There’s Rejection and then there’s REJECTION!

By Terreece M. Clarke

I forget where I read it, but some writer once said that 9 times out of 10 your article pitch is going to be rejected. So, in essence, live for the 10%. While a bit pessimistic, the overall sentiment is right on. Rejection is as much a part of freelance writing as Wi-Fi and coffee, though there is a difference in the types of rejection letter a writer can receive.


It’s a No. The rejection letter in all of its 10th generation photocopy, “Dear Writer,” addressed glory arrives with the daily mail. It’s firm, it’s informal and this type of rejection usually means your query letter never made it past the intern or editoral assistant. Ditto for the lightening fast email reply with the rejection template keyed in. (Is it just me or does it sting more when you’re rejected by hot key?)

This rejection letter should make you re-examine your query to look for obvious issues including a less than interesting subject or angle. If you’re letter is pitch perfect, look at the publication. Did your query fit the pub? Have they covered the topic recently? Does your pitch appeal to their target audience in both subject matter and tone? If after all of your analysis you still are at a loss for why the item was rejected, take it with a grain of salt – article pitches are rejected for a variety of reasons. Regroup and hit another publication that would be interested.


It still may be a form letter or a email template, but the editor has personalized it. They’ve added a note or two giving an explanation on why your query was rejected – the tone is not quite right, the subject is already in upcoming edition, etc. This means that while they can’t use the pitch, they wouldn’t object to you giving it another try with something different. It’s an encouraging sign.


One of my favorite rejections occurs when they can’t use your pitch, but ask you to write a different article. It’s a surprise, just when you thought you were on your way out the door it swings around to the other side. The satisfaction of scoring a gig from them should nullify the sting of another magazine turning down your “10 Best Enema Products” pitch.

Rejections are a part of a freelance writer’s life [Cue theme to “Facts of Life”], but the quality of the rejection letter is a good indication of where to go from “No.”

Everyone’s got a rejection story, what’s yours?

photo credit: Dorota Kaszczyszyn via Stock.Xchng


14 responses
  1. Lindsay Avatar

    Thanks for the great insight! I have a question for anyone with an answer though. What should I think when I get a personal note from an editor saying they will share my pitch with the staff and let me know. Maybe I’m just anxious, but it’s been about two weeks and I’m still waiting even after a follow-up. What’s the deal? A rejection or not?

  2. Jay Avatar

    I once received my query letter back, shredded, along with an old banana peel. It must have been the work of a disgruntled intern, but sweet Christ on a cracker that was harsh.

  3. James Koopmann Avatar

    Mine is a rejection with a happy ending.
    I, like most of you, send out emails to pointed contacts–in hopes of landing a writing gig. Days, weeks, months, and in this case a full year never hear a response. Much like Lindsay above who had decent contact initially. Well, my 1-year in waiting for a response, produced some very nice work.

    I never really think of contact or non-contact with a someone a closed door. People do hold on to your proposals. Sometimes you just have to wait a long time. Make your pitch the best you can, follow-up regularly for a month or so, then fall back into emails every month. If you never get an email that specifically says “go away”, keep plugging.

  4. hana Avatar

    Remember when you used to get rejection letters in the mail? My “worst” rejection letter was a short note scribbled on a Post It note. Yes, a Post It note stuck on my returned story.

    I can chuckle about it now but when I got it, I was a bit appalled.

    Lindsay: I don’t know but that sounds like a “maybe” to me. Anyone else think so?

  5. Terreece Avatar

    Lindsay – It’s a promising maybe. You haven’t been rejected and sounds like the editor is sharing the pitch to see where & when it would fit. If an editor takes time out to shop your idea around then it’s got “good bones” and if they don’t pick it up you’ll probably get feedback on what they’re looking for and that’ll help you craft one even better tailored to them. Good Luck!

    James – Those “been so long I’ve forgotten” gigs are the best. It’s like a long lost aunt sending you a check. Great reminder on following up on a query.

    hana – Wow, you and Carrie Bradshaw have that in common – “I’m sorry. I can’t. Don’t hate me.” That’s pretty bad.

