Article Writing Rejection? Do THIS to Bounce Back…Fast

Carol Tice

Article writing rejection. It’s a tough pill to swallow for most freelancers.

Learning how to deal with it effectively may be more important than anything else.

Seriously, if you don’t handle article writing rejection well when you get a “no” from an editor, it can be devastating.

Ask yourself this question: Am I suffering from article writing rejection?

  • You day you’re optimistically cranking out query letters and letters of introduction (LOIs) to land article writing assignments.
  • And the next, you’re rolling around on the floor in a puddle of self-loathing after getting a rejection letter from an editor.
  • Between angry and pathetic sobs, you shake your fist at the sky and sputter, “Whyyyy?!”

Been there, done that?

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been freelancing a while, getting an article writing rejection is part of the gig. Count on it.

Here’s the thing. Some writers internalize that article writing rejection so deeply, they’re paralyzed to continue.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you understand the five stages of getting an article pitch in front of an editor and how to handle rejection, you can bounce back fast. Here’s how:

5 stages of the article writing pitch

  1. You get an article idea.
  2. You write the idea up, in a query letter or letter of introduction.
  3. You send the pitch letter in, usually via email.
  4. You wait, frequently in vain, for a response.
  5. You begin the second-guessing game, and start wondering why your article pitch didn’t get you an assignment.

That fifth stage often sends writers into an emotional tailspin. It’s one of two big problems. Instead of sending more pitches, you sit around thinking:

“I suck at this. I’m never going to make it!”

Instead of sending more pitches, you sit in a pool of misery, thinking bad things about yourself.

  • The other big problem is that this self-flagellation exercise wastes way too much of your precious time.

There are only two basic things you need to understand about article writing rejections — and once you know them, it can help you move on to writing that next query more quickly.

The reason you fear article writing rejection

We writers like to obsess about why our ideas were rejected, because we have a deep-seated fear that they aren’t good enough.

After all, there’s so much competition out there. Other writers are more experienced.

You can fill in your personal insecurity complex here. I’ve talked to writers who believe they’ve been rejected because they live in a different country, are too old, too young, you name it.

In other words, you think the reason you were rejected is all about you. And that could be the reason.

But often, it’s not.

The other reason

The more common reason your article pitch is rejected has nothing to do with you.

That reason can be summed up as: stuff going on at the magazine or business. Stuff like:

  • The editor or marketing director you sent it to just got fired.
  • The publication is getting ready to fold or change format.
  • They already have something similar assigned.
  • They don’t have time to look at queries right now.
  • There isn’t any room in the upcoming issue.
  • They get a million pitches on this topic and they’re bored of it.
  • Your query arrived too late to be considered for that special section (allow 6 months for national mags, folks!).
  • Longshot possibility: It got stuck in their spam and they never saw it.

You get the idea. There are a ton of factors that go into article writing assignment decisions, and most of them have nothing to do with you or your skills.

How to cope

The worst thing you can do after you send a pitch out is sit around wondering and second-guessing yourself.

That’s not a freelance writer’s job.

Ours is not to wonder why — ours is to keep learning, and keep on pitching. Theorizing about why you were rejected is a total waste of energy, since in most cases, you’ll never really know. But you can learn from your mistakes:

  • Maybe you made some rookie mistakes with your pitch — you didn’t research the publication ahead of time to make sure your tone fits, and that the topic is fresh for their audience and not recently covered.
  • Maybe you didn’t even pitch a headline for your story, so the editor was left baffled about the main drift of your idea.

Whenever you can, try to get some feedback about why you’re not getting assignments. If you think your ideas really are weak, or you need to work on your storytelling skills, then learn how to write killer articles.

Lessons from the Pitch-a-Thon inside the Freelance Writers Den

Right now, we’re in the middle of the Pitch-a-Thon in the Pitching 101 Bootcamp inside the Freelance Writers Den.

And there’s ONE goal:

Write as many LOIs or query letters as possible, get feedback, send them off, and repeat the process.

  • At first, some of the writers will get nothing but crickets.
  • Some might get a “no” or “maybe later.”
  • But every pitch you send puts you that much closer to a “yes.”
  • When you think about it like this, article writing rejection can help you find out how many pitches it takes to get a “yes.”

Let’s face it. If you’re a freelance writer, article writing rejection is going to happen.

So how do you prevent a “no” or “maybe later” or even crickets from ruining your day?

