I’ve been thinking lots about embarrassing moments and how many I have had in my (fairly short) writing career. I think it’s easy to see ‘successful’ writers and not see their backstory, where they have made mistakes or had challenges. Well, today I wanted to clear that up. I’ve unearthed the best (read: the worst) rejections I’ve had to pitches and stories. Because let’s face it, no one is perfect. And the truth is, it’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it.
The 4 best rejections I’ve received from editors as a freelance writer
After ten+ years of being a freelance writer, I’ve had my fair share of rejections and embarrassing mistakes.
But I think that’s totally normal.
For many of us, freelancing is a new pursuit and when you’re beginning or learning something new, you make lots of mistakes.
I’ve been listening to a wonderful podcast which is all about failing and making mistakes, and it got me thinking about the times I’ve failed, and what I’ve learnt from them.
So I wanted to share with you my top 4 fails in terms of rejections to pitches or stories.
These are the exact replies from editors and while the sting subsided a long time ago (most of these are at least three or four years old), I still cringe when I read them.
But onwards, right?
1. The ‘we get this pitch all the time – can’t you think of something original’ reply:
I have to preface this by saying this is a pitch from early on in my writing career (circa 2012).
That doesn’t necessarily excuse me, but it does let you know that I’ve (hopefully) improved my pitches since then.
I was knee-deep in nappies and parenting.
So of course I pitched a highly original story about nappies to a parenting mag.
Bet they never get pitches like that, right?
You can almost hear the editor’s eyes rolling when she wrote this reply:
Thanks for getting in touch with your story idea on modern cloth nappies.
Unfortunately, as a parenting magazine this is one that is pitched to us quite frequently and while nappies are certainly an important part of the parenting world, we’re not currently looking for a feature dedicated to any specific type of nappy.
Okay, so I pitched an idea that every single parent could have pitched, but I had more ideas.
Unfortunately, my next two pitches went a similar way:
As for your two new ideas, we’ve actually got a big sleep feature coming up that touches on sleep needs, and the importance of nature in a child’s life is unfortunately another of those ideas we tend to get a lot of pitches about.
You’ll be happy to know that I did eventually crack the editor and had three unique ideas commissioned.
Then the magazine went under.
Hopefully that had nothing to do with my writing ….
2. The ‘you haven’t ever read our magazine, have you’ reply:
I pitched a story to an editor of an Australian travel magazine thinking it would be a good fit (to be honest, I don’t think I ever pitch ideas that I think are going to bomb out).
I was pretty confident, so needless to say was seriously disheartened when I got this response.
This is not quite right but thanks for thinking of us!
Grab a copy of the next edition if you can – that should give you an idea of things I want.
The worst thing about this reply is that I had read lots of back issues and thought my pitch was spot on.
3. The ‘I thought I was getting a great story, but this is really pretty crap’ response to a submitted article:
Even if you’ve been working with an editor or a client for a while, it doesn’t always stand that they are going to love your work.
I received this reply from an editor of a publication that I had worked really hard to get into and had written for quite regularly.
Thanks for the story but it doesn’t work for me. ..too broad, not enough new and focussed info.
That was it. That was her entire response.
Of course I had to go back and ask for more info – did she want me to rework it or kill it?
I liked the initial angle and the two studies you quoted in the pitch were interesting; it’s just that the rest of the story repeated info we’ve already read so many times, including in our mag.
It’s up to you if you feel you can really freshen it up and make it revelatory?
If not, we’ll have to kill it unfortunately.
I was 38 weeks pregnant and sick of the sight of the article so I took the kill fee.
4. The most sensitively written request for a rewrite:
Goodness, I love editors who manage to deliver some serious blows but do so in a way that you feel good about yourself and your writing.
This is from an editor who I think has made a kind reply into an art form:
Hi again Lindy,
I think you’ve collected some fantastic information for this story, and also teased out some interesting points including that a long-term view is required when problems have been caused by “complex causal factors”. I also like X’s quote around good policy-making being a process that relies on research.
So I think all the elements are in place – but I would like you to have another little look at how the piece hangs together. I have a feeling that you took to heart the idea that this piece would be excellent support material for the audience (which it is!) – but I think along the way we lost the sense of story.
For example, the research projects mentioned in those opening paragraphs are fascinating but I felt more like I was reading a list than getting a sense of the shared philosophy or purpose, or being inspired by the idea of thinking big. Lots of ‘what’ but not enough ‘why’, perhaps…
My suggestion would be to have another crack at the piece, imagining that it was being written for an educated audience, but still a non-specialist audience looking for a good story. My suspicion is that it’s just about getting the opening right, and that then all the other bits of information you’ve gathered for the piece will just slot into place below it.
I’m sorry to burden you with this – it’s always awful when you think you’ve finished with a story but they you find out there’s a bit more to do. But I think it’s just about taking a fresh look, freeing yourself up from the detail a bit, and shuffling it to rediscover the story!
I still think this is one of the best rejection emails from an editor I’ve received.
It’s so sensitively written, but doesn’t shy away from the fact that I had to seriously rework the article.
It’s funny looking back at these emails – I’m sure I have loads more buried in my email account, but these are the ones that immediately came to mind when I thought about embarrassing editor moments.
In retrospect, all the rejections and requests to rework articles have made me a better writer, however bruising it is initially.
What about you? Do you have any best rejection stories you want to share?