Getting rejected and don't know why? Today's post is for you, a guest post from longtime freelance writer, author, editor, and all-around publishing pro, Jennifer Lawler:
In the course of my career, I’ve been a freelance writer and book author, a magazine editor, a book development editor for nonfiction, and, most recently, an acquisitions editor for fiction. Now that I’m a freelance writer again, I wanted to share some thoughts about why you may be getting rejections instead of the acceptances you’d much rather receive.
1. Quality of the submission. Since editors don’t want to get into a heated debate over your pitch or your manuscript, they’ll just reject a poorly written query with a “not right for us, thanks!”—that is, if they respond at all. The black hole of silence is often what greets submissions that just aren’t up to par. The problem is, perfectly good submissions can also get eaten by the black hole of nonresponse, so how can you tell which is which?
If you’re getting mostly rejections or radio silence, it’s time to ask someone in the business for their opinion. Do this at arm's length—someone who isn’t published in your field can’t really help, and friends and family have too much invest in their relationship with you to be able to give it to you straight. Writers’ groups and online communities can help you understand where you’re not hitting the target.
2. Not a fit. When I acquired for a romance imprint, we got submissions for nonfiction books, children’s books, and the like. It didn’t matter how good they were, I wasn’t going to publish them. What a waste of everyone’s time. This is easy to fix—spend a small amount of time researching the outlet before you pitch!
3. Too similar to something we already have in the lineup. This is especially difficult at magazines that run a lot of information on the same topic. Women’s magazines always want articles on losing weight and saving money. So how is your article going to be different from all the others?
Sometimes there just isn’t much you can do about this problem. I once acquired a novel about a woman who was turned into a black Lab by a witch and not a month later got a submission from another writer about a woman who ... you got it. Now, what are the odds? And even though the second book was different from the first, it was too similar for me to acquire.
There’s not much you can do about this problem except pitchanother outlet. Fortunately, if your work is otherwise solid, the editor will often explain this reason for a turn-down, and then you can know what to do.
4. Coming across as a prima donna or a pain to work with. If your pitch letter comes along with demands (“I expect an answer by Friday”) or you sound otherwise unprofessional (“I’ve never done this before so don’t really know what I’m doing ....”), that’s going to be a ticket to nowhere. Make sure your interactions with editors are friendly but professional.
5. Not being flexible. When I worked at a custom publication, I’d get queries from people who had good writing skills but didn’t quite understand that at a custom publication, the client calls the shots. So I would sometimes respond to a query with, “I like this idea, but we’d need to take this approach,” only to have the writer withdraw the pitch in a huff.
An editor who suggests a different approach is trying to help you succeed. Don’t respond with a knee-jerk reaction. Think about what is being said and recognize that such flexibility is crucial to a successful freelance career.
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