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Rejection: It’s Not the End of the World

By Grace Bello September 4th, 2012

“‘No’ is a bump on the road to ‘yes,'” says journalist and teacher at The Op-Ed Project Katherine Lanpher. Freelance writers experience many more rejections than writing assignments. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that a writer’s work is bad or that she should switch careers. Rather, it’s par for the course and, when addressed constructively, can lead to a wealth of new opportunities.

Herewith, a The Freelance Strategist presents action steps for dealing with rejection.

1. Rebrand the idea

A common reason for rejection? The writer’s target outlet recently published a similar story. Carolyn Ryan, Metro Editor of The New York Times, said at the journalism panel Throw Like a Girl: Pitching the Hell Out of Your Stories, “So much of what you read in whatever publication is predictable, sometimes stuffy, sometimes serious. And you’ve got to break through that. And you’ve got to offer something that’s unexpected.”

This tasks the writer with coming up with a new perspective on her chosen topic. If a roundup seems too obvious, perhaps a profile of the most compelling source would work better. If “in defense of” seems cliche, maybe “a brief history of” would be more refreshing. There’s always a new angle from which to cover a story, and magazines itch to find the most surprising one.

2. Revise the pitch

At the same panel, The Atavist’s editor Evan Ratliff said, “Very early on, I found an editor who actually took the time to tell me why my ideas were bad: they were bad because they were topics, not stories–which is the classic way that pitches are bad.” A writer should reread her pitch. Was it, as Ratliff chides, a topic and not a story? Did it lack a main character, a plot, a timeline? If so, the journalist should make some calls and see if she can find an apt source whose narrative better illustrates the topic of the piece. The dramatic tension from the story arc and the details from one’s scrupulous reporting will make the editor hunger to read the ensuing article.

3. Pitch elsewhere

The writer must remember, media is a business. And some ideas, while compelling, don’t fit the brand of every magazine. Lanpher said at the Throw Like a Girl Panel that her essay on moving from the Midwest to New York City when she was middle-aged was rejected with the words, “This piece really isn’t savvy enough for Vogue.” She says, “I could have just let it stop there. [But instead,] you find the right magazine for that piece. It ended up in More Magazine.” Journalists should get to know the media landscape. What seems too wonky for Wired might be great for Scientific American. Something too niche for The Atlantic might find a home in Monocle. Writers should venture beyond the more obvious pubs and dig for a mag whose audience truly fits the story.



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