“No Thanks. Not for us.”
All new writers who’ve thrown themselves into the publishing ring have heard these words at one point. It softens the blow, somewhat, to know that even your writing mentors have faced the same experience at some time in their career.
But rejection is still devastating, especially when it’s all you seem to get at first.
We ask ourselves, “I followed the writers’ guidelines, found a fresh slant on a topic, had valuable sources and information, but still got rejected. What’s wrong with me?”
A lot of the time, there’s nothing wrong with the writer or their work. It has more to do with timing, such as sending in an idea that’s already been covered, lack of experience and/or targeting the wrong genre with an idea.
So, how can new writers gain experience when they’re being rejected for not having experience?
From advice I’ve soaked up from my mentor, editors who’ve been kind enough to give me tips, and fellow writers, I’ve found three ways help reduce an idea falling into the dreaded rejection pile.
1) Figure out your unique writing ‘niche’.
First, it’s a good idea to pay attention to what sort of story ideas develop easiest for you.
What sort of ideas do you get, then immediately sit at your computer and create a masterpiece? This could be your ‘niche’.
Writing what you’re passionate about and what comes easy to you allows you to shine in your best light. After all, you can come up with any fantastic idea to write about, but not be interested in the subject and struggle. Believe me, the struggle comes across in your writing.
For me, I need to have experienced the idea personally, gone through it with someone or have a strong passion for the story idea or I just can’t get the piece out.
Many writers are like this. I’ve actually had an editor tell me, “Don’t force a story to come or it will read as robotic and more like a University paper than a story an editor would feature in his magazine or his readership would take the time to read.”
Knowing your niche is the best place to start. There are a lot of editors who may say that sticking to what is comfortable and familiar isn’t a great idea because it never gives you the motivation to branch out.
Trust me, the more articles you have out there that come from where you’re comfortable, the more your confidence will blossom to be brave enough to go out a bit further.
2) Build up a clip portfolio by targeting publications in your unique ‘niche’.
After figuring out where your work fits in, you’ll need to figure out who’ll take it.
New writers tend to go through a publishing listing book like Writer’s Market or Best of the Magazine Markets for Writers, see the big bucks some magazines will pay for articles, then focus only on that aspect.
It’s true, some places do pay good money for well-written articles, to experienced writers. Unfortunately, some editors won’t take a chance on an inexperienced writer, no matter how good a story or pitch is.
The best thing to do is to build up a good clip portfolio showing published samples of your best work. The big question is: How can a new writer get clips?
Try targeting local newspapers, magazines or community newsletters even if they pay little or nothing. I started going this route when all I was receiving was rejection after rejection.
When you’re starting out, building a clip portfolio is task #1 and articles in local magazines or newspapers count. It’s not to say you can’t try to target the glossies at the same time, but, as I’ve found, building a strong clip portfolio also builds up confidence and that’s something editors look for too.
3) Enter writing contests.
This is something I practiced at the same time as building my clip portfolio.
There are literally thousands of contests out there in the areas of flash fiction, short fiction, regular fiction, non-fiction, poetry and then various categories underneath these.
Some are free, while some can cost a small to hefty entrance fee but aside from the prize money you could win, it also give you and your work exposure.
Many of the magazines or publishing houses that host these contests will publish your piece as part of the winning prize. What icing on the cake is that? And it’s something to add to your clip portfolio and your bio or writing resume.
On an interesting note, I actually entered a short story here on ByLine several years ago. After several weeks went by, I had almost forgotten about it and continued on my clip portfolio.
One morning I received a letter that not only congratulated me on winning the contest I’d entered but was told by the editor at the time to, “…go out and get this published!” I took her advice, querying Angels On Earth magazine, who accepted it immediately and the rest is history.
See? Anything is possible.
4) Become familiar with the magazines you’re targeting.
Here’s probably the most important thing to remember before you send anything out: Know the magazines you are targeting very well before you send out your query letter.
Very often, ideas are rejected because the publication has either just featured an article about your idea or will be in the near future. Believe me, nothing is more irritating to an editor than a person who keeps querying ideas they’ve just featured in their latest issue. It shows the person hasn’t taken the time to read and get to know the magazine.
If you want to write for a certain publication, you have to see how the other writers speak, pay attention to the tone (voice) of the magazine, read the letters written to the editor, read the editors’ opening letter and even see what sorts of advertisements the magazine displays.
All of these things give you an idea of the image they want to portray and the sort of readers who’ll be reading your work.
It’s suggested to go over at least a couple of past issues to give you a solid idea of where to bring your pitch out from. If you already have a subscription to your favorite magazine that you’d like to have your name in, you’re ahead of the game.
Another idea is to request for, study and memorize the magazine’s writers’ guidelines and follow them to the letter. Something else that really annoys editors are writers who just rip out an article off the tops of their heads with no understanding of what the editors are asking for in terms of voice, layout, etc. That’s an automatic rejection for sure. And be sure you direct your query to the appropriate person.
Another tip is checking to see if the magazine can give you their editorial calendar so you can see where an idea can fit in.
Some magazines have future themes for upcoming issues on their websites, and it’s always a good idea to make sure what you want to pitch fits into what they’ve planned as a theme on a particular issue. If money is tight, or you don’t have a subscription to the magazine you want to query, you can go to your local library and look for back issues of the magazine.
Study several past months, including the current issues, before sending out an idea so you can truly understand the publication and its readers.
Having this knowledge under your writing belt will give you the edge you need and greatly reduce your chances of ending up on the rejection pile.
Some writers never pay attention or even research into these things then either give up their dream of writing, believing they aren’t good enough, or unknowingly ‘black listing’ themselves by continuously making the same mistakes.
And trust me, if a magazine is owned by a corporation that publishes a bunch of magazines, the editors all talk to each other about these things. Be the wiser, and arm yourself with writing knowledge.
I have been at this for over twelve years now and have been fortunate enough to get hundreds of articles and blog posts out there.
I still don’t consider myself a freelance writing ‘expert’, as there is always room to learn and for improvement. And, shockingly, I still receive rejection letters, only now I find I receive more positive feedback, even with that rejection. Hey, I am all for constructive criticism. How else are we going to perfect our craft?
After I’d built up my clip portfolio, and had not one but two stories published in Angel On Earth, I finally started getting paid jobs. I even went far out of my original comfort ‘niche’ to get into other markets.
So, don’t get beaten down by rejection. Yes, it hurts, it can make you gun-shy from trying again, but don’t let it keep you down. If it is your dream, follow it, even on the tough days.
Finally, arm yourself with these handy tips and face that rejection head on!
Remember: the only person who can stop you, is you.
This is a guest article by Chynna Laird, mother of four, freelance writer, blogger and author. Her passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and other special needs. Website: www.chynnalairdauthor.ca