Your Query Letter:
When to Follow Up with Editors

Freelance travel writing is mysteriously shrouded in a whole litany of rules and do’s and ‘don’ts.  I believe that many of these rules are not necessarily constructive and many are downright counterproductive.

Some are just a waste of time.

In that latter category is the rule “you should always follow up on your queries with a magazine editor”.

While perusing several books on freelance writing, I noticed all the experts said to contact the editor about 2-4 weeks after you’ve sent your query.  The purpose of doing this is to remind the editor of your query and see if they’re interested in your story.

For those of you who read my posts regularly, you know marketing magazine articles is my thing.  I’ve discussed the practice of following up on queries with many of my travel-writing peers on press trips.  We spend a lot of time cooped up in shuttles and vans, so naturally we like to talk shop and pick each others brains.

Without exception, my peers all tell me that, over the years, they’ve picked up one or two stories this way.  It seems that occasionally the editor has had his or her memory jolted about the pitch, and then accepted it for publication.  But it doesn’t happen often.

I consider the practice of following up on a query letter a waste of time, for several reasons:

1.    It’s time consuming for you and the editor, and the miniscule return on this practice is simply not worth it.

2.    Editors generally don’t like being bugged by overeager freelance writers unless you have a longstanding relationship with them.

3.    Editors have different policies regarding their response time to a query letter. Some promise to respond to your query within one or two weeks, while others state that if you haven’t heard back from them within 6-8 weeks, assume they’re not interested in your pitch.  In this case they’re actually telling you not to follow up. 

4.    If you haven’t heard back from an editor within one to two weeks, it’s likely they’re not interested in your story.  Here’s why:  if your query captured the editor’s attention and is a good fit for their editorial calendar, they’ll reply quickly.  Often, very quickly.

I’ve never bothered following up on my queries because I sell 90% of my pitches the first time around.  While most good freelance travel writers consider themselves lucky to get 25% of their stories accepted for publication, I have 90% of my queries accepted for publication on the first go around.

I believe my high acceptance “hit” rate by magazine editors comes from doing a number of things thoroughly rather than just doing one thing.  

There is a series of things you must do to boost your chances of convincing editors that your article will be a good fit for their magazine.  But here’s the rub: every one of these things must be done well.

You Can't Have Any Broken Links

I call this my links-in-the-chain theory of marketing freelance travel writing.  I’ve developed a system that works practically every time, and it includes all of these things:

1.    Dreaming up a salable topic idea
2.    Researching the topic thoroughly
3.    Finding and researching publications to pitch the idea to
4.    Creating a query letter that will resonate with the editor
5.    Delivering a quality piece in a timely manner
6.    Getting repeat business with that editor

As we all know, if a chain has a weak link, it will break at that link when the system is stressed.

If there is a deficiency in the preparation and presentation of your story pitch, an experienced editor will notice it and your chances of getting the piece accepted for publication decreases significantly. 

Most experienced writers reading this will not be surprised at this system.  If they’re successful, chances are they are doing these things.  The point is that every one of the parts is important. 

If you neglect any one of the preparations in this chain, your chances of being published plummet.  

Many freelance writers think that writing a good query is what is most important in the pitching process.  They concentrate their energies and time on that while neglecting to do some preliminary research on their topic.

But, a ‘hollow’ query letter that neglects to throw in some juicy and interesting facts and figures about the topic is more likely to result in a rejection.  It won’t convince the editor that you know your subject.

In a similar way, a well-researched topic that is presented in a poorly written query letter is likely to get deleted from the editor’s inbox.  In this day of “instant writers” the editor will simply continue on through his inbox to see what other stories are being offered.
 
You need to spend enough time researching your story ideas and getting your pitch right the first time.  This is where to spend your valuable time.  Otherwise, you’re wasting your time following up on your queries.

Do a bang up job of selecting and researching your topic, put together a good list of well-targeted magazines, and create a dynamite query letter.  These things together add up to doing all you can to sell your story idea. 

And if you don’t hear back from the editor over the next few weeks, accept that your story idea is not a good fit for that magazine.  Move on!


Related topics that will interest you:
12 Query Letter Mistakes
The Brighter Side of Rejection Letters
100 Print Magazines that Want to Publish Your Travel Articles eBook


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