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.

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Sidekick by Hubspot Email Tracking