Was there a way I could get more responses, even rejections? I decided to experiment.
Like most writers, I started my freelancing career fearing and hating pitching in equal parts. Then, I doubled my response rate.
In the early days of my career, I sent out five query letters a day, 25 queries a week. They were bad initially, but I worked my way up to a point where I was getting regular rejections and then, over time, regular acceptances.
This worked for a while. In fact, it worked for many years. My career started progressing. I got assignments from publications such as TIME and The New York Times. And then I got repeat assignments from these publications and many other prestigious titles as well. I was making money, and I was doing well. I’d send out ten queries, five of them would be ignored, five would get a response, and on average, I’d get one or two assignments.
While this worked, those non-responses upset me. They upset most freelancers the way rejections don’t.
Rejections are tough sometimes, but most of us understand that they’re a part of the job and we don’t take them personally. Non-responses, however, piss off even the most battle-hardy amongst us.
Was there a way I could get more responses, even if they were rejections? I decided to experiment.
What I Did To Double My Response Rate
I tried doing a number of things differently in my pitches, one at a time.
So I played with the salutation (no difference), I tried sending my pitches on a different time of day or week (no difference), I tried sending two ideas instead of three, putting my bio first, and a ton of other things. I got my usual number of rejections, acceptances, and silences. None of these things made any considerable difference.
Except one. And it was this:
At the end of each email, I started inviting the editor to speak to me over the phone.
That single sentence doubled my response rate.
I used lines such as
“If you like the sound of this, I’d be happy to talk more over the phone.”
“Let me know if you’d like to speak over the phone or Skype.”
“I’d love to discuss this in detail. Let me know if you’re interested and I’d be happy to arrange a call.”
The difference was marked. Editors didn’t always take me up on my offer to talk on the phone, but it doubled my response rate to the queries. They weren’t always acceptances—in fact, I don’t think the acceptances increased in number at all—but I did start hearing back from editors and being able to move those conversations forward.
Why It Worked
I’m convinced that the reason my “let’s talk” strategy worked was for three reasons:
1. It projected confidence
It said to the editor that I knew what I was talking about and I’d be willing to discuss it further.
2. It showed that there was more to the story that I had to share
If my pitch had indeed intrigued the editor, as any good pitch should, the invitation to discuss that story further is just too good to pass up (especially if the editor has questions and wants to avoid the back and forth).
3. It’s an invitation to continue the conversation
Editors don’t like one-offs any more than writers do, and when an editor gets an opportunity to build a relationship with a writer, they will often take it.
Writers are often afraid to pick up the phone and therefore, most of us avoid even mentioning that we actually own phones. What if someone calls us?
By making yourself available, however, and by giving an editor the opportunity to build a relationship with you in the way that is the most convenient to them, you open the bridge to more responses, more relationships, and eventually, more work.
So stop being shy, pick up the phone today, and email me to let me know if it makes any difference in your response rate, too. Just don’t call.
P.S. Asking if I could drop by the office is the only reason I was able to break into TIME magazine. In my free case studies series, I lay out—in detail—how I broke into and became a regular at that magazine, as well as The New York Times, ELLE, and many more. Get those five case studies (at absolutely no cost to you) on this page.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more. She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators. Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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