Some editors/companies request writing samples, which I always provide as URLs.

If none of those links are clicked, that’s not exactly promising. If there’s a lot of click love, that tells me I’ve probably struck a chord. They’re most likely interested in my work, so following up and/or pitching again with other ideas would be a pretty smart idea.

And no, it’s not lost on me that there are people out there who know exactly which emails I’ve opened, where and when I opened them, and what links I clicked. If this creeps you out, The New York Times has a great article on how to avoid being tracked.

Like I said, the free versions only let you track a limited number of emails, so I cheat and use three different apps.

Bananatag is a Gmail plugin where I can check or uncheck the tracking box on each individual email. When the recipient opens the email, I get an email notification with a link I can click to get additional stats. It’s kind of obnoxious to get all those open notifications to my inbox, but that’s the only way Bananatag alerts you to email opens and link clicks. It lets me tag five emails a day.

By default, Bananatag only alerts you to the initial open. So you won’t know if there were subsequent opens unless you go into your settings and request that an email notification be sent to you with each open. Which means more email clutter in your inbox… Or you could just check in on the Bananatag website every day to see if there’s been any additional activity.

The folks at Bananatag told me that the nice thing about their program compared to similar ones is that they only alert you when the recipient opens your email. Other programs alert you every single time the email is opened. Even if you’re the one opening it. And make no distinction between the two.

That said, I just got an email notification that one of my emails was viewed (the only viewing in the 3 months since I sent it). The notification came right after I’d opened that very email myself to copy a section of it for a new pitch. So unless the recipient and I just happened to open the email at the same exact time (mind you, the email has still had only one viewing), I think someone at Bananatag was telling me a tall tale.

Needless to say, this is my least favorite of the tracking apps I use. But, free is free and it does what I need it to do.

 

Sidekick (affiliate link) is an email tracking app brought to you by the folks at Hubspot.

The super nice thing about this one is that it’s compatible with Outlook, Apple Mail, Gmail, and there’s a mobile app. So I’m not bound to Gmail if I want to track an email.

Again, there’s a box at the bottom (Gmail) or top (Mail) of each email that you can check or uncheck, depending on whether you want that particular email tracked. You can also compose emails right inside the mobile app, which are automatically tracked.

Install it in Chrome and new opens and link clicks will appear in the upper right-hand corner of your browser. Notifications also pop up on your screen. Click the Sidekick icon or login on the member page to see who’s opened and clicked what, when, where, and how.

The free version is good for 200 notifications per month. Careful: that’s “notifications,” not “emails.” Each email open and each link click count as one of your 200. Even if you’re the one doing the opening and clicking. So if you open or click any links within Sidekick-tracked emails that you sent a total 50 times and just one of your recipients opens or clicks the links within the Sidekick-tracked emails you sent them 150 total times, you’re done for the month. And they’re not just counting the opens and link clicks of emails you tracked that month. If someone, out of the blue, opens or clicks a link in a Sidekick-tracked email you sent 3 years ago, that counts as one of your 200.

Pony up and pay the membership fee ($10 per user per month) and you get unlimited emails. For my purposes, I’m fine with the free version.

 

Yesware is my favorite of the three. It has Outlook and Gmail extensions where I can select which emails I want to track. There’s also a mobile app that, like Sidekick, let’s me compose emails right in the app. The notifications pop up on my screen as well as in a designated bar within Gmail.

With the free version, you get 100 “Events” per month. That’s opens and clicks combined. And just like Sidekick, that includes when you open/click them yourself, and fresh opens/clicks of old emails also count.

I’m not one who likes a lot of things open at once, so I appreciate the fact that everything happens within Gmail.

Pro plans range from $12-$40 per user per month. So far, I haven’t found the need to upgrade.

 

Other options are Boomerang, SendGrid, MailTrack, Streak, MailTracker, and toutapp. Haven’t tried them, don’t know anything about them. But there they are.

The reason I use three programs at once? I found that Yesware wasn’t enough on its own to last me a month. And Sidekick alone didn’t get me through the month either. But by tracking some emails with Yesware, some with Sidekick, and others with Bananatag, I get up to 300 Events/Notifications and 140-155 emails each month. And that’s more than enough to get me through even high-activity months.

So, the moral of this story is: Following up on your pitches and LOIs is rarely a bad idea. Oh! And, if you can get past the creep factor, email trackers can be pretty handy too.

This site contains affiliate links. When you buy something using those links, a portion of your purchase goes to helping update and maintain Clogs and Hotdogs. Thank you for your support!

 

Sidekick by Hubspot Email Tracking

9 Things That Drive Writers Bonkers When Interviewing Sources

Conducting interviews from the carpool line. Now that’s multitasking!

Since my daughter will be starting school in September (for the first time – cue the tears!) and I’ll actually have time to work, I’ve been taking on more assignments. And more assignments means more interviews.

