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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ten Good Reasons the Editor Said "No"

When you freelance, rejections are part of the territory. In fact, I don't tell students what to do if they get rejected--I tell them what to do when they get rejected.

But new writers (and even experienced ones) often wonder why. Why didn't their pitch sell? Why did the editor say no? Or worse yet, why did the editor fail to respond?

In no particular order, here are a few of the most common reasons:

1. You misread the market. Your idea may have been excellent, but it wasn't right for that particular publication. Remember, your query should answer the question, "why will readers care?"

2. Your editor actually loved the much that she's already assigned something similar to another writer, or has a piece like it in inventory waiting to be run. Sorry--you can't do anything about this reason, but at least you know it's not you.

3. She never got it. That's why following up is so critical. How can an editor respond to something she never received?

4. You pitched an idea that would be assigned to a staff writer. Make sure you read the magazine's most current guidelines so you know what types of work is assigned to freelancers. Pitching something that would be written in-house shows that you didn't do your homework beforehand.

5. You didn't provide enough detail about how you'd approach the story. How long will the piece be? What kinds of sources will you interview? How will your structure the article? Will you include a sidebar or two? The more detail you provide, the easier it is for your editor to envision your piece--and say yes to you.

6. Your query is sloppy, whether it has mispellings, grammatical mistakes, or other glaring errors (like spelling your editor's name wrong). To an editor, sloppy query=careless freelancer.

7. You pitched too late. In other words, you queried a holiday idea to a national magazine in October. Magazines have varying lead times, so make sure you've giving yourself plenty of time (typically about six months for national pubs) when you pitch a seasonal topic.

8. The editor is overwhelmed--and hasn't had a chance to read it yet. That's another reason to follow up on every query you send. You're not being a pest; you're being a pro.

9. Your idea is nothing special. To set your query apart, don't pitch an idea like "five simple ways to lose weight." A unique or counterintuitive spin, like "eat more, weigh less" or "laugh yourself thin" is more likely to stand out--and sell.

10. She thinks you stink, she thinks your ideas stink, she thinks your work stinks, and she wants you to lose her contact info--permanently. Kidding! That may be the first thing you think of when you get a rejection, but this isn't why editors reject you. More likely you just had the wrong idea for the wrong editor at the wrong publication at the wrong time.

Readers, what do you think? Have I missed any of the major reasons editors say no?


  1. I would add...
    11. The magazine has a stable of freelancers and isn't currently looking to expand.

    Otherwise, at our magazine I know the most common reason we turn down pitches are #1 & #7. Research is a writer's most valuable skill - not just when it comes to writing articles, but also when it comes to writing pitches.

  2. 12. The magazine had to cut its freelance budget. I know a lot of writers dealing with this issue these days.

  3. Another issue is if the article would be too "controversial" and offend one of the magazine's key advertisers. We like to think of editorial as being wholly independent from sales/advertising, but I've been asked to tweak a story based on a negative quote about an advertiser, and I'm sure there are fascinating stories that don't get assigned because they'd rock the boat.

  4. Hi Kelly,
    I had it 'in' with a magazine and then the editors changed. Absolutely everything I sent the new editor, no response. Follow up, no response. Finally, last week I got a rather lengthy rejection. Evidently, I hit a nerve. My story was teaching a writing technique to middle schoolers. This technique works for me...has worked great for my kids. But it just happens to be this editor's pet peeve. I'm just glad I got a response :-)

  5. I heard an editor say on a panel, "It's like a first date. Sometimes you don't know why it won't work, but you know it won't."

  6. Great post, Kelly. I particularly like #3 & #8. In fact, I just got this response from an editor I've worked with before, but who hadn't been responsive to a recent pitch: "Thanks for following up! Always a good thing because if you don’t hear back from me, it likely means your email was buried in my box. Sorry about that."

  7. Great comments, all--thanks for chiming in!

    And reasons 11 and 12 (editor isn't looking for additional contributors/freelance budget has been slashed) are both likely, especially these days--thanks to Mel and Pat for sharing these.