It’s insanely simple…

Bounce back and keep going

The most important thing to do is not waste time wondering. That’s not getting your writing career anywhere.

Instead, focus on learning, improving, and sending more pitches out. Bounce back and keep going. Don’t be a waiter, be a writer, OK?

How do you handle article writing rejection? Leave a comment below, and let’s discuss.

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  1. Kimberly C

    Hi Carol!

    Very timely article…I just this morning sent a pitch to a publication new to me. The funny thing is my first pitch was rejected! The editor was kind enough to let me know the reason, which was that my pitch wasn’t received far enough in advance (it was based on the upcoming holiday season), and the magazine issue has already assigned articles. However, I did recover and had the presence of mind to ask the editor if she would be receptive to a subsequent pitch. While she was careful to make no promises about acceptance, she indicated she would be open to more pitches. Score!

    • Carol Tice

      When you can get that editor feedback, Kimberly, it’s golden. I have so much gratitude for editors who are still taking the time to offer encouragement, when I know they’re under so much pressure and so overwhelmed.

  2. Warren R. Johnson

    In my first attempt to get published, I sent a full article, not a pitch. The article was rejected as the magazine had covered that topic (they had no online index of past articles). However, the editor replied with a long email, telling my writing was quite good. He went on to give me some pointers about my writing and the photos I submitted. Most editors don’t have the time to respond so fully. I consider this rejection the best rejection I have ever received.

    • Carol Tice

      Linda Formichelli and I call that “positive rejection.” πŸ˜‰

  3. Pinar Tarhan

    The too-busy-to-look-at-queries happens a lot. I love following up, just in case. I follow up once or twice (at most, especially if the editor has mentioned approving short & pleasant follow-ups). If two weeks after the second one I don’t hear from the editor, I move on. I know from my own inbox how crazy things can get, so I definitely respect their time and choices.

    • Carol Tice

      Sounds like a good strategy!

    • Sue

      Out of curiosity, Pinar, how often does your follow-up email bear fruit in some way? I’m so thin-skinned – I presume if I don’t hear back they’re not interested. I know, I know … πŸ™‚

      • Pinar Tarhan

        Hi Sue,
        I’d say 10 percent. But even though I don’t hear back anything, it’s still a reply. This way I don’t worry whether I waited enough or too long. I’ve all I need to pitch other publications. πŸ™‚

  4. Katherine Swarts

    Don’t we all dream of being so important that anyone, anywhere, will drop whatever else they’re doing to fulfill our requests immediately? And don’t we all harbor secret worries that the ONLY alternative is total and absolute failure?

  5. CJ

    I sit on both sides of the desk, as I’m a freelance writer and I edit stories for an online site. Because I too hate silence from editors I’ve pitched I’m sensitive to those that send them to me. I always respond – even if it’s just a “Got your pitch, thanks, but not for us at this time”. I try to treat others the way I want to be treated. That said, one of the reasons I reject pieces is that it often looks like the writer is being paid by a company for a product or brand placement. I’ve sometimes asked the writer if they’re being paid by a company for a write up and after a few back & forth emails, I get the truth. It’s a total waste of my time and I’m annoyed. Now when I get a pitch that sounds like the writer is being paid by a company to tout their product/hotel/restaurant I hit the delete key. So my advice to writers pitching a story is to make it clear to the editor that you’re not receiving compensation for placement by a brand.

    • Carol Tice

      CJ, I’m definitely seeing a ton of that in pitches for my blog — link-seekers. I just let them know I don’t accept those.

      • CJ


        On occasion I do look to exchange links with legitimate sites that have a kinship with mine. So if a writer asks about contributing, I make sure they’re not being paid. However, I’m simply deleting most of these requests now, unless it’s from someone I know or meet at a press event.

  6. Richard Swearinger

    Former editor speaking here, it was usually one of two things: the person clearly hadn’t read the magazine and was pitching an idea that was totally unsuitable, or the idea was vague, generic, and been done a thousand times before. The best ideas are the most specific and have the most direct impact on my readers’ lives. The term that comes to mind is “crisp.” A good proposal has a crispness to it that is unmistakable.
    The other red flag: the word “passion” as in “I have a passion for cooking.” When a writer uses the phrase “I have a passion for” it inevitably means that he or she has a very flimsy grasp on the subject and is trying to cover up for lack of knowledge by larding the story with contrived theories, half-remembered facts, and discredited authorities.

