One of the questions I get asked most frequently about writing for print is when to follow up on a query or submission. Ready for the frustrating answer?
Unfortunately, writing for print is much like the English language itself—riddled with exceptions.
Most people will tell you to check the publication to see what their guidelines say. This is all well and good—if they publish them somewhere. Writer's Market is one good source, but there are other ways to find out as well. You can ask an editor at the magazine, check their website or even ask other writers who may have been published in the mag (check on writing forums). Here’s the thing—it may not matter.
The guidelines you are given are a starting point for follow up. The only rule that is pretty much set in stone is that you shouldn’t send a follow up until after the time frame that has been specified is over. And it’s a safe bet (and polite) to add a week or two to that.
When you do follow up, it’s a good idea to include your original submission in the correspondence. That way if it was somehow lost or otherwise buried somewhere, the editor won’t have to go digging for it. Mention when you sent it in and ask if it is still being considered for publication. Keep it short and sweet, and be sure to provide your contact information again as well so you are easy to reach. (I advise using a signature block with your name, address, telephone number and e-mail addy. Website too, if it works in your favor.)
Don’t request confirmation that it was opened or read. Don’t call. Don’t follow up again in a few days—or even a week. Wait a reasonable period of time (I usually give it 3 weeks to a month) and then send one more e-mail. Mine goes something like this:
Just following up one more time on the e-mail below to see if you have any interest—
Thanks for your time,
Some people think that this second follow up is overkill, but I have to tell you it really works. Once in a while you may annoy an editor a bit by doing it, but I have gotten many a gig from that second follow up e-mail. I strongly advise it!
Editors are crazy busy. Sometimes they delete something accidently, file it wrong, or simply intend on getting to it and get sidetracked by 5,000 other things that are screaming for attention. Give them every opportunity to say yes without pestering them to death.
Realize that during the holidays you probably won’t hear anything back. The rest of the year try to understand that most editors will only respond to you if they are saying yes. If you don’t hear back after following up and checking back in, chances are good that they have tossed your idea out of the running.
And one more thing—three follow ups is probably overkill.
Once in a while you’ll hear from an editor months after you’ve sent something in and followed up. I’ve had it happen way after. Sometimes they will keep an idea around—just in case. When there is a hole in their editorial lineup, they’ll sift through the file of “maybe laters” and choose one.
With a little bit of luck--it’s yours.
Be patient. Keep busy sending out other ideas and resist the urge to send that e-mail a week after you pitch an article. I know it’s hard—remember—I’ve been there too.
Got any tips to share? Any fun stories about following up? Do tell...