How to Follow Up with an Editor Without Feeling Like You’re Annoying Them

It’s part of your job as a writer.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Following up doesn’t come naturally to me. The truth is I hate it almost as much as I hate cleaning the toilet. I know it’s necessary but that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable.

Following up on a pitch or a query has to be one of the most uncomfortable and humiliating things to do, but it’s a crucial skill that writers need to master, especially if they want to take their writing to the next level, make more money, and stop sabotaging themselves.

You don’t get points just for hitting send in the first place and then never doing anything else with your pitch again.

You’re not playing chicken with an editor — the game is to keep putting yourself out there until you get a response. The more you do it, the more likely you are to get a positive response.

If you get into the habit of following up, it can become second nature to you and over time will no longer fill you with anxiety at the thought of making contact again.

Don’t focus on how vulnerable you’ll feel or how you’re opening yourself up for blatant rejection.

Follow up isn’t ten times more humiliating than ignoring the whole thing — it’s just a necessary step.

I used to believe that an editor’s silence wasn’t golden, but a rejection wrapped in a silver bow. My self-destructive magic was to take the absence of a response, shape it into an insult, and give the silence a voice.

And that voice was screaming, “We reject you, your writing, and will do so forever!”

I took silence personally — almost more personally than a clear rejection. This is a bad attitude to have when part of my job is to continually put my writing out there.

A writer can’t avoid dealing with the gatekeepers.

To me, following up is begging for rejection. It’s as if I’m saying, “Hello, please reject me or just give me some harsh criticism. I want you to shake my faith in my talents and abilities.”

The more often I followed up with an editor and they ignored me, the more I felt as if I was annoying them.

The thing is that sometimes emails get lost or the editor reads it and has every intention to get back to you, but something else demands their attention. It’s self-centered to think that their non-response is all about how much you suck.

My teacher/mentor/friend, Cynthia, wasn’t someone who shied away from conflict or confrontation — she sought it out. It energized her so when I told her my problem with follow up, she couldn’t wait to help me.

We were having lunch, and Cynthia took our menus and any others that were around and heaped them in front of her.

“The table is an editor’s inbox and these menus are emails.”

Then she picked up the drinks menu and said, “Here’s your pitch” and she stuck it under the other menus, mixing them all up.

“Here’s what happens when you don’t send a follow-up,” she said adding more menus to the top of the pile.

The original menu aka my pitch was lost.

“And here’s what happens when you do” she then pulled up the drinks-menu as if picking a card from a deck for a magic trick and placed it on top.

“Now, the editor can see your pitch which will refresh their memory.”

“What if she remembers my pitch and deletes it?” I said.

“It doesn’t matter. You did what you were supposed to do and maybe they’ll remember you next time.”

“What if they give me some negative comments?” I asked.

“It might not be pleasant, but you’ll learn from it or maybe you’ll ignore it. Negative comments won’t kill you. Learn from them and then do it better the next time.”

Her advice wasn’t just about following up — it was about growing up, getting tougher, and putting yourself out there no matter how much it might scare you.

Schedule the follow- up

Schedule the first follow up when you send your pitch. That way it’s already taken care of it and you don’t have to even think about it. You also don’t give yourself a chance to chicken out.

Is the follow-up as detailed as the pitch?

The follow- up should be a very simple reminder. If you found out something incredible that is going to change your entire story, you may want to mention that, but there’s no need to go through the same details again.

Should the follow up be a separate email from the pitch?

Some people use the same email chain as their pitch. This way the editor can reference your pitch and be reminded of what you said. Other people think that it’s easier to read and respond to if it’s just one email. It’s up to you.

How do I use what I learned about the editor in my follow up?

Before you sent your pitch, you should have done some research on the editor and the publication. There may have been instructions regarding pitching and following up on the site. Go back to your research and see if the editor someone who usually responds right away or someone who only responds when it’s a yes?

This information can influence how many follow-ups you send. If the editor has a reputation for needing a follow-up or two, then send them.

There can be a secondary benefit for sending a follow up besides knowing if it’s a yes, a no, or a maybe; you can start to build a relationship with the editor.

Another benefit to following-up is that you start to build name recognition with the editor and they may begin to view you as a professional who knows what they’re doing and knows how to follow directions.

I’m in no way a master at follow up, in fact, at the end of last year, I sent two pitches and only followed-up with one. But this year will be different. I plan to fight my fear of the follow-up and do them more often.

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Christine Schoenwald

Written by

Writer for The Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Startup, Tenderly, Fearless She Wrote, MuddyUm.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

Christine Schoenwald

Written by

Writer for The Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Startup, Tenderly, Fearless She Wrote, MuddyUm.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

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