When a Freelance Writer Gets Only Silence from an Editor

by John Soares on March 19, 2014

When a writer gets only silence from an editor.

Courtesy freeside510

One unfortunate aspect of freelance writer/editor relationships is dealing with rejection, and also dealing with silence, which sometimes means rejection but often does not.

Here’s an e-mail I received recently from a purchaser of my ebook Writing College Textbook Supplements who was diligently applying my advice on how to connect with editors at textbook publishing companies. While this deals with my specific area of specialization, the advice I give at the bottom of the post applies to all freelance writers.

Hey John,

I have been contacted many sales reps and all are forwarding my information on to their editors. However, I have yet to hear from any editors. The sales reps have not given me the editor’s contact information. Should I be calling these sales reps after a few weeks? That would seem pointless to me since I really need to talk to the editors. I want to be proactive about this but I think I need to get the editor’s information. Any tips?

And here’s my reply:

I know it’s frustrating. Most editors are very busy with many tasks, including many not related to supplements, and they often don’t follow up on communications. They likely just took your info from the book reps and put it into files for the future.

And speaking of timing, this is typically a slow time of year for getting supplements work [March]. I’ve found it’s most prevalent from April or May through the end of the year, although I do have two projects that are finishing right now.

Back to the lack of communication from editors: I send out e-mails inquiring about work 2-3 times a year to editors I’ve worked with before, some on a dozen or more projects. Less than half write me back.

However, editors do get communicative when they have projects, so it could be that out of the blue you get an e-mail asking if you are interested in working on a supplement. That’s how it’s been for me.

You can contact the book reps again and indicate that you haven’t heard from their editorial contacts. Ask for specific names, e-mails, and phone numbers. You may have some success with that approach. Also check the websites of specific companies; sometimes you’ll find contact info for editors.

It can take some time to get launched in this field, but once you do the work comes more steadily. And once you work for one editor, she’ll likely give you contact info for other editors within the company.

Hang in there.



Take-Home Messages

1. Stay active with your marketing efforts and don’t get discouraged.

2. Editors usually wear many different hats, and just because they don’t respond to your queries, it doesn’t mean they are rejecting you; it likely means they are very busy with other work right now and will only be in touch when they actually need a writer.

3. It takes time to launch a successful career as a freelance writer, whether you specialize in writing college textbook supplements/ancillaries or in one of the many other hundreds of other potential specialties, so take that into account and make sure you have other sources of income.

4. Understand that some niches have seasonality. For example, if you are a travel writer and you want to write about winter scuba diving in the Caribbean, you need to time your pitch several months ahead, like July. In my field, many textbook supplements are completed during summer and fall, so I need to be on editor’s radar then.

Your Take

Any stories to share? What’s been your experience with getting editors to contact you about writing projects?

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cathy Miller March 19, 2014 at 7:39 AM

There’s a reason Timing is everything is a cliché. 😉 For example, the fall season in employee benefits is a very busy time for most companies. It is when those with plans effective 1/1 have open enrollment meetings.

Depending on the size of the company, that can mean creating their communications in the summer months so they are ready in time for the meetings.
Cathy Miller recently posted…Your Marketing Plan B May Save the Day


2 John Soares March 19, 2014 at 8:30 AM

You are so right Cathy. Every industry has a calendar that affects when they need us.
John Soares recently posted…How I Chose My Freelance Writing Niches


3 Tom Bentley March 19, 2014 at 9:20 AM

John, some publication websites have full editorial calendars so that writers can see if they can fill needs in the months ahead of publication (some print publications need articles many months in advance). I send out a lot of email queries/pitches to many different types of magazines, and find that some editors will answer immediately (surprise!) and others not at all (less of a surprise these days). And sometimes an answer won’t come for months—but it might be a “yes!”

As you suggest, persistence (and often a thorough sense of what the magazine is about, studying its articles and advertisers) is key. Writers can often break into a publication by writing a short FOB (front of book) piece first, which could give the editor confidence you can fulfill a feature assignment later.
Tom Bentley recently posted…How to Successfully Write Like a Turkey


4 John Soares March 19, 2014 at 9:27 AM

Excellent advice Tom. Back when I wrote for magazines, I paid close attention to seasonal needs and sent my queries about six months in advance of those.

And it’s good to know that some magazines publish their specific editorial needs in a calendar. That helps both editors and writers.
John Soares recently posted…8 Time Management Techniques for Successful Writers


5 Damian Chmiel March 19, 2014 at 11:34 AM

It’s so frustrating!

