I hope you’re well and handling all this—however you’re handling it. You might be like me, who deals with stress with to do lists and busywork and tasks tasks tasks. What? It’s as good a coping strategy as anything else. Or maybe you just have quite a bit of time on your hands right now. Today we’re going to talk about when, and if, you need follow up on that thing right now.
Maybe you just sent out a manuscript or article pitch or cover letter or grant application a few weeks ago, and you’re wondering when it’s ok to follow up. If there’s ever been a time where you don’t want to needlessly bother people that time is now.
But also, the subject of the follow up might be your paycheck. It might be how you hope to make money in the future, whatever future, so needlessly waiting may not be an option for you, or in the very least anxiety-producing. Here are some things to think about as you consider sending that “Just following up!!” email.
Do you really need to know, or do you just want to know?
Believe me, I’m sitting on a “just following up!!” email that is not actually vital. I mean, it’s vital to me, but it isn’t my livelihood and I can still pay my bills if I never hear back about it. The urge is strong to get news, any news, that isn’t about viruses and ventilators and the horrible state of affairs. So if you don’t really need to know, wait a week or two on the follow up.
What’s going on with the person you’re following up with?
You might not be able to tell, or you might not know who’s on the receiving end of that follow-up email, but if you do know, maybe go check out Twitter or Instagram and see how that person is doing. Maybe you can’t tell, but maybe if you see their last post is Yay got a whole half hour of work in before the baby woke up!!!!! you might cut them a little slack. This isn’t a foolproof tactic, but if there’s information to find here, that information might be useful. We’re all suffering, but maybe this will give you some extra insight.
Maybe you already have your answer?
People rarely sit on a Yes. These are not normal times, but if things are moving forward with your book/project/job offer/article, it’s not likely that they haven’t gotten around to telling you yet. That’s very true in book publishing, where we very, very, very much like to give good news, because it happens less frequently than bad news. So if you’re waiting for word from an agent or editor, and you’re hoping for a yes, following up is not likely to nudge that yes out of the hopper. That doesn’t mean nudging will push someone to a no, or shake that no out like an apple from a tree, but it also doesn’t push someone to a yes. A yes is a yes regardless of your follow up emails. It might still be coming, so sit tight.
No response doesn’t automatically mean a no, either.
I’ve fallen pray to this, too. Just last night on my Zoom writer’s group meeting, I was speculating about something I haven’t heard back about yet and my lovely friend talked me down from doomsaying. See? Agents—we’re just like you! No response doesn’t automatically mean that the other person is dragging their feet about saying no to you. It most likely means they haven’t read or finished your thing yet, not that they don’t know how to break the bad news to you. It’s easy to say no, tbh. It’s much harder to say yes, or yes but here’s some [stuff] you need to do.
You can actually follow up anytime you want.
There’s no perfect time to follow up. You don’t know what’s happening on the other end of that email, good or bad. Maybe they’ll be delighted to hear from you! Maybe they haven’t been able to check their email in ten days. In the absence of any other information, follow up. Your email will go in the queue, and like with querying, it will be addressed roughly in the order it was received. So, get in the queue. What you need to work on is your expectations. Maybe you will get a fast response, maybe not. Either way, you’re in the same place you were before—waiting for an answer. That’s ok. You’ve got a lot of practice there. Try not to catastrophize or mindread. You can’t know what you can’t know, so just try to do something else. I’m sure you can find some way to make yourself useful.
Thanks to Delia Cai of Deez Links for the shout out yesterday! If you’re into excellent links, news, and commentary about the media industry, subscribe to Deez Links now. And welcome new followers! Here’s a round-up of stuff you can learn from my newsletter.
Everyone, stay safe. Stay well.