A Positive Lesson in Rejection

How a travel writer handles rejection
28 March 2011 Post Author:
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Rejection is a natural part of being a writer.

Even those writers and authors who have gone on to achieve international success were, at one point or another, rejected.

One of the differences between those who go on to be successful and those who don’t is the willingness to learn from the experience and try again.

It’s with this in mind that I aim high when I pitch and walk away with something, even if it’s an important lesson in rejection.

A recent example:

I pitched a piece to a major in-flight magazine using the standard query format, and the editor emailed me back looking for a little more information. Over the next couple of days, we exchanged emails half a dozen times—him looking for just a bit more … that special something that would knock the piece from the “maybe” pile into a contract while I did my best to flesh out my idea and answer all of his questions, being as truthful and honest about what the piece could and could not deliver.

Think of every rejection as an opportunity to build rapport with the Editor.

In our final exchange, when I knew I had exhausted anything and everything I could offer, I told him that I would welcome the opportunity to write for him but that if the story really wasn’t what he was looking for, then I completely understood why he had to pass on it but that I appreciated his time and willingness to discuss the idea with him.

The editor passed on the story. He told me there just wasn’t enough to it but to keep the publication in mind for future pitches.

I am 100% totally okay with the outcome of this exchange. I didn’t get the gig, which, admittedly, is a bummer, but I learned so much in the process:

  1. Editors are human and they’re just doing their jobs. This one didn’t have to take the time to correspond with me; he could have just thrown my pitch away, but he didn’t.
  2. Don’t over-promise if you’re going to under-deliver. Could I have told the editor what he wanted to hear? Yes, but then I wouldn’t have been able to deliver. With a major publication like this, the last thing I wanted to do was not live up to the editor’s expectations.
  3. There’s something to this story idea. It might not have found a home in this magazine, but the story isn’t dead. I just need to redouble my efforts to find the right place for it.
  4. A sincere thank you goes a long way. I could have kicked and screamed my way out of this conversation, insisting that this story absolutely was the right fit for this publication, but what good would it have done? What I’ve done instead is opened the door for future opportunities and started to build rapport with this editor.

So what now?

I re-purpose my pitch and find a new place to send it. I’m also in the process of brainstorming some other ideas the editor might be interested in.

But most importantly, I keep my chin up and keep on writing regardless of rejection. After all, someone has to become the next international bestseller.

~ JoAnna

Have any tips on handling rejection? Share your advice!

13 Responses to “A Positive Lesson in Rejection”

  1. Great insight and this method could be used to be successful in any line of work or career. Love the tips and most importantly understand that sometimes you have to realize that you are not the right fit and move on.

    • JoAnna
      Twitter:
      says:

      You’re absolutely right, Kirk, that it’s something we can keep in mind regardless of the job, but I think that writers tend to take rejection personally. In any case, it’s not a bad reminder!

  2. Such wise advice, JoAnna! It’s so easy to get discouraged, defensive, or even angry when an Editor doesn’t appreciate the brilliance of our work, but a smart writer knows that it’s all part of the business, and how you handle rejection says a lot about you as a writer and a person.

    Everything in life can teach us something if we’re just willing to be open to the lesson.

  3. As a former editor, I occasionally found myself with extra space or needing additional material. There were times I went back to a writer whose work had interested me but I’d had to decline. Taking rejection well can sometimes pay off!
    CAM

  4. For me personally it’s easier to deal with rejection than with the no-answer issue. Sometimes I pitch an idea and don’t hear back for days that turn into weeks. The positive answers that I have received I normally received within several days, so it’s obvious that if the idea is good, it’ll get a more or less immediate response. And yet when editors don’t answer, I find that confusing, I keep waiting for a very long time, because I think I would be extremely embarrassed if by the time they answer, somebody else already has said yes or is about to say yes. Therefore, I prefer to know the offer has been rejected (even a simple “Thanks, not interested” would suffice) instead of second-guessing.

    Recently I pitched an idea to an online publication editor and he said yes within days (my original pitch was split into two articles – even better for me!), in return I thanked him and asked the editor to please kindly provide the deadlines and haven’t heard back from him even after a follow-up… Odd and frankly, a bit disrespectful. I find communication is key in anything, including travel writing/publishing…

    • JoAnna
      Twitter:
      says:

      I have to agree with you. I’d much rather receive a “no” than no answer at all. It’s hard to know then whether your pitch was even received.

      Bummer to hear about the editor who has gone incognito. I hope you hear back soon!

  5. I had the same experience with a blog post the other day. I didn’t get upset, just sent a few more ideas to the blog editor and submitted the rejected post as a guest post on another site where it was more suitable. Rejection’s part of the package as a writer – might as well learn something from it without letting it paralyze you.

  6. Elisa Carballo says:

    -Hi!
    GReat ideas and tips… I personally found them very helpful and of great assistance!
    Thanks!!

  7. maybe you should write another post on what to do if no editor response is forthcoming… I mean, I know that I’m not the only writer who have been waiting around for a message like a teenage girl waiting for her date to call. It sure would be interesting to know how you would normally handle it, or what acceptable options and time frames could be implemented for follow-ups (if at all).

    Brad

    • A good point Brad – that’s a tough situation to be in.

      I must confess that there are times I simply delete a submission without response – although that is only when I receive a pitch for a totally inappropriate article from a writer(?) who doesn’t meet our criteria and often has a very poor grasp on both their personal writing skills and what it is that we publish here. And from my conversations with other editors, most agree with me. If someone can’t be bothered to learn what a publication wants, ensure that they meet the criteria, and follow the submission guidelines, they really don’t deserve a response.

      So assuming that you’ve done your homework and met their criteria and followed their guidelines to the letter, then there is nothing wrong with following up after 10-14 days if you don’t receive a response, and again after another week or two after that, UNLESS their guidelines state a specific time frame within which they should respond.

      If you still don’t get a reply after an initial contact and two follow ups, give up and move on.

      • JoAnna
        Twitter:
        says:

        When I send out a pitch (and there is no guideline regarding if / when writers should follow up), I give the editor six weeks to respond. After six weeks, I follow up and let the editor know that I’ll be withdrawing my article idea in three weeks (and I provide an exact date). I often have editors respond to this follow up email and say they didn’t remember seeing the pitch go through the first time.

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