Pitching and Dealing With Rejection As A Freelance Writer
What’s worse than being told no?
Literally. Being told nothing is far worse than being given a direct, negative answer, for at least you can apply a degree of closure and move on with your life when that happens.
For years now I have worked on my pitching skills, as I use them to survive on a regular basis. There is a definite art to it, but one with no solid rules, for every person that you pitch is going to be looking for something different. Sure, you can pick up self-help books which describe how to create the ‘perfect pitch’, but they’re generally business-focused and oftentimes irrelevant to the craft at hand.
I am, as some of you may know, a freelance writer. I peddle my wares to a variety of outlets who I feel might see something in my work which is simpatico with their output. I’ve been lucky, incredibly so, for my writing has been published all over the world, on many platforms and pages. It’s an indescribable feeling to see your name amidst a well-crafted byline, or included among the masthead of a publication which you read as a younger version of yourself.
A lot of up and coming writers get in touch and ask about what they have to do to get their names on those mastheads, to see their work in print. With a limitless amount of resources out there for the aspiring writer or journalist, it’s not hard to point them in the right direction. I always try and add some of my own advice to the mix, but to assume that I have all the answers would be a bit too arrogant for my liking. I do, however, have experience.
To make a go of writing for a living, it always boils down to the same things . You need the talent, the passion, the desire and the ability to constantly adapt. All this and, most importantly, to be able to take criticism and direction. That’s just for starters. That just gets you off the block. What very few people seem to address in articles and write-ups such as these is just how to keep things going once they gather momentum.
It’s a huge personal goal when you garner that long-sought after interview feature or write that perfect story, and even better when you find an appealing home for it. Sadly, however, it soon becomes clear that the attention, appreciation and praise which your article will receive is very short lived and you’ll almost instantly have to start working on your next. Actually, you should already be working on several others the moment you sent it in.
Always be pitching. Not just any old crap though.
Really think about what you’re pitching.
We live in a world in which a deluge of content is released every single minute of the day. All of it seeking the same thing. A reader.
Think about it. How many items do you read every day?
Okay. Now you have a number. Divide that number into short, medium and longform articles. Be honest.
So, from that number, how many of them do you really read? The entire thing in detail? How many about two thirds? How many just the headline and opening paragraph?
Bear those numbers in mind when you draft your next pitch. Not only do you want to be the one item which your reader clicks upon, or stops to read in a magazine, you want it to be the one they finish and recommend to someone else.
That’s not an easy task. Think back to those articles you read recently. How many of those did you read through uninterrupted? How many were broken exercises, fragmented by Facebook updates, Snapchat, Twitter and WhatsApp notifications, or incoming email?
This is the second hurdle; making the work interesting enough to maintain a reader’s focus when there are a myriad of extrinsic factors vying for constant attention and maintenance.
You should be thinking of this, because your editor is thinking of this.
Let it be at the forefront of your mind when you draft that pitch; who will take the time to read this?
If you’re confident that you can provide your (prospective) editor with something resonant, then it’s time to get going.
There are several schools of thought on this one. Some people like to send in an outline of a proposed article. Others tend to prefer submitting a finished piece in the hope that it will find a home. Regardless, it’s essential to present your pitch in a concise and direct manner, without waffling or being self-indulgent. Editors are busy people. They may not have time to read an impassioned personal account of your literary journey thusfar. Make sure it’s the right editor too. Contacting the Editor In Chief is only really advisable if there is no Features Editor, in which case they should always be your port of call (if it’s features you’re pitching click here of course).
You’ve drafted, checked, re-checked, got a friend to read it, and just for good measure checked your pitch and cover letter again, and you’re ready to go. Deep breath. Hit send.
It’s all done.
Or not, as the case may be. This selection of pitches may have taken you a long time to put together. The unfortunate truth is that they may not even get read properly. The harsher side is that you may hear nothing back, and that will be excruciating.
The first few days are okay, as there’s still hope. Then more time passes and with every grain of sand which falls away, so do your chances of getting a response. So what do you do?
Do you persevere and send a follow up?
On a personal level, I have found that sending a polite email to check back in on a pitch has provided me with some hugely satisfying results, and some great published pieces. It’s essential to wait a respectable amount of time. A week or thereabouts is usually a good standard.
In other instances, I’ve chased up pitches which have left me even more depressed than if I’d left them alone, as the silence simply continues.
A polite refusal can be such a blessing in these circumstances. Especially one which hints at the possibility of submitting other ideas further on down the road. Do prepare yourself for the perpetually unanswered pitch though. They’re a killer.
Here are a few ways to deal with the inevitable rejection which will come your way as a freelancer:
(1) Know when to let something go.
This is tantamount to your prolonged sanity. If you’re desperate to get into a place that doesn’t want you, no amount of superb content or dogged perseverance will push you through that door. Take it as a lesson learned and move on. Or else try again when they change their staff (which happens very regularly in most cases).
(2) Focus Your Energy Elsewhere.
Not always the easiest thing to do, but you’ll be surprised what a difference it makes. Never sit waiting for an email to arrive. Always be creating. Be it concepts, journals or even more pitches. Just don’t stop. This will allow you to become excited about what you’re doing, as opposed to what you think you could be doing.
(3) Talk To Someone.
If you can’t speak to anyone about it, maybe a writers forum or *ahem* personal blog. It’s a common enough piece of advice, but I can’t emphasise how important it is. Even if that person isn’t a writer, it will allow you to gain perspective on your own situation and maybe even cast new light upon it.
(4) Create New Goals.
Nothing will move you along like creating new things to reach for. Always seek to improve your skills and abilities. As long as your reasons for doing so are pure, the rewards will come in time.
(5) Dive Into Your Passions.
If you write about History, find a new area of study. If it’s Film, seek out a new source from which you’ve never experienced any output. The same goes for Music, Art, Theatre or almost any other subject. It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut, especially as the internet seems to respond to writers who focus solely on one particular area, theme or genre. As a writer you can be bigger than that. Don’t let current trends dictate what you involve yourself in and broaden your horizons. It’ll do you (and your work) the world of good.
(6) Don’t take it personally.
It’s an unstable and precarious time for the publishing industry. There are a hundred reasons why your work, application or pitch might be turned down. It’s not always about the standard of writing either. I once found myself in an immensely frustrating situation in which I couldn’t figure out why a line of communication concerning several articles suddenly went dead. Every attempt I made to finish off the thread and get the items submitted was met with a wall of silence. The magazine folded a short time later. I was so concerned with my pitches, I had failed to see the bigger picture. Their social media had been diminishing. There were whispers of unpaid contributors and so forth. Make sure you know what’s happening (as best you can) with anyone you decide to submit to. How many writers do they have? Do they take freelancers? What’s their reach like?
By the time you’ve implicated even a few of the aforementioned measures you’ll find the memory of that unanswered pitch has faded considerably.
Professional rejection hurts. It makes us feel like we are inferior, incapable and simply unsuitable for something which we previously considered ourselves perfect for. It’s one of the things which I found the hardest about writing, and still do, but I’ve become much better at it.
Just make sure that you are constantly producing material. Even if it’s just for yourself.