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feature writing

Finding a publication for your (rejected) story idea

By February 26, 2020 22 Comments

It’s the bane of every freelance writer’s existence. You spend time crafting a pitch or query letter for a magazine, newspaper or website. You send it off, full of hope. But then it gets rejected. Or even worse, your pitch is met with silence. So, where to from here? It can be hard to think of where else to pitch the story that you thought was a perfect fit for a particular publication, but there are easy ways to ensure your idea sees the light of day.

Finding a publication for your (rejected) story idea

My pitch acceptance rate is fairly average I think.

It tends to hovers around 30 – 40% for first time pitches.

But that still means there’s a lot of pitches that I’ve spent time on, which don’t get picked up the first time around.

It wasn’t until a writer friend of mine asked if I re-pitched all my ideas that I had a realisation.

I wasn’t re-pitching any of my ideas

If I got silence or a rejection, I just moved on.

I didn’t try to place that story anywhere else.

I think this is a big mistake.

If you’re taking the time to write a pitch or query letter to an editor, you also need to spend time trying to find a home for that article if it doesn’t get commissioned initially.

I know it feels like there are barriers, such as:

My story won’t fit anywhere else

I initially found it difficult to think of where else I might be able to place rejected article ideas.

I think this is because as freelance writers we are constantly told that we need to analyse publications and make sure our pitch is the perfect fit.

This is slightly controversial, but I think this is part of the problem – we spend so long getting familiar with the publication we want to write for that we can’t think where else the piece might be placed.

Your pitch just has to be good enough

Your pitch doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect.

I want to say that again.

Your pitch doesn’t have to be perfect.

All your query has to do is entice and intrigue an editor to want to learn more.

A few years ago I came across some fascinating research where the authors had discovered something new about emotional eating.

I know many editors love stories that include recent research or statistics that shed new light on old issues, so I pitched the idea.

Despite my belief in the story, I got three rejections/silence from publications that I have previously written for.

Then I pitched to a magazine that I have never read and got a yes.

You can pitch to a magazine you don’t read or haven’t read

I know. I know. This is controversial.

I know most people say it’s best practice to thoroughly analyse a magazine or newspaper or website, and all editors will say they want writers who know their readers.

But the truth is, to make a living as a freelance writer you have to be efficient.

Spending hours analysing one magazine for one pitch isn’t necessarily the best use of your time (unless of course you get commissioned for that magazine again and again).

In the past few years I’ve had multiple pitches accepted by publications that I don’t read or haven’t ever read.

I know I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I think it’s important to highlight the gap between ideal practice and reality.

I’ve had pitches commissioned because I’ve used ideas that are not dependent on a particular magazine’s style or voice – I’ve used the news peg of a recent study or a new venue opening.

Some people may say that the time I spent re-pitching the same story to different publications could have been spent thoroughly researching one publication and really nailing the message.

But the truth is, in the past I’ve spent hours analysing a magazine only to send off a query that has taken me a long time to write, and my ideas still hasn’t been commissioned.

These days I’m going for good enough.

And the other thing I’m doing? I’m channelling my inner JK Rowling and am relentless in pitching my ideas that haven’t found a home yet.

Just keep sending the pitch out

Of course you may need to tweak your idea depending on the publication, but don’t be afraid to send it back out into the universe.

I know of writers who have pitched the same story to different outlets for a year or more.

Sometimes, they’ve landed a by-line at a huge publication for a story that was rejected by much smaller publications.

And sometimes the subject matter of a topic is so difficult that it’s hard to find a home for it.

This is what Britni de la Cretaz found when she started pitching an article about homicide victim survivors in October 2016.

Eventually it got picked up by an editor who really believed in the importance of the issue and her piece was published in late 2017.

Don’t be afraid to broaden your horizons

In one of the online writers’ groups I’m part of I see the same 10 or so publication names get suggested when someone is hunting for somewhere to place an article.

There are so many magazines, newspapers and websites that are looking for great content and many pay decent rates.

If you haven’t found a home for some of your rejected ideas, spend an hour or two searching for publications that may be interested.

Of course, if you’re getting multiple rejections for the same idea, then maybe it’s time to look at that idea.

Does it have the ‘so what’ factor? What’s the hook? Why would readers want to know about this idea?

It’s a delicate balance between putting in enough work for pitches and queries, but not too much.

It’s something that I’m still working on.

But since I’ve been more pragmatic with my pitches, my acceptance rate has increased.

My queries don’t always get commissioned the first time around, but usually by the fourth or fifth attempt, there’s a ‘yes’ sitting in my inbox.

What do you think? Do you re-pitch your ideas that have been rejected?

22 Comments

  • CJ says:

    I’ve just found your blog and it’s so helpful and inspiring, thank you. You’ve encouraged me to keep trying, keep plugging away at it all. I shall enjoy following along and learning more from you.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Hi CJ, thanks so much for your comment – I’m glad you’re here and that you’re finding the content useful. Yes, keep plugging away – there are definitely ups and downs as a writer, but there’s a wonderful community of freelancers out there to help and support you.