This past week, for instance, I’ve done 7, which is the most I’ve ever done in that short a stretch of time. And since it’s been 6 months since I last interviewed someone for an article, this experience has made me realize exactly how much interviewing is… not my favorite thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy talking to these people – there’s so much to learn from them, they’re so passionate about what they do (and that passion really does rub off), they’re loads of fun to talk to, and I’ve kept in touch with all of them.

But you know how there are things about people, even the ones you love the most, that drive you crazy? Sources are no different.

Interestingly, my jumping into the deep end of the interview pool coincided with a game Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer recently ran on Twitter. Using the hashtag #sourcefromhellin5words, players could share their biggest pet peeves when it comes to interviewing sources.

I’m not sure how many (if any) of the responses are still on Twitter as I heard that the platform doesn’t hang on to hashtagged tweets for long, but Linda pulled out some doozies, as did ProfNet, if you care to take a look.

To make a long story even longer, I was subjected to some of them this past week. As well as ones that didn’t make the list.

Here are a few of the things that drive me nuts when dealing with sources.

 

“Can you send me the article so I can approve it before it’s published?”

Are you my editor?

No?

Then, no, you may not approve the article before it goes to print. There are both legal and logistical reasons for that.

You can ask to review any quotes of yours that made it into the article to ensure that it says what you wanted to say, but that’s about it. I record the interview (once I’ve obtained your permission to do so, that is) and take notes as we talk, so the likelihood of my popping in inaccurate quotes is as close to zero as I can get.

Is the article I’m working on an advertorial that you’re paying the publication to print?

Negatory?

Then, no, you may not approve the article before it goes to print.

An advertorial is what happens when an ad and an article have a baby. You pay the publication to print this article that is essentially a long-winded advertisement for you. In which case, you want to present yourself in the best light possible, so, yes, you do get to check everything over and give it the OK before it gets published. That’s what you paid for, after all.

But if you’re not paying to have this article placed in the magazine/newspaper or on the website/blog, then you do not get approval privileges.

 

“By the way, this is off the record.”

If you say something’s off the record, I won’t publish it. That’s just how I operate. But telling me something and then saying (or prefacing it with) “this is off the record” is a huge waste of time for the both of us.

The sole reason I’m speaking to you is to collect information from you to use in the piece. Yet you’ve just taken the time to tell me about something I can’t include in the article.

It’s usually the best part of the interview that’s “off the record” too. That bit I really, really want to use. But can’t. Because you told me not to and I’m the kind of person who’s going to honor your request.

So now I’m just disappointed because you used that time I could have been eating lunch or taking a shower or playing with my daughter or walking my dog or working on another project to tell me something that would make an incredible quote, but I can’t include it because it’s “off the record.”

If you don’t want it to be included in the article, just don’t mention it.

 

“You can just find it on my website.”

I ask you a question and in lieu of an answer, you tell me to look it up on your website. A couple things wrong with this.

  1. If I can just look everything up on your website, then what the hell am I talking to you for? I want stuff that’s not on your website, and that’s why we’re here together.
  2. I can’t just quote your website. That’s not how journalism works. I need to get it straight from the horse’s mouth. And, in this case, you’re the horse.
  3. I’m not looking for a canned response from your website. I need to convey your passion and personality plus the information readers are looking for in this article. And I need to include stuff that’s not already out there for the world to see so that people have an incentive to, you know, read the piece. Otherwise the article might as well just read “See [your name]’s website. The end.”
  4. I’m a reporter. I know what I can find on your site because I already found it. I also checked out all your social media profiles and Googled the shit out of you. But I still contacted you to chat because I want more.

Telling me to read your book is just as bad – probably even worse. Ain’t nobody got time for that. And, frankly, I’m not getting paid enough to justify my taking the time to read your book just to write the article.

Sorry, you’ll just have to talk to me.

 

“Let’s do 10 o’clock.”

This is an actual response I got from a source when I asked what time would work for him. He sent this at 5pm.

So I called his landline at 10 pm. And again at 10:05. And his cell phone at 10:15. And again the cell phone at 10:20. Voicemail every time.

Then I sent him an email to let him know I tried to get in touch with him and asked if we were still on for the interview. At 10:45, I tried both numbers again. When the clock struck 11 and there’d been no email or call back, I decided to call it a night.

The next morning at 8, I had a new email. The source meant 10 am (as in two hours from the time I received that very email, and not five hours after I received the “Let’s do 10” email).

Would it have killed him to have added “tomorrow morning” or even just “am” to the end of his original email?

And please, for the love of all that’s holy, please let me know what time zone you’re in. “10 pm” to me means 10 o’clock at night, Eastern Standard Time. Depending on where you’re located, that could be anywhere from 1 to 17 or more hours’ difference from 10 pm your time.

Just the other day, I told a source I was only available from 1:30-3:30 EST. She told me 3 would be perfect. Turns out, she was on Central Standard Time and wouldn’t be available for another hour. Which was exactly the time I needed to pick my daughter up from camp. We ended up having to reschedule.

Also in this category: “I completely forgot about our interview” and not being available when I call at the appointed time.

 

“Just don’t use my name.”

