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Freelance journos: is it ok to follow up unanswered pitch emails with a phone call to the editor?

(40 Posts)
Bitzer Tue 02-Oct-12 11:05:29

I've been writing and editing for years but mostly working for contract agencies and publications and almost never pitching ideas to editors. (In fact for years I was on the receiving end of pitches, wish I'd appreciated then how much guts it takes to keep sending ideas out into the ether...)

Anyway, have decided to try and branch out into newsstand but with v little experience of pitching to newspapers and mainstream mags I've no idea what the protocol is.

I'm putting together a really great feature, have written a tight pitch for it and emailed it to about 8 people e.g. at environment Guardian, Indi, DT & Times, but no-one has bitten. Do I:
(a) call up each of the editors I've emailed and ask if they've had a chance to think about whether they'd like to run the piece (or will that just piss them off because they're busy?
(b) try different publications?
(c) cut my losses and find a new story (v reluctant to do this because I'm confident it's a winner and I've spent a lot of time researching it).

Would really appreciate any guidance from those in the know. Thanks v much

TwelveLeggedWalk Tue 02-Oct-12 11:23:52

Bitzer, no advice but reading carefully as in a similar boat!

I suspect that might be the problem though, there are LOTS of us in similar vessels...

Bitzer Tue 02-Oct-12 11:33:34

Yes, I'm sure you're right. Was just thinking that while scanning the past threads. But I'm not expecting all my income to come from interesting newsstand projects, happy to do the corporate website-type stuff too, but I do sooo hope I can get this one article published because it's a great story.

scootle Tue 02-Oct-12 11:36:52

I would call because they may well have missed your email altogether - got to be ballsy if you want to sell a piece.

I would start with DT/Times, then the Guardian and end with the Indi (likely to pay the worst).

Mrskbpw Tue 02-Oct-12 11:40:23

Me too. I've pitched 37 features ideas to editors since April (that's shocking actually) and I've had 4 responses. FOUR. Not four commissions, four actual replies to my pitches. And I'm no rookie - I've been writing for 15 years and have written for lots of different mags.

I've followed up with emails, but never with a phone call. I used to commission (but I always replied to pitches!) and phone calls would just annoy me. So I wouldn't recommend that. How long ago did you pitch?

I do think it's rude not to reply at all. Almost unforgivably rude actually. It takes two minutes to reply and say 'thanks but no thanks'. No one's that busy.

Sadly I think this is just how it is in journalism - in magazines at least. There's a really horrible culture of having to beg for everything. It's very definitely who you know and not what you know.

Er, remind me why I do this again?!

TwelveLeggedWalk Tue 02-Oct-12 11:50:31

Wow Mrskb, 37 separate ideas, or 37 pitches?

(not that it matters, I'm just getting an idea of what is a reasonable strike rate! And impressed with your productivity!)

Bitzer Tue 02-Oct-12 11:58:40

THanks v much for the feedback.

mrskbpw crikey that's a bit depressing (but helpful!)

I pitched about 11 or 12 days ago. And sent one chaser email to the Guardian yesterday. Annoyingly the Times email keeps bouncing back, it's an address I got from them over the phone, and I've called to double check it but it's still bouncing. Don't dare incur their wrath by calling again so guess I'll just have to send it to the general 'features' email.

Out of interest, do you always find the name of an individual (that's what I've been trying to do) and email them, or do you ever send a pitch to features

Mrskbpw Tue 02-Oct-12 13:09:49

I normally email an individual. But if that's bouncing back you could send it to the general address and explain why? Or put FAO name in the subject?

Twelve - not 37 different ideas! Am not that productive. Some I've pitched to more than one mag, and some I've pitched again. For example, I pitched one to a fitness mag about women doing traditionally male sports, focussing on lovely Nicola Adams the boxer. No reply. When she won her gold medal, I pitched it again. No reply.

Scootle - do you pitch? You sound like you know what you're talking about! Any tips?

Bitzer Tue 02-Oct-12 13:36:32

Mrs - yes, was planning to do that, I just like to keep emails as short & sweet as possible and avoid excuses if poss so feels a bit unsatisfactory.

