I’ve been wanting to put together this post for a long time. Freelancing as a writer or photographer is a tough job that requires persistence, resilience, thick skin, and above all, passion for what you’re doing. This post may also validate the reasons why many writers and photographers focus on growing and building their own blogs as their own outlets and main source of revenue.

There is no right or wrong way, but rather various paths to various goals that keep each of us fulfilled.

Overview

I didn’t really start tracking my pitches until very late in 2008 and over the last four years, keeping records has been invaluable in helping me learn and grow as a freelancer. Based on this experience, I presented the following A to Z Guide to Pitching Outlets powerpoint which you can view here.

I’ve categorized each query status using the following legend: Assigned, Interested, Rejected, and No Word.

Assigned – This means the article was assigned or submitted and published and/or paid for.

Interested – This means the editor expressed some interest in the query and it’s currently in some form of limbo with the publication.

Rejected – Very clear.

No Word – These are queries that I haven’t received any responses for to date.

2008

While I did publish a few articles in 2008, I didn’t start keeping any records until December 2008 and all those pitches (6 in total) sent in December were complete busts.

2009

In 2009, I actively decided to be more proactive in sending out queries to publications I really wanted to be published in. While the total number of pitches (141) seems outrageous, most of them were re-pitching the same idea almost verbatim to another publication if I got a rejection from one outlet or didn’t hear from an editor for weeks. Also, if I pitched a single photo, that also counted as a valid query.

Of all the queries sent, only 16% were assigned and editors expressed interest in 10% of the ideas. Most of the queries were either rejected, totally ignored, or lost in transition to invalid email addresses and what not. So my goal for 2010 was to study what I did wrong in 2009 and obviously reduce the number of rejections.

2010

While the assignments and interests stayed relatively similar, I focused on reducing my number of rejections which I eventually did. I found that by focusing and targeting my pitches around timely events and more news-worthy items, I usually got some interest from the editor which sometimes led to an assignment.

My goal for 2011 based on lessons from 2010 was to (A) send way fewer pitches instead of just throwing things out there, (B) nurture existing relationships and outlets, and (C) work on solid, concise, and targeted pitches with a higher percentage of acceptance.

2011

So far, I’ve sent out only 34 pitches this year. Close to half of them (41%) were either assigned or an editor expressed some interest in. Only 3% have been rejected, and 56% are still in that nebulous “no word”, “need to follow up maybe”, “lost in transition” phase.

All in all, it’s still an ongoing process of learning what works, what doesn’t, and how to keep with the flow.

Latest News

On the writing front, I’ve got upcoming pieces in AFAR, National Geographic Traveller (UK), TravelandLeisure.com, Ryanair Magazine, Heart & Soul, and Sweden.se. On the photography front, I’ll be publishing a double-page Big Picture spread in a major magazine which I’m super stoked about. Will share once the contract has been signed.

Also picked up a couple honorable mentions/nominations in the following competitions: PLANET Magazine, ISLANDS Magazine, Nigerian Photography Awards, and four weekly editors’ picks in NGT’s World In Focus.

  • @Sophie – I agree. Just repitching the no-word pieces to some other publications who might bite, and like you said, it really should be treated as a real job especially if one is freelancing full-time with no other “day” jobs.

    @Andi – Thanks!

    @Natalie – I usually send the editor 2 follow up emails before sending the pitch to another outlet and the follow up emails are usually 3-4 weeks apart.

    @JoAnna – Thanks! While I do understand editors are also pretty busy, they need to just send a one liner (“not interested”) so writers can also move on.

    @Erica – Thanks. Definitely a lot of work.

    @Thomas – That’s what I did the 2nd year, but then after that, I started to reduce and better tailor pitches.

    @Mack – I’m with you. I’d rather know that the idea didn’t work for a publication instead of it sitting in limbo.

  • Mack Reynolds

    Very interesting post. All of these charts are very good illustrations of your progress, and are inspiring too. It’s unfortunate that such a big slice of the pie is “no reply.” I think I’d rather be rejected than ignored. Good luck!

  • What a great way to present what you have done and are currently doing. I looks as though at first glance you actually just upped the number of submissions and go more work. But to then see that you are really weeded out what gets you rejection is a wonderful way to get more jobs with less submissions.

  • I admire your persistence and how well you keep track of all your picthes to various outlets. While the “No Word” percentage is probably a reality for most freelance writers, it’s great to see how much your rejection percentage has decreased since you started out in 2008. And congrats to your new honorable mentions!

