From the “never give up” files—Last month, I received a suprisingly condescending email in response to a story I was pitching. “Does this strike you as something we would publish?”
It was sent by a deputy editor from the nation’s third largest newspaper. “I was hoping it might it might fit your travel section, which I guessed you might oversee,” I replied. “Would you be willing to forward to the appropriate editor?”
The next day, the gentlemen apologized for being rude. But then he continued “in a spirit of friendliness” to list many greviences in a patronizing 350 word follow-up.
For example, although just nine years older than I, according to his social media profile, he insisted that I call him “Mister.” He didn’t like that I assumed he might be interested in the story, how I listed my credentials in an effort to get him to notice my story (Oh, the irony!), nor the non-exotic nature of my story. He concluded by saying “your prose isn’t terrible” but “you need to up your game, a lot, if you ever want to be published in our newspaper.”
The same day, I received two separate replies from two of his equals at the paper praising my story—”You’re a great writer, Blake!”—while referring me to three potentially interested section editors. More irony.
Although the paper decided not to run my story, I was added to their freelance roster as a result. After pitching dozens of combined editors, the story got me in the door at several other publications, too, including The New Yorker, LA Times, Yahoo, and others.
Moral of the story: Ask for work. When in doubt, ask anyways. When you encounter a crotchety gatekeeper, DO NOT let them deter or discourage you. Stay the course. If you’re honest with yourself (meaning you listen to what ALL the signals are telling you, not just isolated ones) and persistent (like the above), you will be rewarded. It may not be exactly what you were looking for, but you will be rewarded.
If you pitch the wrong person—as I’ve done often and will continue to do—ask if they’ll refer you to the right person. Most of them will.
Do some research, however. Although this gentlemen accused me of “not doing my homework,” his title was ambiguous and similar enough to what has worked in the past. So I pitched him just in case. I don’t regret it.
Even though his feedback was negative and anti-constructive, it solidified my resolve and ideals. He was an outlier that in no way speaks for the majority, not even his own publication.
Maybe he was having a bad day, week, or year. Maybe he, like so many other journalists, let his skepticism and focus on bad news get the best of him. If he’s unhappy, as he appears to be, I feel sorry for him. I don’t fault him for unintentionally trying to keep me down. If he’s lost hope, I hope he finds it.
Why am I telling you this story?
I tell you because when (not if) you find yourself barking up the wrong tree, I hope you’ll have the courage to politely scale down and try another one. When (not if) you pitch the wrong person, pitch someone else. When (not if), you encounter jaded gatekeepers, I hope you’ll kindly ask for a better time or person to speak to. When (not if), you’re timing’s bad, I hope you’ll try again later, unless they object, which is something I always include with my follolw-up requests.
Don’t assume that buyers will remember you when the timing is right. Periodically make yourself available with follow up correspondence so you remain top of mind.
Lastly, don’t equate no reply as “no.” Keep asking presumed decision-makers for the opportunity to accept or decline. On average, I do this four to five times per person, per request (at most once a quarter, usually once every 6-12 months).
Having sent thousands of requests in my career, only once has someone deemed my tenacity unprofessional. “You should have known when I didn’t reply for the fourth time that I wasn’t interested,” an upset man once emailed. If you ever get that response, I hope you don’t let that discourage you either. That line of thinking is wrong in both psychological and professional terms.
If there’s one thing running a solvent business for 12 years has taught me, it is this: persistence is rewarded. Count on it. My largest account to date took a year’s worth of asking.
Just this week, a top three tech company granted my request to pitch them. “Thanks so much for your polite persistence,” the big deal said. “I’m going to ask my assistant to schedule an interview with you. Please continue to follow up.”
I would have anyways. When promoting yourself, you should too.