What is a problem to write a quick response – sorry, we are not interested/we do not need content. Or sometimes you get an answer after a month when you have full hands of work and you have to reject an offer…

As a writer you cannot have any delay. Unfair! 😛


6 Valerie Bolden-Barrett March 19, 2014 at 11:38 AM

John, thanks for addressing this issue. As a former editor, I would receive scores of queries a week and couldn’t, unfortunately, answer them all. But those that caught my attention were from writers who understood or had written for my publications’ audiences. I followed up on well-written queries offering new and interesting angles on the topics I covered. Since periodicals are planned months before publication, freelance writers must be patient and persistent.


7 John Soares March 19, 2014 at 11:46 AM

Valerie, thanks for giving the editor’s perspective. I know that most editors are swamped with many duties, including dealing with queries from writers.
John Soares recently posted…How Content Shock Hurts Freelance Writers


8 Lori March 19, 2014 at 12:52 PM

I’ve had editors who just don’t have time to say “No thanks.” If I tap them on the shoulder and they don’t respond, I take it to mean they can’t use the idea.

Like Cathy says, needs are often seasonal. While she’s busy during the summer, I go crazy-busy during the August-November time period. It just depends on the client and the schedule.


9 John Soares March 19, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Different industries definitely have different timetables.

I usually take silence to mean “we can’t use you or your services right now.” If it’s a good prospect, or an editor I’ve worked with before, I’ll follow up a few months later, if I need work then.
John Soares recently posted…The 8 Top Ways to Legally Lower Your 2013 Freelance Writer Tax Bill


10 Robert Traynor March 19, 2014 at 7:37 PM

That’s the beauty of self-publishing online: not having to deal with editors or gain their approval. Of course it has its advantages and disadvantages, but the former far outweigh the latter as far as I am concerned.
Robert Traynor recently posted…Banned from Warrior Forum!


11 Anne Wayman March 20, 2014 at 8:43 AM

John, like Valerie said, when I was an editor I too didn’t answer all queries… there just aren’t that many hours in a day. And I know it’s hard for writers to really believe that. I too kept the few that had studied, in my case, the magazine or the paper, and contacted them when I had a need.

What strikes me about the comments here is that there are many ways to market ourselves as writers… and they all work.
Anne Wayman recently posted…6 Tips for Creating Freelance Writing Invoices with Actual Sample


12 John Soares March 20, 2014 at 12:22 PM

Anne, I can definitely see that editors could get overwhelmed with submissions.

I’ve even heard of popular bloggers getting overwhelmed with guest-post pitches.
John Soares recently posted…5 Things About Wordpress That Really Bug Me


13 Ivan Berger March 20, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Frankly, I miss rejection slips–at least you knew where you stood. But it’s so little trouble to respond to e-mails: Just hit “Reply,” type “Sorry, no.” or “maybe later” and click Send. That’s easier than sending preprinted rejection slips was–with those, you still had to type the envelope.


14 John Soares March 20, 2014 at 12:20 PM

Ivan, I started writing back before email was prevalent, and I definitely got my share of printed rejection slips. They definitely took more time for an editor to create compared to sending out a quick email.
John Soares recently posted…How I Chose My Freelance Writing Niches


15 dilip yadav March 27, 2014 at 3:17 AM

I think that this article could be my fuel for restarting my freelancing again.
I will start again.
Thanks for sharing such nice words..
any tips for newbies like me!?


16 CrisisMaven June 21, 2014 at 8:20 AM

The “hang in there” is always the main point. As almost everything, success follows a statistical distribution. You might find a party interested in your style and range of subjects immediately and they just stop looking and you get all their work. Or you keep grinding on and see every initial interest fizzle. Both are not about you. That’s statistics. Of course if you can’t write, then you will always have the latter experience. That’s not statistics, that’s a natural law. With the average US American reading at eighth grade level, one can imagine how unevenly writing skills will be distributed, if we assume reading (literacy) precedes the ability to write (except for dadaism maybe). Other than that, take a leaf from the book of successful job application: It makes sense to first analyze the business and the unique selling proposition of any potential client. Then do some research on the next competitors, those they’re better than and esp. those they need to bat to get ahead. Think up how to outsmart the latter. Make that part of your proposal. Then hang in there.
CrisisMaven recently posted…The Swiss Central Bank Conundrum: Fighting Fire with Kerosene


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