I know what you mean about people not responding at all. As you say, it takes a few seconds to type a 'we're not looking for this kind of feature at the moment' kind of email.

lalalonglegs Tue 02-Oct-12 14:28:56

The problem I found when I was on the comm'ing desk of a national was that I would receive an email from a freelance and, if I thought it was good, I wasn't allowed to commission it (despite that being part of my job hmm) but had to run it past the senior editor who then wouldn't get back to me about it. If she did, it was generally no because after several weeks of prevaricating, it had gone off the boil/become stale. Everyone on the papers I used to work for seem to have similar problems - there are very few people able to give a definitive nod. It's very, very depressing and a large part of the reason I decided to stop freelancing sad.

This YouTube clip is far more articulate about the whole rigmarole than I am. Enjoy (or,alternatively, cry).

scootle Tue 02-Oct-12 14:50:36

I work in a related field but was a journalist for a while; dp is a journo. I think pitching is almost dead tbh - everyone I know in the media commissions people they already know so even really really good ideas don't get through.

But that means there is actually nothing to lose by picking up the phone, OP. If the papers don't bite - most likely - then go for specialist magazines, who are more likely to be interested, especially if your idea doesn't have a newsy hook.

TwelveLeggedWalk Tue 02-Oct-12 15:21:04

oh my. <sobs>

PermaShattered Tue 02-Oct-12 22:51:58

I pitched by email to the Guardian last week. I had no response so emailed a day later (effectively, have you had any thoughts of my email from yesterday....?).

Result - yes, and sorry, she had forgotten about it; yes, she'd like it. Due tomorrow, publication (online) on Friday smile

Don't ever give up....

PermaShattered Tue 02-Oct-12 22:53:44

PS I have found picking up the phone after an email is a good thing because emails easily get sent to spam. A call can make a difference.

TwelveLeggedWalk Wed 03-Oct-12 07:18:47

Oh well done Perma! Out of interest, was that to sn editor you already had contact with or a cold call?

Bitzer Wed 03-Oct-12 09:27:15

Perma that's great - well done! How exciting. I know my emails aren't being spammed because I'm getting out of office messages when they aren't about. I feel I should pick up the phone but want to avoid stressing out an overworked editor and thereby putting them off commissioning me.

scootle Good advice all round. I must just pick up the phone, got a really snooty woman on the phone from the Times yesterday and it put me off but I suppose there's nothing to lose. Out of interest, have any of you written for/worked for local newspapers?

lalalonglegs depressing but insightful, thanks!

PermaShattered Wed 03-Oct-12 09:42:50

Twelve - virtually a cold call. I had a little interaction via Twitter but nothing else.
Scootle - not since i was at journo college!
Whilst i know experience reaps confidence (I've been doing this for 12 odd years now), having self confidence makes all the difference. Why NOT pick up the phone to chase it up? You have a job to do - just as the editors too. You're not inferior smile

Bitzer Wed 03-Oct-12 10:00:57

Perma - yes you're right of course and thanks for the nudge.

TwelveLeggedWalk Wed 03-Oct-12 12:01:32

This is such an informative and simultaneously inspiring/depressing thread! Thank you all for sharing your wisdom. Good to know that if the answer is yes, it tends to be NOW, so I will hold off from pitching any ideas until I'm in a position to follow them up instantly.

Bitzer Wed 03-Oct-12 12:58:15

Update – I finally plucked up the courage to call the relevant Guardian section editor. He'd been away but was very friendly, seemed interested in the article and said he'd take a look and get back to me today. So, whatever the outcome, in this instance calling was a good call, so to speak.

scootle Wed 03-Oct-12 13:29:39

Great! There's just nothing to lose by calling really.

PermaShattered Wed 03-Oct-12 16:13:01

Bitzer - keep up updated!

Bitzer Thu 04-Oct-12 12:31:10

well - he did get back to me as promised. Said he was going to pass on it but suggested contacting the editor of another section, which I did. Nice to have at least had a response

Bitzer Thu 04-Oct-12 14:51:20

OK - useful update for those wondering about whether it is still worth pitching ideas. I spoke to the second editor who was lovely. She said it's probably not right for them because it clashes with another feature they're thinking of running but was really nice and thanked me for sending in the idea. She said they do love getting ideas from people. So, I still haven't got a commission out of it, but there is hope...

PermaShattered Thu 04-Oct-12 19:18:56

I think that's really encouraging. Build on that and pitch other ideas to her smile

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