    • Deena

      Richard, great comment! It will be very helpful for me when I pitch guest posts. I appreciate your advice, which was specific and actionable.

      Carol, thanks for validating for all of us the very likely possibilities for why we don’t hear back from editors. I have also found that after a gentle “Just want to make sure you saw this,” the editor will respond. I see with my own audience that sometimes it will take me several days to respond to someone. We all feel so vulnerable as writers, but sometimes all we need is a healthy dose of giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.


      • Carol Tice

        Right on — and just getting that it’s often not about you. If you suspect is really IS about you…you need to take steps to build your skills. Get some feedback. Take a class. (cough JSchool!) But very often, it’s a million other things.

        Also, most writers don’t understand how MANY pitches editors are getting. Think 100 a week, for even niche national publication editors. You need to really stand out with something “crisp,” and focused, as Richard said.

    • Carol Tice

      Eye-opening tips there, Richard!

      When I was a staff reporter, I was always interested to see how many pitches came in that said they were intended for some department of the paper we’d eliminated years back. Writers really underestimate the value of studying the publication!

      And few know how to focus an idea and make it fresh, especially evergreen topics. Linda F. and I see that a lot in our Pitch Clinic class.

    • Bill Degnan

      I love this. It could be a checklist!

      [√]flimsy grasp of subject
      [√]contrived theories
      [√]half-remembered facts
      [√]discredited authorities

      [√]Route to low, round “out” basket.

    • Claire

      This is a really helpful comment, I’ve copied out the most useful bits onto a scrap of paper and I shall keep it handy. Thank you Richard.

  7. CJ

    Richard Swearinger – You’re so right about the word passion. I cover a lot of beauty and fashion, and whenever someone says/writes they have a “passion for fashion”, my brain goes on automatic pilot that says, “so not only are you clueless about fashion, but you probably write in tired old clichΓ©s”….of course, I say this in my head only!

  8. Lulu

    Three weeks ago, I sent my first pitches EVER to an online mag. The editor-in-chief said she’d run them by her editorial team.

    Again, that was 3 weeks ago. I haven’t heard from her since.

    This post could not have come at a better time.

  9. Kevin Carlton

    Hi Carol

    I recently got the silent treatment after applying for a part-time freelance copywriter position with a big local digital marketing agency.

    So I gave them a quick call to find out what the score was. They said they’d now filled the position. But rather than asking why I was rejected, I put the question in a more positive way.

    I said: “As you’d expect with any good marketing person, I like to monitor and improve the success of my leads. So I just wondered in what way I wasn’t able to meet your requirements.’

    They basically said that, for that particular job, they needed someone who could offer far more hours per week. Nevertheless, they said they’d put me on their list of local suppliers.

    Now here’s the point.

    Just like those article pitches you talk about, I wasn’t taken on because I wasn’t good enough. Instead, I simply couldn’t dedicate the time they needed.

    You can’t ever be sure what goes on behind the scenes at these places. And sometimes down the line you do suddenly get call from them out of the blue.

    • Carol Tice

      I think you mean “not” because you weren’t good enough. πŸ˜‰ There are so many things that go into creating a fit, especially for long-running gigs.

      I have one mentee who just sat down to talk with a client who seemed to think she would want to join the staff eventually, and she needed to redraw those boundaries and make it clear she wanted to freelance and have multiple clients. Maybe that’s not a fit for that client…but nothing to do with her talent level.

      • Kevin Carlton

        That particular gig was an interesting one, because the company actually approached me rather than I approached them.

        I also pretty well knew from the outset that the hours I was offering were way less than their requirements. So I kinda guessed I wouldn’t be the right fit for them.

        But I’d had my eye on that company for a while.

        So when they contacted me, I expressed my interest anyway – because I thought they’d pay more attention at a time they were actually on the lookout for copywriters.

        If the business regularly hires freelances then hopefully they should understand that, like you say, most of them don’t want just one client.

        I’ve been almost exclusively dedicated to one client in the past and it just wasn’t healthy.

        • Carol Tice

          Nope — when you’ve only got one client, that means they should be paying you healthcare and benefits. πŸ˜‰

  10. Theodore Nwangene

    This is yet another mind blowing post Carol,
    And i can truly relate to it as I’ve had a similar experience before. Mine was that i wrote a post i assumed was a top notch, sent the pitch but never got a reply.

