Ghosted by an Editor or Source? How Freelancers Can Cope

by October 30, 2020

A disappearing editor or interview subject can throw a wrench in a freelancer’s process.
Photo of three shadows by Matthew Ansley via Unsplash.

October means witches, goblins, and all things spooky. To freelancers, few things are scarier than getting ghosted by an editor or other key person in their project. In 12 years of freelancing, this has happened to me a few times with editors and interview subjects. 

Here’s a look at the strategies I’ve used to prevent this or bring writing assignments back from the dead after a key person goes dark. 

Before You Get Ghosted 

Freelancing is a relationship-based, so the stronger your relationships, the less likely this is to happen. If you’re working with a new publication, you may want to talk to other writers and have a phone or video chat with the editor so you’re both on the same page. 

However, sometimes even the strongest editor or source relationships falter. Early on in my freelance career, one of my editors died unexpectedly after complications from surgery. That possibility never entered my mind! Fortunately, another editor notified all the writers in his colleague’s contacts and told them who to pitch moving forward. If that hadn’t happened, it would have been good for me to cultivate relationships with other editors at the same publication. 

Assuming your editor is still alive and just not responding to email, it’s good to have a phone number just in case. Some editors include this in their email signature, but if you get a call from an editor, you can save their number in your phone and easily locate it later. Many editors are working from home these days, so an office number might not be as helpful as it once was. 

With interview sources, it’s smart to keep track of their contact details and not just rely on email. Sometimes emails get stuck in spam or if several months go by between the interview and publication, the email address can change. In my experience, some sources just don’t have the patience for follow-up questions, so I try to get as much information as I can during that first interview to minimize the need for follow ups. 

Depending on the person you’re interviewing, you might want to ask if they have a publicist or assistant who can send headshots or answer simple questions that might pop up. I had a story killed because the subject refused to answer the editor’s follow-up questions and communicated this via a publicist who’d never been mentioned before. Fortunately, I could document all the steps I’d taken to contact her and independently verify this information, so I still got paid my full fee. 

Once You Get Ghosted 

If an editor or source isn’t responding to email, see if they have any public social media accounts that could explain why. Maybe they tweeted about a new baby or taking the week off to unplug. Not everyone uses an auto-responder when they take time off. 

If there’s no obvious reason for the silence and you need to confirm some details with a source or touch base with your editor, pick up the phone. Emails are easy to ignore and sometimes wind up in spam folders, but phone calls offer a more direct way to communicate. I’d try calling my editor or source before contacting someone else in their office. 

If an editor is unresponsive but I’ve already filed the story and submitted my invoice, I’d follow up with accounts payable instead. After all, they are usually the ones who can get me paid. Even if I don’t have a direct phone number or email for AP, I can usually get connected to that department by dialing the main number and following the prompts.