  • It’s obvious from the pictures I’ve seen that you married LOVE. 🙂

    Thanks for the additional data points, they’re helpful.

  • I find it endlessly frustrating when editors don’t respond one way or the other. I would much rather receive a rejection and move on than no response at all.

    I commend you on keeping such accurate statistics. My goal this year has been to place is several new publications and develop ongoing relationships with editors so that I don’t have to send out as many blind queries. I don’t have stats on how successful that’s been except that I know I’ve hit and exceeded my goal of three new publications, several of which have resulted in such relationships.

    Keep up the good work, Lola. You truly are an inspiration.

  • This is interesting and inspiring. 140 pitches in a year with a full time job?! Wow. Having been an editor for a short while, it is really difficult to get back to everyone interested in pitching – especially to give them the feedback they may want. I felt I was pretty good at it and there are editors out there that are really great at getting back immediately. That said, it gets a bit disheartening when they’re like “no, no, no” and then when you do have a match, they say “no budget. Sorry.” On the flipside, as an editor, especially online it sucks to say to freelancers “we can only pay this much because we have X budget.” With posts, it’s not per word sometimes, it’s per post. But I think that depends on the outlet. Even if you do have a targeted pitch, what happens when they’re not getting back to you? How many times do you try before you risk being annoying ? What’s the lag time between each try?

  • Wow you are so brave to put this info out there, bravo! And super congrats for all of the much deserved success!!!

  • What a good idea to do statistics, Lola. Makes it seem even more like a ‘real’ job and not just a hobby. My “no word” pie slice seems just as disheartening, but then with each one, it becomes more of a statistic and thus less personal, doesn’t it… Also, even the “no word” ones may be worth something later. I sent a pitch to an in-flight mag two years ago and never heard a thing – then, last month, I was approached by that same mag for a different commission.

  • @Everyone – Thank you all for your comments! The “No Word” pie is still a major problem in the industry and I understand that editors stick with a few writers they’ve worked with for many years, and many pitches get lost in the pile. I am also an editor with Matador Network so I understand both sides of the fence.

    @Carlo – I’m with you. Would love to see how other writers fare with their pitching as well. If I plan to exist solely on freelancing, I need to be pitching a lot.

    @Mikeachim – I hear you. I feel editors should send a line at least that says “Not interested.” I had one editor who kept sending me “Not interested” the minute I sent her a pitch. The speed at which she sent the response indicated that she’d not even read the email. After the 3rd or 4th pitch, I just ditched the publication. It wasn’t worth it.

  • Oh this is AMAZING. I’ve been meaning to put something similar together. Call me crazy, but I’ve also wanted to figure out if there’s a correlation between time of the week/month/day and acceptance rates – sometimes I get immediate responses, and sometimes it’s months later or not at all. If I’m pitching in the middle of the night or the weekend, it might get lost in the shuffle – I know this is true from a few editor’s feedback, but not sure if it’s a steady trend. Might be taking it too far, but for me, anything will help, and your data certainly does help! I feel as though I’m following the same trend as you – at first I barely pitched, then I got a few acceptances and now I’ve gone overboard pitching, when I should be tailoring more like you’re doing now. It’s also good to see that the “no word back” section is at that percentage for you – it inspires me to keep going on because I often let that get me down – it’s odd that having your pitches devoured by the void can be even more debilitating than a rejection. It’s so great to have this advice from someone so much further along than me, thanks again!

  • It’s wonderful that you shared this Lola (and also wonderful that you kept your records well enough to be able to!). Like others have said I’m sad to see there are still so many “no words” even at your high level of experience and professionalism. This was the main reason I gave up magazine work and went to regular blog work and training/consulting so in a way, I’m glad to see that it hasn’t changed and that for me this was the right decision. But I’m glad you didn’t because I always love reading stuff you’ve written so keep it up!!

  • Great information! Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been sending out more queries and just letting people know that I’m interested in freelance work. The combination of the two and just random timing has helped. I may chart my results too to get a better perspective.

  • Thanks for sharing, Lola! It is interesting to see that I am not the only one with about half of my queries ending up in the “no word” ether. It’s heartening to know that I am not alone, but it is still sad.

  • This is amazing – clear, useful, relevant. Thank you for sharing.

  • Like others have said, thank you for sharing this information and providing inspiration – and practical advice – to other people hoping to get published in more places. You never know what you can do if you don’t try…and then get smarter and try some more.

  • Love how the rejected slice has almost vanished. That’s a sign of a reputation built if ever there was one.

