A guest post by Kristen Hartke
I’m always surprised when writers ask me for tips about being a “successful” freelance writer. That’s because, like most writers, I live in a world where rejection is the norm. I do, however, have my work published somewhat regularly. It could be due to my stubborn unwillingness to accept rejection. No matter what story I come up with, my motto is to pitch it until it sells.
Writing and sending pitches can be lonely hard work. As a freelancer, I’ve learned to manage how much time I spend on pitches. Most of all, I keep in mind that editors are deluged by mountains of pitches on a daily basis. If I make their lives easier with a clear concept that’s not too wordy, then I have a good chance of getting that pitch accepted.
Studies show that many writers simply give up on a pitch after the first rejection. That’s a missed opportunity. If I dreamed it, then I can sell it —sometimes to the same editor who initially turned it down.
I’ve narrowed down my pitching process to “The Three Rs: Repeat, Remind, Reframe.” They address my stubborn belief that I can pitch it until it sells:
A few years back, I designated one day a week as my Pitch Day, and it’s probably one of the best decisions I ever made. Routines can be hard to establish when you work alone and don’t have regular deadlines (although, hellooooooo editors of the world, I’d love a regular deadline!).
On my weekly Pitch Day, I may send out just one or as many as half a dozen. Maybe all I’m doing is checking up on old pitches that haven’t yet received a response. Repeating these tasks, week in and week out, helps me toward my goal of booking assignments that will get published and pay my bills.
Because editors are busy, they may not remember my pitch out of the hundreds they get each week. Even though, obviously, my pitch was spectacularly brilliant. So it’s my job to check in when I haven’t gotten a response — but gently. Adding an all caps “TIME SENSITIVE” or “PLEASE RESPOND” to the subject line is really not going to advance anyone’s cause with a busy editor.
It’s as simple as sending a quick note after a week or two: “Hi, just wanted to check in on the pitch below and see if it might be a fit for you?” And, yes, sometimes I might have to send that exact same note for several weeks, or even months, before I get a response. But it’s surprising how often I get a pitch accepted as long as six months after it was initially submitted. So don’t give up if you don’t hear back. Persistence can pay off.
Yes, sometimes the pitch gets turned down. Rejection is hard. But I’ve put time into crafting that pitch and I can’t afford to walk away.
So I begin to reframe. Even if the last interaction was “no thanks,” I see that as perfect opportunity to turn things around. I’ll respond with a “thank you” and then point to a recent piece of data or a demographic audience that might help the editor take a second look.
Or, if I think the editor might receive the pitch favorably at a different time of year, I’ll set it aside for several months and then send it right back to the same editor, sometimes just with a different subject line but otherwise unchanged. It’s not unusual, however, for the editor who first rejected the pitch to later accept it after I’ve presented it again. Sometimes they don’t even remember the original pitch!
Or I’ll simply pitch it somewhere else. After all, since I’m going to pitch it until it sells, there must be other editors who could want the story. I’m just getting started.
So think positive! Editors don’t want to say no. We just have to give them a reason to say yes. Go ahead: push back politely, be persistent, and make the sale. And if one editor says no, pitch it until it sells, elsewhere.
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Kristen Hartke is a food writer based in Washington, DC. Her work appears in a wide variety of publications, including the Washington Post, NPR’s The Salt, and Heated, which can be found on her website. She also did a webinar on this topic at afjonline.com.