Editor's block
October 27, 2008 5:32 PM   Subscribe

free-lance writing filter: How to deal with an unresponsive editor, and how to approach new editors? details below.

Two issues:

1. I've been doing freelance writing for a prestigious publication for about 1 year. My editor hasn't replied to my last pitch (about 10 days ago), and rejected the pitch previous. So, I'm nervous. What's a good way to ask the editor if I'm still in the game, and to express my interest in the publication?

2. I want to write freelance for more prestigious publications. I've pitched very specific ideas to the editors at several publications, sent writing samples, and a brief bio. (all of this cold). I never hear back. What's a good way to approach new editors? How do I get to write for their publications?
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Work & Money (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
1.) If you've been working consistently for "about a year" you should honestly have your editor in your corner by now. I don't know the specifics, but I don't see how a phone call would be unreasonable and I don't think that asking directly about your pitch or your standing is rude or tactless.

I think the tendency is to rely too heavily on email and if that's the case here, a phone call will break down that barrier.

2.) Honestly you're doing what you need to do - you just have to keep it up. Editors, at least the ones I've known, want proof that you can write for their audience - so the clips (not writing samples, per se, but actual published clips) you send should reflect that. In other words, don't send long form poetry to a Maxim, and your punchy, pithy "Best celebrity boobs" piece to The New York Review of Books.

But I'm guessing your already know this...

Keep it up, but make sure the material you're sending is concise, interesting, and relevant.
posted by wfrgms at 5:55 PM on October 27, 2008

Response by poster: to clarify: the editor and I converse only through email. We don't have each other's telephone numbers. So, a telephone call certainly would break down a barrier....
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 6:06 PM on October 27, 2008

Editors are busy people, and they're dealing with tons of email, and who knows how many unsolicited pitch ideas. Just because you don't get an email doesn't mean he/she doesnt like you (necessarily) -- the nature of the email medium to the editor is short and fast, esp at big publications with, say, monthly output (im thinking magazines, but not sure if we're talking magazines or newspapers here). So, don't be too discouraged by two pitches that aren't picked up -- he/she's got a lot to consider when putting out an issue. Now, if this occurs to the point that 10s of pitches/emails go by without a response, that's an issue, and you need to readjust how/where you direct your pitching efforts.

As for the second comment, im a bit green myself to give definitively sage advice, but i'd try networking at conference press rooms, writing/editing societies, or any other gathering you have access to where editors might be present. good luck!
posted by NikitaNikita at 6:17 PM on October 27, 2008

Before calling, I'd try sending an email along the lines of "I just wanted to check that my last pitch made it through...in case it didn't, I've attached it to this email" or "I wanted to see if you'd had a chance to consider my last pitch on X..." This often works.

And nothing but nothing beats a personal connection for approaching new editors (i.e. "Tom Jones passed on your contact information/suggested contacting you...") - and don't forget to put it in the subject line, as in "XX Pitch (via Tom Jones)."

Still, the inexplicable silences do suck.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:53 PM on October 27, 2008

Get his phone number, call him once in a while with some ideas. Phone > e-mail, I think, because they're snowed under in e-mails anyway. Try to meet him in person as well, at some function of the publication (very important, as people need faces and face time to like you a lot).

As your relationship develops, ask the editor if he has any assignments that need taken care of. If you've been writing for them for over a year, I think you should qualify for some of the stuff that needs to be done, but that the staff doesn't want to do. Usually stupid assignments, but it keeps you busy at least. Also, you'll get a better feel for what he thinks is important/interesting.

Don't rely on just one pitch at a time. I have no idea how specialized your beat is of course, but if you haven't heard from him, it's safe to assume he's not wild about it. Just throw a new idea out there. If it helps, go to a library and read or browse through a few years worth of the publication in question. You'll get a better feeling for what works and what doesn't.

Don't rely on just one publication. If you're a freelancer, you should consider your clients as a kind of stock portfolio. It needs to be diversified, because you could find yourself on the receiving end of a serious downswing if a new editor comes or the magazine collapses or whatever (the prestigious ones always go first...). If I were freelancing again, I would try to write for at least three largish clients. It helps if you can tell an editor that you're too busy for an assignment once in a while, it keeps them humble.

Also, never complain and never explain; they get that from their staff, they want freelancers to be upbeat and optimistic and "can do". And deliver. On time. I think the single most important quality of a freelancer (in an editor's mind), is the ability to meet deadlines.
posted by NekulturnY at 1:33 AM on October 28, 2008

I see I managed to ramble a lot and still miss your questions.

I don't think you need to be worried about rejected pitches too much. I think editors reject pitches routinely. Resist the urge to call him and ask him if he still loves you. Send a new pitch, or multiple pitches that he can choose from. Then call him to discuss your ideas. Try to find out which ones he likes and which ones he doesn't, etc. etc.

As to writing for other prestigious publications, I think writing is a pyramid game: usually you start at the bottom, write a lot for crappy magazines/newspapers, while pestering editors of better paying, bigger, national etc. magazines with your writing samples a lot. And hope to get lucky.
posted by NekulturnY at 1:46 AM on October 28, 2008

the editor and I converse only through email. We don't have each other's telephone numbers.

What type of editor for a "prestigious publication" doesn't take phone calls from writers who have been working for him regularly for a year?

Sounds odd to me...
posted by wfrgms at 11:56 PM on November 7, 2008

Response by poster: To follow up, I sent a 3rd email to my editor and he finally responded, but gave no indication why past emails went unanswered.

wfrgms: i suppose that email killed the telephone. The editor is a young guy and email is likely easiest in his fast-paced pub.

thanks all, and I'm considering expanding my 'portfolio' of publications.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 11:32 AM on November 9, 2008

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