I found this source for an article I was working on. She was great. Exactly who I was looking for, gave me a ton of great quotes, lots of fun to talk to.

I finished transcribing our interview and was just about to start writing the piece when I get an email from her. On second thought, she didn’t want her name to be used in the piece.

Now, sometimes publications are okay with this. Usually when the source is an “off the street” or “real life” person. And even then, it’s pretty much just when protecting the identity of a minor or a “real life” source who doesn’t want the world knowing that they’re involved with the touchy or controversial subject of the article in question.

Not for experts though. Because as an expert, you’re providing that in-the-trenches, in-the-know voice that readers turn to these articles for. If you’re not willing to attach your name (first and last) to your quotes, that doesn’t inspire much trust or confidence.

Not willing to have your name used? Let the writer know up front – preferably before the interview.

In this case, my editors were not okay with not using her name. Her quotes and contributions had to be scrapped and I had to bust my proverbial balls to find another expert to interview in her place.

 

“Can we reschedule?”

I have a three-year-old kid and a 10 year-old dog. I’ve got family on the other side of the ocean. I’m one of those human being creatures. I know things happen. I know sometimes they happen outside of your control. And I know that sometimes you have to move some things around to make stuff work.

That said, you picked the day and time of our interview. Not me.

In fact, I probably dropped a bunch of stuff in order to talk to you at this precise day and time because that’s when you told me you were free. And, to be honest, I need you to make this article work. If I can’t get this interview with you because of my own inflexibility, I’m back to square one.

So when you tell me you want to talk on Blahdeeday at x o’clock, and I shuffle my schedule around to accommodate you, and then you call or email (which usually happens just a few hours before we’re due to talk) to cancel… let’s just say it’s a wee bit frustrating.

Like I said, I know shit happens, but if it’s at all humanly possible, stick to the date and time you requested and we agreed upon.

 

“This is below me.”

Okay, so no one’s actually said that in so many words, but there has been many a time when it was alluded to. Either in the evident disappointment in their voice when they find out it’s not one of the newsstand rags I’m interviewing them for, or the way they make over the fact that they’re just “so busy” or their “schedule is packed,” or acting like making time to talk to me is as fun as making time to pop a pimple.

Anyone who knows anything about PR or marketing, in fact, anyone who has ever tried to sell anything, knows how beneficial getting your name in a newspaper or magazine article can be. You get more eyes on you, more people knowing about who you are and what you do. Saying you’ve been quoted in A, B, and C magazines is kind of a big deal. Even if it’s just one of the free weeklies in your small town.

Think of all the businesses who list the media outlets where they’ve been mentioned. Think of all the links to such articles on company website press pages. Think of how saying you’ve been quoted in the media will look on your resume, LinkedIn profile, professional bio, brochure, and all that.

Yes, you’re doing me a favor by taking the time to talk to me and share your expertise. But I’m also doing you a favor by spreading the word about you and the work you do (for free).

Publicity is a good thing, even if the publication can’t be purchased in a Barnes & Noble.

 

“I hope I’m not rambling.”

This is a tough one, because some of the people who say it actually aren’t. They’re perfect. Or could even “ramble” some more, as far as I’m concerned.

But there are some who are hell bent on telling me their life story during the interview.

Sadly, I cannot publish your entire history in a 500-1000 word article that’s supposed to be about something else. Even if I could, I wouldn’t. Because it’s of little interest to the reader. What they want is to read what you have to say and put it to use. Preferably with immediate results.

Give me the severely abridged version. If it helps you to be concise, keep in mind that I have to transcribe the interview later. So, if nothing else, keep it brief for the sake of my fingers! If I need to know more, I’ll ask. I promise.

 

“You’ll probably want to know about…”

I’ll ask a question and, after answering, the source will say “Well, you probably want to know about [insert topic here].”

Sometimes, I do. In which case, it’s already on my list of questions I was going to ask you. Thanks for saving me some time.

More often than not, though, it’s not.

I once did an article (a few of them, actually) on traveling with children. One of my sources was giving me some great info when she said “Well, you probably want to know about traveling with teens,” and immediately launched into that spiel. I didn’t have the heart to stop her, so I sat while she went on for another 10 minutes about something I had no need of in my article.

That last part was my own stupid fault and is a lesson I have since learned. Perhaps I’ll write about it in a 9 Things I Hate About Myself as a Freelance Writer post.

Again, if I want to know, I’ll ask.

And if I don’t, I always end each interview by asking if there was something the source thought I would ask that I didn’t or if there’s anything else they wanted to add. I stole this from Linda Formichelli who’s recommended the interview tactic in countless blog posts and online courses, so I know I’m not the only writer who does this.

That’s the place to get that in there.

But by that time, she would have (hopefully) realized that I wasn’t interested in teens and brought up something more relevant to the article instead.

Not a nice, round 10, but, what can I say? I have awesome sources!

This site contains affiliate links. When you buy something using those links, a portion of your purchase goes to helping update and maintain Clogs and Hotdogs. Thank you for your support!

726x90