    My favorite was from Conde’ Nast for Bride magazine. Beautiful heavy linen paper w/matching envelope, great font and so nicely written. They gently let me down like breaking off an engagement. I was thrilled :0) Still have it too1

  6. Niki Avatar

    I’ve had good and bad rejections. I got the revolving door once when the editor rejected my pitch but asked me to write something else. The bad and weired was when I sent an essay to a major magazine with a SASE, and I got the standard rejection letter and someone else’s story back. That made me realize how harried those magazine offices must be.

  7. Katherine Avatar

    It’s true that not all rejection is created equally. In some cases you can really use it to your advantage! I’ve been rejected before but I would develop an excellent correspondence with the editor as I try for more ideas.

  8. Roxie Avatar

    @ Lindsay: I would say, send an e-mail with “Follow-Up” in the subject line, and say something like this:

    “Hi there (or address the editor by name),

    I’m the writer who sent you the pitch on x about two weeks ago, and this is just a friendly follow-up e-mail, to let you know that I am still interested in contributing to (insert blog/publication name here). Then say a brief sales line about the pitch, such as “with the latest developments/information on this subject, I think I’ll be able to deliver something very relevant to your readers.” or “With my expertise/skill covering x, I think your readers will enjoy reading my work.” And maybe say another sales line about your work ethic or research skills, like “I also believe I have the ___________ to really bring the piece to life.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Thank you,
    (Your name)”

    It’s basically a shortened pitch, because a good pitch is, at the very least, a) the idea, b) why its relevant to the readers, and c) why you’re the person to do it. This brief letter should be a friendly way to follow up on your idea, and its appropriate because they told you they would consider it. Now, if it’s a major publication with an editorial calendar that’s planned many months in advance, you might want to wait another week or two. A smaller one, I say go ahead and send a follow-up. You probably know if now or one-to-two weeks later is a better time, based on the tone of their first e-mail to you, so gage and word things carefully to keep the professionalism going (ie: you don’t want to come across desperate to know, even though you might be ;-))

    Just my opinion on what you should do. Good luck!

  9. Ann G. Avatar
    Ann G.

    My first actual magazine pitch was a unique experience. They rejected me at first, which was fine, I didn’t expect to sell an article first time out. A month later, the editor emailed me saying that the person they’d chosen blew the deadline and wasn’t responding to emails. Given that, they really hoped I could do the article with only a week’s turnaround time. They were willing to pay me extra to get it done.

    As the article was about parenting a ‘tween for a fashion magazine, my daughter was more than enthusiastic to take me out shopping at her favorite stores and telling me what was wrong with the stores I picked. So we had a fun mother-daughter day out and it gave me all the information I needed to get the article done.

    Since then, I’ve had a rejection, but I was happy to learn that I’d made it to the top two and per the editor at the meeting when they were selecting the article to go with, I had 5 of the 12 votes in my favor, so that’s not too shabby.

  10. Fiona Avatar

    Ann – I had a similar experience last year but with a less positive outcome. They rejected me but a month later I got a phone call to say that they guy they’d hired to write a story wasn’t working out so could I do it instead within a week. I said absolutely and she promised to call back the next day with details. She never did – I called and emailed and never heard back!

    A few months later I emailed the same editor with another story pitch and she emailed back to say she loved it and asked if we could arrange a time to discuss it ont he phone. I emailed her and again, never heard back about the story.

    At that point I start to wonder if it’s me or an incredibly flaky editor!

  11. Clara Avatar

    Hi ,

    An editor of a startup mens magazine hedged on giving me a ‘yes’ on a piece we discussed…finally he called it a “win-win” situation in that I’d send the article, he’d check how received by readers & give me a contract if all good. Anyhow, he concluded it was a win because I’d be published…he’d have the article.

    Never got that contract. I do visit the magazine to read my 900 word article on the women advice page to this day!

  12. Lindsay Avatar

    Thanks so much for all the great advice. I sent one follow-up letter earlier this week so I guess I’ll just give it some time.

  13. jublke Avatar

    Jay, that’s an awful story! I thought my worst rejection was bad … a three word E-mail saying only “We will pass.”

  14. Tameka Avatar

    Well what tips or advice do you have for someone who has let you in the door only to tell you that they are not pleased with the level of your writing?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.