  • Louise says:

    I do re-pitch most of my rejected pitches and I think one of the reasons I (sometimes) subsequently succeed is that when I see the pitch with fresh eyes, I’m able to improve it.
    Whenever I’m ready to send a pitch I often try to make myself wait until the next day so that I can look over it then (instead of after it gets rejected!)…but it’s hard to wait.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      It’s SO hard to wait! But I think you’re right Louise, with fresh eyes you can see all kinds of possibilities (and mistakes!)

  • Ivy says:

    So well-timed, this. I actually re-pitched something today that had been rejected twice before, and got a thumbs up from an editor I’ve not yet worked with. I think it’s worth going back and re-examining the pitch, does it sound right? is it an idea or a story? Thanks for posting this, as always, you are a fount of knowledge and inspiration!

  • Mariella says:

    It’s refreshing to read such an honest take on precisely how familiar with a publication you need to be. I can’t afford to do it the ideal way all the time! This feels like an absolution of sorts. Thanks! 🙂

    • lindyalexander says:

      Thanks Mariella, I think if you have the time, then it’s great to be super familiar with a publication, but most of us don’t have that luxury!

  • Andra Magda says:

    Hi Lindy,

    how much you suggest one should wait before pitching somewhere else when you “get” silence?

    Have a nice day!

    • lindyalexander says:

      Hi Andra,
      Thanks for your question. For print publications I usually follow up after 7 – 10 days before pitching elsewhere, but for online I usually follow up after 4 or so days. If it’s a timely piece I write “Time sensitive” in the subject line. Hope that helps?

  • Some good points, Lindy! Right from the start of my freelance writing career (2007) I’ve never bothered pitching one magazine at a time; instead, I’ve sent each query our to multiple publications, almost all without reading their writer’s guidelines or researching the publications. I call it a “conveyer belt” approach. It seems to have worked well for me, as I’ve had more than 1,000 stories published in 200+ magazines, newspapers, in-flights, on-boards, trade journals, specialty pubs, etc). And I’ve never had to bother re-sending my queries out to other publications because I sell 90% of my stories the first time around. Likewise, I hardly ever look up a publication’s writer’s guidelines because, as you mention above, this is very time consuming & confusing. I also don’t believe you need to customize your query letters to each publication. A well researched & well-written query letter is all that is needed, because no editor is going to pass up a good pitch if it is a good fit for their publication. Yes, I know, these approaches are considered heresy and go against the traditional drip-feed approach of sending a query out to one publication at a time, and then waiting for a period of time, and then turning around & pitching the next magazine on the list, etc, But, it seems to have worked nicely for me! Interestingly, this approach has also been highly effective for the novice freelance travel writers I coach. Their results have been impressive & many of my beginners have established themselves & are getting published consistently in respectable paying print media in their first year or two! Keep up the good work with your newsletter, Lindy! I read it every week. Roy Stevenson. http://www.PitchTravelWrite.com http://www.Roy-Stevenson.com

    • lindyalexander says:

      Hi Roy,
      Thanks for your comment. I often talk about your approach of simultaneous pitches with other freelance writers, although I must admit, it’s not a technique that I’ve used. It’s good to hear that it’s worked so well for you and for your students.

      • Hi Lindy, Yes, using simultaneous pitches has been highly effective for me, and I consider it one of the keys to my getting 1000+ stories published in more than 200 publications, in less than 9 years. My acceptant rate of 90% is clear evidence that it works like a charm. My biggest problem has often been trying to keep up with writing all the articles I have had commissioned. And, when the writers I coach use the same approach, they also start landing a higher number of assignments. Regards, Roy Stevenson http://www.PitchTravelWrite.com

    • Andra Magda says:

      Hi Roy,

      what do you do if a story is accepted by two or more publications? 🙂

      Thank you,
      Andra

  • Christine says:

    It was timely for me to read this. I’ve pitched a lot recently and not had much luck which is frustrating. What is more frustrating though is not receiving a response at all, even after a follow up. I’ve been waiting for two week for a follow up but reading your comments I think I might ramp that up a bit more, and send a second one if necessary, which I haven’t done to date. Thanks.

    • lindyalexander says:

      Hi Christine,
      Yes it can be so frustrating not receiving a response. If after a second follow up you don’t get a response, I’d probably move on.

  • Wayne says:

    what if my story is accepted by two or more publications?

    • Hi Wayne, thank you for your question. Having a query accepted by more than one magazine editor is not a common occurrence, but has happened to me about a dozen times since I started freelance writing in 2007. I’ve managed to turn this apparent “problem” around every time, to my advantage, and have scored many more assignments from it. Rather than repeat my four strategies for handling this “problem” here, here’s the link to the article on my PitchTravelWrite.com website that provides my answers to this predicament. Good luck with your writing! https://www.pitchtravelwrite.com/simultaneous-submissions-strategies.html

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