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What writers and editors want each other to know about rejection

Plus, how to cope with receiving them.

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Rejection is a natural part of a writer’s life – especially if you regularly pitch nonfiction articles.

It can be demoralizing when you hear a “no” from an outlet that you thought was a perfect fit. Other times, a rejection could be eye-opening and help you rethink your work (or even career) for the better.

As someone who aspires to get at least 100 rejections each year, I can affirm that the art of rejection is hard. As a writer, I remember those rejections that were like a gut punch, for better or for worse. But I know that it can be difficult to tell someone that their idea just does not work for the editor and/or the publication. 

I had the opportunity to talk to several writers and an editor about their thoughts on rejections. Here, writers explain what they wish rejecting editors would do – with some further insight from the editorial side on how editors hope writers will perceive rejections.

Response, please

All the writers that I talked to said they wanted to get an actual rejection from editors instead of silence. These writers said many of their pitches go unanswered, even after the writer sends a follow-up. 

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Sandra Gurvis, a journalist and author for 40 years, explained, “I think it’s really important to get back to people, even to say, ‘Sorry, it’s not what I want.’” It’s a two-second email, she noted.

Holly Leber Simmons, writer and editor and owner of Red Pen Editorial Services, explained that she mostly works in content marketing now because she was tired of dealing with the challenges of pitches. “It’s a lack of response,” Leber Simmons said. “You’ll work really hard to put together a pitch, and then if you get a response, it’ll be something like, ‘Thanks, but we’ll pass’ or something.” 

Because while getting a response from any ultra-busy modern editor is a good start, most writers would love to get an explanation of why the pitch was rejected. Writer Theresa Sullivan-Barger said, “I appreciate a clear-cut rejection.” While she notes that editors are often very busy, she says it’s really helpful when editors give her feedback. 

For instance, if an editor says they have a similar article in the pipeline, that helps Sullivan-Barger know she might be on the right track with the publication and consider pitching again in the future. 

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Those rejections can be life-changing. Leber Simmons noted that when she was rejected from a promising job, she asked the editor to give feedback about why she did not receive the position. That editor offered to have lunch with her and gave her feedback on how to get more experience for the career path she sought. That editor gave Leber Simmons suggestions on how to improve her work experience in this particular niche, which set Leber Simmons on her current career path. Leber Simmons knows editors do not have much spare time, but if they have any capacity, they might want to consider going the extra step with a writer who shows promise.

And if you’ve worked with an editor before, the editor should ideally let you know if the pitch is rejected rather than ghosting you, Leber Simmons said. 

Simultaneous submissions

When I first started pitching a few years ago, people advised never sending a single pitch to several publications at once. You could ruin a relationship with one or both publications over the faux pas of simultaneous submissions. There is some wiggle room with timely pitches, but the other writers I talked to said you need to be clear about it in your email. The challenge of this practice is that you can wait weeks for a rejection that may or may not come before you send out the pitch to another publication. 

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Attitudes toward simultaneous submissions may be shifting. Sullivan-Barger said she’s heard editors at conferences say they do not mind writers simultaneously submitting. Like everything, it may depend on the editor and the outlet, but it would be a nice change.

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