I’ve given quite a lot of advice in this blog on how to sell travel articles. Here’s a lesson in how not to do it.
A few weeks ago I was emailed an unsolicited article. It was a Thursday, press day for our Saturday print section. It also happened to be a day when the Telegraph Media Group was expected to start making 80 journalists redundant. I had plenty of other things to think about, and I get a couple of hundred emails a day, but I answered briefly that we had all the copy we needed.
I got this response:
As a professional freelancer I’m all too aware that ‘we have all the copy we need at the moment‘ usually means that a piece has not gotten an actual look, nor will it ever get one. Based on the reply times on this email (5 minutes, could be wrong), I’m guessing that this has been the case here, which suggests that as you do not already know my work, it is preemptively judged to be below consideration.
I want, however, to believe that ‘we have all the copy we need at the moment‘ is a situation that is amenable to change — ie, that you will not, forever and in perpetuity, be full to overflowing with great pieces to fill the pages of your section. As such, and as I have written an excellent piece that would suit that section wonderfully, I would politely ask that you give the piece a read when you have time, and let me know at what date I might productively follow up with you about finding a home for it within your pages.
The favour of a reply is requested.
Now, I hadn’t read the piece at this stage. I didn’t need to. As I had said in my email, we weren’t looking for copy. It’s often hard to find space in our pages for pieces that have been commissioned. When I didn’t reply, the “professional freelancer” followed up next day with this (the italics and bold are his):
I apologise if my being assertive and direct seems out of step with the standard pattern by which these things normally proceed. I understand that editors are extremely busy people, and that marginalizing the large volume of useless emails you receive on a daily basis is a part of the job.
I have, however, regularly pitched and submitted to and queried the Travel section of the Telegraph for more than two years now. When I do, I am typically given a snap response that the section is full up on copy — a perfectly understandable situation — yet when I offer to set a horizon to follow up, as such situations do not last indefinitely, I am invariably met with silence.
This leads me to believe that my submissions and queries are not being rejected on their merits (or lack thereof), but are in fact not being given any consideration at all.
As such, I would politely ask again if there might be a time at which I might follow up with you about this engaging… submission… when the space issues within your section may be less critical.
I’ve since looked at the piece he sent. It wasn’t badly written, but it was essentially timeless, and as I’ve pointed out here before, Telegraph Travel rarely runs timeless pieces. It’s also unlikely to commission freelance writers who approach it as this one did. Be “assertive”, be “direct”. But don’t tell the editors that you know their publication better than they do.