Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Looking for freelance writing work is not for sissies ...

by Colleen Biondi
PWAC Calgary Chapter

Looking for work is not for sissies.

It sounds pretty basic. Email editors to let them know you are available for projects and they will give you work. But what if we don’t hear back (and, in my experience, that is happening more and more – editors are busy apparently), then what should we do? As professional freelance writers, we can’t afford to sit back and wait for work to come our way. We could be waiting till the cows come home.

Do we call them by phone or do we send them a reminder email (as in, “I am following up on my email of last week.”) or another type of message (as in, “Since I haven’t heard back I will assume you are not in need of my services at this time.”)?

Freelance writing skills now include finessing the situation so that responsible follow up does not turn into quasi-stalking. My rule of thumb is to send a reminder email, followed finally and if necessary, by a message like that last one. I cannot tell you how many times, when I have said “Looks like you don’t need anything,” I have heard back from folks. Ironically, when I say something like, “I know you are busy, so no need to reply if you have nothing at this time. I will connect with you in a few months to see if anything has changed,” people tend to reply.

Follow up often bears fruit. The other day, an editor replied to say, “Thanks for getting back. I did get your follow up message and I apologize for not getting back to you faster.” Another said, “I was waiting to have my editorial meeting, so didn’t get back to you before now. I’d like to assign you a story and consider you for another in our fall issue.” Further to querying a national magazine, a follow-up phone call resulted in – nada. Well, you can’t win them all.

But when we follow up respectfully and in a timely fashion, at the very least we are, albeit briefly, front and centre in that editor’s mind. We have also demonstrated how we would approach a freelance assignment – with professionalism. And, of course, we might even get work out of it.

Would love to hear thoughts from my fellow writers. What do you do to keep that dialogue going? And if there are editors reading, do you have some comments about my approach or other viable suggestions about how to keep the work chugging along?


  1. Great topic, Colleen. As a general rule, I like to follow up with a person about one week after not getting a response from my initial e-mail. That's my general rule. With editors, I sometimes give them more time to respond, just because I know they're busy people. I keep my follow-up e-mail brief and remind the editor what my initial e-mail was about. In my experience, editors are generally happy to respond, even if their responses aren't always timely. I do believe, however, that editors read their e-mails in a timely fashion and that if they REALLY like a writer's idea, they'll promptly let the writer know.

  2. Nicely put Colleen - some great advice - thanks for sharing!

  3. Colleen Biondi23 May 2013 at 10:45

    Thanks Ladies. Another suggestion -- I generally copy and paste my original email into the follow-up one so that the editor doesn't have to go searching for my previous note. Happy writing.


  4. Thank you for sharing, Colleen! Very good ideas to keep in mind.

    I remember when I was teaching school...talking to principals and wondered: "Have they forgotten what it was like to be the teacher?" The same thought went through my mind about editor and freelance writer.

  5. Karen D. Crowdis24 May 2013 at 07:56

    Great post, Colleen! Having been the editor who had tardy reply times, I know how easily time slips away. Follow up was always welcome--but like Colleen says, not stalking. Another suggestion would be to estimate production schedules to know when editors might have more time to respond. Emails received at peak production times will likely be read, but not replied to quickly. I find most editors respect writers and remember what it was like to be a freelancer, but their time is not always their own. Good luck, everyone!

  6. Colleen Biondi24 May 2013 at 08:03

    Thanks Karen. That is a great idea about production schedules. What might be a typical production schedule for a monthly magazine or does it vary widely? Colleen