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ASK US WEDNESDAY: “I sent a story pitch to an editor and never heard back. Now what?”

by Leo Wiles
07 May 2014

Ask Us Wednesday NEWHi guys. I have replied to a few Pitch To Me Call-Outs on the site and while sometimes an editor will get back to me, more often than not I won’t hear back. After spending time working on a pitch I find this incredibly frustrating. Any advice? M

As a freelancer I understand how annoying it can be not to receive a thoughtful, timely reply when I feel like I’m opening a vein and putting myself emotionally and professionally on the line with my pitch. But I’ve also worked as an editor on several daily and weekly titles, and during those 12–14 hour days, I know from experience pitches can slide to the bottom of the priority list.

To give you a view from how it goes on the other side of the pitching fence: as a short-staffed editor, I often had over 400 emails landing in my inbox daily. I worked in an open plan office where everyone constantly walked up and interrupted me to discuss layouts, picture selections, final drafts and so on of the 26 stories and cover I was putting to bed for this issue. The reality for many freelancers pitching me – if their pitch wasn’t up to scratch – was a brief thanks but no thanks with a one liner reason. If they were lucky.

I know other editors who deal with the relentless pressure by becoming trigger-happy deleters. Especially if you sent your pitch to their predecessor, the wrong department, misspelt their name or that of the title, didn’t understand the house style or angle, rambled, didn’t realise you’d missed the title’s lead time, weren’t succinct or were blocked by the firewall by a large attachment.

So, if you’ve sent a pitch to an editor, here are my tips for what to do afterwards:

Don’t email bomb the editor unless you have the scoop of the century. Bombarding an editor about your pitch and whether they received it will only make you memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Understand there may be a commissioning process.  That may be a weekly news conference where new ideas (including your pitch) are raised.

Realise there might be other delays out of the editor’s control. They might be on deadline, and unable to respond to pitches for a week. Or they may be on holiday.

They may like your idea, but need to check you out. Unless an editor knows your name and your work, they may have to do some research committing their dwindling budget to your story (especially if they don’t know if pictures are available and you haven’t spelt out the timely hook relevant to their title). That can take time.

Do email once and phone a week later. If you’re still getting the cold shoulder, it’s probably best to take the hint: your pitch wasn’t right or wasn’t good enough for whatever reason. Some editors are great at conveying this to freelancers and really good editors may offer tips on how to send more targeted pitches next time. Others avoid the confrontation. So if it’s been a week or more and you’re itching to get it out elsewhere, just drop the editor a short, polite note to let him/her know.

Got a question about freelancing or the industry that you’d like Rachel or Leo to tackle in our new Wednesday blog post? Drop us a line.

Leo Wiles

Leo Wiles has worked as an editor, journalist and PR for over 20 years before recently retraining as a photographer. These days, she spends her time behind a lens, juggling her own clients with her work at Rachel's List, and her three gorgeous but lively kids.

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