Dealing with Rejection and Revisions as a Freelance Writer

April 7, 2017 Erin Ollila

Dealing with Rejection and Revisions as a Freelance Writer

If you’re a freelance writer, is it even worth checking your email? Every time you look, there’s either a rejection or a revision request from your editor in your inbox, and you’re exhausted. It isn’t that you don’t have good ideas; you’re sure of it. You’ve done your research and have killer quotes, so why aren’t your pitches getting accepted? Or, if they are, why is that you have to do so much revising to get to the point where it’s publishable?

There are many reasons why your pitches aren’t working or your story needs revisions, and it’s important to understand what in specific is holding you back if you want to advance as a freelance writer. When you’re too close to the letdown, your emotions get all tied-up with your concerns, rather than focusing on the issue. Think: the last time a strong pitch got rejected, did you automatically question your skills or worry about your finances? The first step is to separate your feelings from the situation. If you want to improve as a writer and get more work, you need to understand what went wrong before you can learn how to fix it. There are three main reasons why pitches don’t get accepted:

  1. It’s not the right time.
  2. It’s not the right place.
  3. It’s not the right pitch.

1. It’s Not the Right Time

watch on the arm of a freelance writer

Just because your pitch didn’t get accepted, doesn’t mean that it was unworthy of being published. If the timing was off, there’s a good chance that the publication you pitched already did an article on this topic or has one already in its queue for future publishing. Even a thought-out pitch won’t get accepted if there’s something too similar in the works.

So, how do you prevent this scenario? You read up on the publications you’re pitching. Take it a step further, and search their sites for keywords relevant to your pitch. If they’ve written something similar, try elsewhere, unless you want to consider pitching it as an update to the previous post or taking on a different angle from the original article.

Are you a psychic? If so, that’s great. You can save yourself the time it takes to pitch an editor if you know they already agreed to publish a similar article. If not, take solace in the knowledge that you had a good idea, and the publication may have bitten if your idea came a little earlier. Then, immediately pitch it to a different outlet before someone else does.

2. It’s Not the Right Place

Another reason you got turned down could simply be that the publication you pitched isn’t the best home for your work. For example, you might have a solid story idea about being a stepparent, but if the publication is geared to fresh-out-of-college girls, they might not bite. Now, this isn’t to say that younger ladies can’t be stepmoms. If their demographic is mostly unmarried young women, however, the article would be better served elsewhere.

To increase your chances of getting accepted, familiarize yourself with the target audience and what type of articles the publication usually accepts before wasting your time (and the editors) pitching to a publication that isn’t the right home for your story. Of course, it’s smart to test out new outlets, but it’s also a good idea to have a running list of publications you read regularly. This way, you know exactly where to share your next best idea. If you read it, you’ll know right away if your pitch belongs there or if you should send to another publication.

3. It’s Not the Right Pitch

Here’s where things get tricky. Editors can be very picky about what they want from a pitch. One may require your bio, portfolio, and then a list of pitches (and in that order). Another may prefer to read your pitches first, followed by your personal information and professional achievements. Some websites don’t list anything about how to submit, and you’re left guessing at how you could propose an article. Something as simple as the formatting of your pitch can ruin your chances. When you can, follow a publications pitch request to a T to ensure it gets read.

One more thing—saying “it’s not the right pitch” is my way of saying that every circumstance is a bit different. Your pitch may lack detail or include far too much. You might have addressed it to the wrong person or forgot to check your grammar and spelling. Before you hit send, just make sure to check your pitch closely.

The Pitch Got Accepted. What’s With the Revisions?

You put a lot of work into your writing, yet it gets returned to you with editorial feedback more often than you’d like. What gives? Quite simply, there’s a lot that happens behind-the-scenes that a freelance writer isn’t privy too. Here are three of the most common reasons editors ask their writers to revise. (Just like last time, there are actually a bunch of reasons you might need to revise. These are just some of the most popular ones.)

  1. You wrote the bare minimum.
  2. You didn’t address key points in the assignment summary.
  3. The editor realized an addition would make the article better.

1. You Wrote the Bare Minimum

writing the bare minimum

Are you turning in posts and articles that are barely over the proposed word count? If your editor asks for 300 to 1,000 words, and your regular work teeters around 310 words, you’re not doing your job. Same thing goes if the publication asks for research or links included, but you leave them out. One way to cut down on the amount of revisions you get is to do the work up front. Owning your own faults is one of the quickest ways to advance your career. So, if you’re consistently writing light articles, put in more effort. Your editors will appreciate your extra diligence and attention you’re giving to assignments, and maybe you’ll even get more work.

2. You Didn’t Address Key Points in the Assignment Summary

If the editors ask for something when they assign you a piece, or similarly, if you inform the editors you’re going to write about X, Y, and Z, you better deliver. An assignment summary sets certain expectations, so when your editor sits down to read your work and realizes that you didn’t hold up your end of the bargain, I can imagine they won’t be in a very good mood, for one. Then, they’re going to send it right back to you, without even offering any additional guidance or communications. Yikes. Again, do the work up front.

3. The Editor Realized an Addition Would Make the Article Better

One of the most frustrating situations for a freelance writer to find herself in is to be asked to address or add in a new angle or piece of information that wasn’t in the original assignment. I mean, come on. You’ve already done all the work. You addressed every point in the assignment summary and followed the style guide. If the editor wanted this point in the article, they should have asked in the original assignment, amiright? Well, yes, but, here is why they didn’t. Your editor honestly didn’t know it should be in there until they read your submission. Or, similarly, someone above them asked for the addition after reading your article, and the editor is just the messenger.

Remember, you’re not the only writer getting edits. We all are. So pay attention to what your editors ask of you, and see if there’s anything you can learn from the editorial feedback. Are you consistently making the same grammar mistakes? Maybe they’re asking for research that supports your major points. If you’re hearing the same things over and over, use the feedback to your advantage to grow in the future. Your editors want the best from you and for you, so listen to their advice.

How has rejection and revisions affected your freelance writing career? Let’s continue this conversation in the comments!

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