Do editors get tired of hearing from freelancers?
If you save an editor time, they won’t get tired of seeing your name in their inbox.
A freelancer who prefers to remain anonymous asks:
I was lucky enough to get two bylines at a major publication, and I would love to keep that momentum going. However, I don't want to make the editor tired of hearing from me. Is it more important to editors that they bring on new voices they've never published before, or to have a stable of freelancers they've already worked with? What's a reasonable amount of time to wait between pitches? If my next pitch gets turned down, should I take it as a hint to stop pitching that site?
First of all, congratulations! You got two articles published with what I presume are two highly visible bylines. These articles have the potential to get you work from many different kinds of clients, especially if you make them a highly visible component of your freelance portfolio.
But what you’re asking about is HOW TO GET MORE WORK FROM THE SAME CLIENT, which is ONE OF THE KEY ELEMENTS OF FREELANCE SUCCESS.
I’m not going to go over all of the reasons why repeat clients can be more valuable than new clients, nor am I going to cover when it’s time to drop a repeat client in favor of a new, higher-paying client. You can do the math on both of those on your own. (As I wrote in my last advice column, it all comes down to time vs. money.)
Instead, I’m going to answer each of your questions in turn.
Do editors get tired of hearing from freelancers?
Yes. (Sorry, freelancers.) When I worked as an editor, there were a handful of people who contacted me more often than I would have liked. These weren’t the freelancers who sent over, like, pitch spam which is easy to reject and delete. They were the freelancers whose pitches I really wanted to accept because I knew they could potentially do good work — but since their work was not yet excellent, it would take extra time from both of us to get the piece publication-ready.
Maybe they could turn in a solid final draft, for example, but only after I worked with them on their shaky first draft (and slightly-less-shaky second draft).
Maybe they sent over three half-baked pitches for every fully-baked one.
Maybe they never, ever memorized the publication’s style guide — which meant I had to spend time adding or removing their serial commas (depending on which publication it was).
The “extra time” factor is the key element here. All else being equal, editors prefer to work with freelancers who can turn in publication-ready first drafts, who know the style guide like the backs of their cliché-ridden hands, and so on.
In other words: If you save an editor time, they won’t get tired of seeing your name in their inbox.
I SHOULD MENTION
IF A FREELANCER WORKED WITH ME ON ONE ARTICLE
AND THEN THEIR NEXT PITCH WAS BETTER
AND THEIR NEXT DRAFT WAS BETTER
AND THEIR NEXT PUBLISHED ARTICLE WAS BETTER
I LOVED WORKING WITH THEM
IT’S NOT ABOUT WHERE YOU START
IT’S ABOUT WHERE YOU GO
WAIT, AREN’T EDITORS SUPPOSED TO, LIKE, EDIT?
Editors have two responsibilities — one to their writers and one to their readers. These responsibilities overlap, in the sense that a good editor wants to get the best writing out of a writer and give the best writing to the readers.
There are different values of “best” depending on which publication you’re writing for (a publication that focuses on longform explainers vs. a publication that focuses on action-based listicles, for example), and that was also one of the reasons why certain freelancers were slightly more time-consuming than they probably realized. These freelancers were writing for a (real or fictional) publication whose value of “best” was different than the one set by the publication I was working for, and so I had to take extra time to make the writing match the standards.
BUT “MAKING WRITING MATCH STANDARDS” IS AN EDITOR’S JOB, RIGHT?
Yes, to an extent. Let me try to rephrase this:
I love working with writers, at all levels. I love teaching writers, and I love editing writers — but those are two very different activities, and they take different kinds of time and energy.
Sometimes, as an editor, I felt like I was teaching the writer instead of working with them as an editor and creative peer. Teaching is a different skillset than editing, and editors are not necessarily supposed to teach.
Now we’ll get back to the questions you actually asked. ❤️
Is it more important to editors that they bring on new voices they've never published before, or to have a stable of freelancers they've already worked with?
Both. They want both. They probably have some mental and/or literal calculation of how many new writers to add every quarter and how many repeat writers to feature every quarter, and you don’t need to worry about that.
What's a reasonable amount of time to wait between pitches?
Pitch the next article when you invoice the current one. If you invoice via email, put the pitch in the same email as the invoice PDF. If you invoice via one of those third-party services, send the email the same day that you send the invoice:“Hi! Wanted to let you know that I just submitted my invoice for TK, and I was curious if you’d be interested in an article on TK2.”
If you don’t have an excellent, fully-baked pitch ready to send when you file your invoice, then pitch whenever you’ve got it ready to go.
Remember: Editors want to see stories, not ideas. They want to know that you have a plan of action (especially regarding interviews/research), and they want to know that you’ve thought about why this pitch is relevant to their readers. Here is my guide to writing that kind of pitch.
Sending an email that goes something like “Here’s my invoice, would you be interested in a story about new crypto trends” is only appropriate after you’ve done, like, 10+ pieces with that editor. By then, they’ll know that you can pull of a complete, excellent, ready-to-edit-at-the-peer-level story about crypto without having to read the fully-baked pitch first.
If my next pitch gets turned down, should I take it as a hint to stop pitching that site?
It depends on how your pitch gets rejected:
Ghosty-toasty: Either the editor is currently too busy to reply to everyone, or they’re simply too busy to reply to you. Send one more pitch if you want, and see if it gets a better response.
Copypasta: “Thanks-but-I-hope-you-find-a-home-for-it-elsewhere” is polite, but does not indicate that the editor wants to work with you in the future.
Copypasta with an extra few sentences added: GOOD. GOOD SIGN. PITCH AGAIN. Any extra words added to an email can be viewed as an indication that the editor wants to spend time working with you.
Multi-paragraph email explaining why they can’t take this pitch but they really like your writing and they want you to pitch again in two weeks because right now they’re putting together a bunch of holiday-themed articles: OBVIOUSLY PITCH AGAIN.
I hope that answered your question, and I hope you pitch this publication again soon! They’ve already published you twice, after all — so they might be excited to work with you again, especially if you send over a fresh-from-the-oven, lattice-topped pitch (wow, I’m really hitting the “pitches are baked goods” metaphor) that they’ll have a hard time turning down.