    And frankly, 141 pitches in 1 year is inspiring to the point that I suddenly feel the need to pitch 10 things before bed. That’s a good example to follow. Think I’ll have a go at doing that….

    But that “No Word” slice is sad to see. That’s editors who have missed opportunities to connect with writers, even if they don’t commission any work. Do you feel that’s…well…*unprofessional*? Because although I know most editors are swamped, it doesn’t take much to click “reply” and say “Sorry, that’s not what we’re looking for”. When luminaries like *Seth Godin* answer all their e-mail…well, yeah.

  • Marj

    Hi Lola,

    Love catching up with you via your blog. Also read Sweden.se when I remember as well. Keep striving.

  • Eva

    Great stuff, Lola. This makes me want to count up my own acceptances, rejections, and the (many, many) “no word” occurrences.

  • Thanks so much for sharing Lola! I’ve yet to really immerse myself in pitching publications…I’ve sent a few out, none which have been accepted (other than two articles printed in aree local culture magazine).

    I would love to see something similar by other freelancers to see if this is an “average” thing…is it what can be expected in the world of freelancing?

  • This is incredible, and very inspiring – thanks for sharing, Lola!

  • Thanks for this, Lola! A definite call to keep pitching, keep pitching.

  • Echoing Pam – Lola, you are an inspiration! Thanks for sharing this.

  • @Tim – Thanks for chiming in! I completely hear you on the “No Word” part. While I understand that editors are swamped and more and more work is being written in-house, it’s still very disheartening. And who knows, I may very well be on the “screw all that!” path subconsciously and may eventually do my own thing.

    @Theresa – Thanks! And you’re right. Cutting workload to half while making the same amount of money should be a goal for every freelancer. I also like the fact that there isn’t one way. It’s also about finding your niche as a freelancer. Congrats as well on your latest guidebook too!

  • This is a wonderfully helpful set of information. Though I’m focusing almost entirely on freelance editing work (with maybe an occasional bit of writing here and there), I think the lessons still apply. When I first started out, I was trying to get work any which way I could. As I’ve gained some success and learned the ropes a bit more, I’ve been focusing, like you, on getting “better” work and investing my time and effort more wisely. My eventual goal is to half my workload but make the same amount of money, which will take time, though I’ve definitely already seen progress on that front, which makes it easier to stay on track and resist the urge to chase everything that passes my way. Congrats on the successes you’ve seen this year and in the years past, and thank you for sharing this open and honest look at the freelance travel writer life.

  • @Clare – Thanks! I still haven’t figured anything out completely and it’s an ongoing work in progress.

    @Pam – Thanks and I completely understand. While I can’t share too much financial details (and no, I didn’t marry money), what I can say is that most of the publications I’ve been shooting for usually pay $1 per word or higher and pay $50-$100 and higher per photo. So 4 assignments at $500 – $1000 each is a better use of my own time.

    From 2008-2009, I was still working as an application developer so that was my main source of income. I started actively saving aggressively a year before and parring down my daily lifestyle before I resigned from my job. Now, a lot of my income come from freelancing for Swedish clients which pay a lot more than my US/UK clients.

    @Christine – Just like writing down how much one eats each day for calorie-counting when dieting, this really helped me see where I was doing things all wrong. I also wrote down notes next to each pitch too.

  • The saddest part of all those charts is the “no word” part always being half or more for 3 years out of 4. As a writer, this is one of the main reasons I said, “screw all that” and concentrated on building my own business instead.

    As an editor, I still find it appalling that a writer with decent credentials and a sense of what makes a good query can get that many pocket vetoes. I answer every query sent to Perceptive Travel and that makes me unusual? It shouldn’t because for me it’s not even my full-time job. For magazine editors, it is and they’re being paid a good salary for it.

  • This is a fantastic way to see progress over the years and to figure out what works and doesn’t. Smart, Lola!

  • pam

    Lola, I love it when people share the facts of what they do like this. It’s nosy, but I’d love also to see the economic side, not on a piece by piece basis, but on a general top down earned X from travel writing in 2008, 2009, etc. I ask because I’m finding that publishing success doesn’t always equate to a financially viable lifestyle — for me that has a lot to do with why I pursue what I pursue. It’s personal, I know, and some folks don’t like sharing financial information, I can respect that.

    Your’e an inspiriation, I love seeing this, it presents — in an immediately comprehensible way — how you’ve carved out your success. Right on for you.

  • Great info Lola! Makes for fascinating reading and it’s great to see that you’ve learnt from 2008 – 2010 and are getting better returns this year! Keep it up 🙂