The Art of Following Up
Following up is an important part of a writer’s business. One writer I interviewed for The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock told me that up to 90% of her assignments come through follow-ups.
Not hearing back from an editor doesn’t always equal rejection. Your e-mail may have been filtered to the editor’s spam folder, she may have lost your e-mail, or she may be so busy that your e-mail is sitting in her in-box, buried beneath hundreds of others. Or, best-case scenario, the editor passed your query along to her boss or is holding onto it for the next editorial meeting, and she hasn’t had the time to let you know.
Whenever I send a query or letter of introduction (LOI), I save it to a special folder in Gmail labeled “Follow-Up.” Every couple of weeks, I go through the box and follow up on those queries and LOIs that haven’t gotten responses. You could also be a little more tech-savvy than me and schedule follow-ups in your calendar such as iCal or Google Calendar. (For some reason, I schedule follow-ups with potential corporate clients in iCal, but don’t do that with queries and LOIs. Maybe it’s time to change that!)
The writers’ forums are clogged with posters asking, “When should I follow up?”, and there are as many answers are there are people who want to know. I say to go with your gut on this one. Personally, I follow up by e-mail in two weeks, then again in another two weeks, and then I do a final follow-up by phone two weeks after that. The only thing you need to be careful of is coming off as a stalker. (And yes, I have heard horror stories from editors about writers who followed up every day.)
Now, two weeks is just my preference. You may want to follow up sooner with editors you have a relationship with, and later with new-to-you editors. See what works for you.
When writing your follow-up message, it doesn’t hurt to be polite and assume that the e-mail was lost and that the editor isn’t just sitting on it to torture you. I use the subject line “Follow-Up: Name of Query,” then I write something like:
Hello! I’m writing to follow up on my query “Hire Me Now,” which I sent to you on May 1. Since I haven’t heard back from you, I’m afraid my query may have been lost in cyberspace or in your spam folder! When you have a few minutes, would you mind letting me know if this idea is interesting to you? I’ve pasted the query below. Thanks so much, and I look forward to your reply!
Then, I paste the query below so the editor doesn’t have to go back digging through her old e-mails to find it.
If you don’t hear back after a couple more weeks, it pays to pick up the phone. Scary, I know! but I do it all the time and I’ve never been yelled at. To contact an editor via phone, call the main magazine number, which you can often find online, and ask for the editorial department of X magazine. If that doesn’t work, try calling the ad department — their number is often listed on the masthead or on the website — and tell them you’re trying to reach the editorial department, and would they happen to have the number?
Another question writers ask is when to finally give up and move on. If I don’t hear back after two e-mail and one phone call follow-up, I generally give up. But I have been known, during times when I feel like procrastinating, to go back through that folder and follow up on queries that are six months old or older! Why the hell not?
So…do you follow up on your queries? If not, why not? Are you afraid to follow up? Do you have any stories of assignments you’ve gotten from follow-ups — or horror stories of follow-ups gone terribly awry? We’d love to hear them! [lf]
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Jun 22, 2009 Writing