One of the most annoying periods of a freelancer’s working week is the wait in between the pitch and the commission/rejection. With some editors you can have a reply (for better or for worse) within the hour. With others you might spend a few days talking to their voicemail before you get them and that elusive answer.
This can be a pretty frustrating venture as you’re very much in the air until you get a response and you know exactly what you’re doing (or not as the case may be). If you’re not working on anything else at the time you tend to feel a little udder-less and aim-less during this wait, which is compounded by the fact that you have a good idea (in your opinion, at least) but nothing to do with it.
Once you do get the response many of your ideas will inevitably get the thumbs down. If the answer has been a particularly tricky one to obtain it means you may have spent your time chasing an editor for absolutely nothing – the prospect of having to start again on the same path with another editor quickly becomes very unappealing.
At times like these it’s easy to lose patience and to undertake a more scatter-gun approach to pitching, throwing the idea to anyone and everyone in one go and hoping to that someone will bite.
Do not do this.
Just like a fisherman with 10 lines cast will have a hard time catching anything at all, you too will likely find yourself worse off in the long run if you take the seemingly quick fix to pitching.
There’s an interesting thread on boards.ie which goes into one or two of the reasons why you shouldn’t pitch far and wide at once, but the reasons are pretty obvious. If you pitch the same idea to a number of rival publications at once and more than one comes back with a commission, you’re going to be in trouble.
Of course you don’t have to pitch the same story at the same time to make a balls of it – you can find yourself in a similar quandary if you pitch a story without finalising the status of a previous attempt elsewhere.
This is the mistake I made a few months ago. I submitted a story to a daily, left it a day or two (but – and here was my first mistake – didn’t follow it up on the phone). I then went to a Sunday with the same story pitch, only to get a call from the daily nearly straight afterwards telling me they wanted to use the piece. So there I was with a daily newspaper picking up the same story I was in the middle of pitching elsewhere and as I had pitched to them first (and not followed up in any way) it’s only fair to say that they had first refusal on it. So back I went to the Sunday to tell them someone else had picked up the story and I got an understanding and polite response, coupled with a polite bit of advice telling me to be careful not to put myself in that position in the future. I was mortified and all apologies but thankfully the Sunday editor didn’t seem pissed off… the whole thing just stank of “rookie mistake” because that’s exactly what it was.
Just to make it even worse the article was never published by the daily. Just my luck.
The moral of the story is to have patience when pitching. Do not pitch the same idea or story to more than one editor at once and be sure you know where your pitch stands before you move on to the next editor. Yes, this can double or triple the amount of time it takes to turn an idea into a commission but it’s worth it. The last thing you want is to have two rival newspapers both commissioning you for the same article – it’s a sure-fire way to ensure that you don’t get a look in with either ever again.