    I was really very sad about the whole thing. I thought to myself, could it be that my headline wasn’t good enough or could it be from the article itself? But on the contrary, i also said…. But if that’s the case, why didn’t they just respond to my email and tell me what they don’t like about my article like most other people I’ve written for before usually do at least, i can make corrections.

    At the end of everything, i decided to just move on.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Carol Tice

      Right answer, Theodore!

  11. Arpine

    Hi Carol,
    This is a great article.
    Such a wise advice for everyone.
    Thanks for sharing it!

  12. ceciltoder

    I was offering were way less than their requirements. So I kinda guessed

  13. Laurie Stone

    Its easy for us sensitive writing souls to feel rejected. But you’re right, we have to learn to not take everything personally. There are a million reasons not to get the go-ahead and sometimes they have nothing to do with the writing.

  14. Jessica

    This blog caught my eye because I was recently rejected to write online articles due to my sample article just not meeting their standards. I put a lot of time and effort into it, but they told me I just wasn’t what they were looking for. I was disappointed, and I looked through the article a few times, wondering what was wrong. I thought I did a great job. I will never know the real reason, but you’re right; I can dwell on it. I was definitely looking forward to that one though.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, the disease of counting chickens before they hatch is an epidemic in the writing community — could be another post topic all by itself. Don’t ever assume you’ve got a gig until that first check clears your account. πŸ˜‰

      I think you mean “I CAN’T dwell on it,” right?

      I’ve been passed over for SO many gigs I thought I was super-right for, I can’t even count. All you can do is keep on pitching! And not let that control your actions.

  15. Heather

    Great post Carol – as ever! And a timely one as I am literally just about to send a query to an editor, but was having a slight wobble about it.

    I’ve applied for countless online writing jobs where the result has been to receive nothing but tumbleweed. It’s frustrating at times but I tend to just keep moving. I have landed other writing gigs so there could be a million and one reasons why I don’t get others, which are nothing to do with me or my writing.

    In my old job, I used to interview people for the team and, often, those who didn’t get the job hadn’t done anything wrong, they just didn’t have the skillset one of the other candidates had (and that we needed). It’s hard not to take that personally, but it is not a reflection on the person, it’s a reflection on the organization and their needs.

    Thanks for giving me the courage to press send on that email!

    • Carol Tice

      The reality these days is that editors are so inundated that they don’t have time to send polite little “Thanks but no thanks” emails or letters to everyone they’re turning down. They just can’t!

      The other thing is…if you’re ‘applying for online writing jobs,’ you have to know that each one you apply to got thousands of responses. You improve your odds of getting an answer when you target your own clients rather than applying to mass job ads.

  16. Katherine Swarts

    On a related topic, it hurts to get a mailing-list Unsubscribe from an address I recognize as someone I know personally–even though I’ve done the same thing. On such occasions, I usually send a personal inquiry on the reason for the unsubscription “in the interest of helping ensure the remaining subscribers get the best possible content.”

    Also: I have several social-media contacts who regularly post identical items to multiple groups and I get ALL of them–which can be a bit annoying, especially since so many of them are self-promotional. When I have a new blog post up, I send it to direct subscribers and my general timeline only; if I want to introduce a new service, I post it to a maximum of two groups and not five or six days in a row. Thoughts?

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for raising yet another thing writers can get obsessed with that they should ignore and move on from – who’s unsubscribing to my list today.

      I can honestly say I have never looked through the list of who unsubscribed today. Too busy helping the people who like what I send out!

      I also sometimes end up getting multiple copies of things…and I just delete them. Not a big deal! I know I’ve chosen to be involved on many lists and groups, so then I get dupes.

      I do do list segmentation with my lists, so that if you’re on my blog sub list and the Den waiting list, for instance, you hopefully don’t get two copies of things…but those segments get out of date. Maybe because I do a lot of list management here myself, I’m sympathetic when I see that I’m getting double-mailed. πŸ˜‰

  17. Sweety

    I have been a silent reader of this site for quite some time now. I absolutely love the suggestions and advice you give to other writers.

    Recently I pitched some my ideas to a popular site of my niche and the editor loved them. (Thanks to your sample pitch letter, love you for that). She asked me to go on with one of them. Its been 4 days I have sent the completed article but haven’t gotten a feedback yet.

    Any suggestions? Earlier the editor responded to my query the very next day. Should I follow up? Is it too early? I am totally confused. Please help.

    • Carol Tice

      Be patient. πŸ˜‰ Editors are busy, busy people.

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