How to Make Absolutely Sure Your Article Gets Killed

Carol Tice

Your article writing has been rejectedBy Linda Formichelli

I know you want your articles to get killed.

After all, success has its drawbacks. Your less prosperous writer friends may come to resent your article writing success. When your bank account is full thanks to your writing skills, you’ll become a target of unscrupulous telemarketers.

And you know the expression, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall?”

The big one is you, with your hit articles. And you’re gonna fall hard.

But don’t fret: I have five things you can do to make sure your editor kills your article so you don’t get paid and end up with all the troubles success can bring:

1. Under-promise, over-deliver.

You know the philosophy that you should under-promise and over-deliver to your clients?

You should definitely do that when it comes to word count.

When your article assignment is to write 1,000 words and you turn in 2,000 words, it creates all kinds of problems for your editor. She’ll need to comb through your article and decide which 1,000 words she can cut. After all, she has only so much space, so she has to make it fit.

Now, don’t get all wishy-washy on me and turn the extra material into a bonus sidebar. Just squish all those extra words in there and let your editor deal with it.

2. Be all business.

Editors love when writers can convey information in a fun, readable style — so be sure to write your article like you’re penning a master’s thesis.

The drier, the better. Cut out any humor that may have slipped into your article, and absolutely do not use contractions. Avoid showing even a modicum of personality. If you want your article killed, it should look like it was written by a robot…a robot that doesn’t speak English.

3. Be confident in your work.

When you get an assignment, your client will send you a little thing called an assignment letter, which details the specs of the assignment.

Ignore this.

If you want to get your article killed, for the love of all that is good and holy, do NOT re-read the assignment letter before turning in your article to make sure you included everything the editor wanted: the right word count, sidebars, and other details.

That way, when you turn in your piece, you can be sure you’re missing some important elements the editor wanted.

Mission accomplished!

4. Get friendly with your sources.

Editors expect you to beat the streets to come up with the very best, most relevant interviewees for your article. So your job is to just interview people you already know, like the neighborhood pharmacist, your Facebook friends, and your mom.

If those don’t work out, over-rely on source-finding services like ProfNet and Help a Reporter Out, using whoever happens to respond — and whatever you do, do NOT check out the sources you get from there to make sure they’re credible.

After all, you wouldn’t want to make your friends jealous with your success, would you? I didn’t think so.

5. Be an expert.

In journalism, in most cases the writer is not the expert. The writer is the writer, whose job is to interview experts and weave the information together into a coherent story.

So if your motive is a killed article, you need to be sure your editor knows you’re an expert in the topic of the piece.

That means not interviewing other experts. (I mean, you know it all already, right?) When the editor asks you for backup on your facts, tell him you’re the backup. And whenever you get the chance, inject your opinion into the article.

Those five tips should be enough to ensure success in your mission — which is NOT to have success in your writing. And if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to resort to scrawling your articles in crayon on bar napkins.

Have you ever had an article killed? Post in the comments and tell us what happened.

Linda Formichelli writes the Renegade Writer blog. Check out her current and future writing classes with Carol Tice at Useful Writing Courses.


  1. Linda H

    Love this, Linda! What a great way to show how to kill an article and likely not be contacted again to write for the same editor or magazine. While reading I thought, I wouldn’t do that, but obviously if you’re writing this someone has. I’ve had an article or two rejected but not for these reasons. Good tips to remind writers what to reverse so their bank coffers are full, although they may have to go to Starbucks alone if their friends are jealous about their writing success.

    • Linda Formichelli

      Hi, Linda! Believe me, I talk with editors and writers HAVE done all of the above. You wouldn’t believe the stories I’ve heard. Glad you liked the piece!

  2. Rohi Shetty

    Hi Linda,
    Hilarious post. I loved the ingenious subheads. You rock!

    • Linda Formichelli

      Aww, blushing over here. No, YOU rock! πŸ™‚

  3. Cinthia

    Love it! I work as an editor and assigned a writer a 400-word story. Guess what she handed in? Over 1,300 words. Took me so long to edit it down that I could have written the story myself and still saved time. But, I must admit, I have a tendency to overwrite on my own assignments, sigh, sigh.

    • Carol Tice

      You were nice to work with that way-too-long draft, Cinthia…I know many editors who refuse.

  4. Katherine James

    Great article! … I like the cunning reverse psychology. πŸ™‚

  5. Raspal Seni

    Hi Linda,

    This article surely made my day. Thank you! Had you written a post about some tips to get your article accepted by an editor, not as many people would have read as many as would read this one. πŸ™‚

    Plus the article is surely hilarious, which makes the readers remember these tips if they want their article killed. πŸ˜‰

    I loved the last one – being an expert. I haven’t yet had an article killed, but then I just dealt with one very nice editor and submitted just two articles which got published.

    • Carol Tice

      Congrats Raspal!

      That is one of the most common problems we see, writers who’re afraid to write anything they’re not an ‘expert’ in…OR who inject their expertise in the middle of journalistic, reported articles, where they are *not* the expert.

  6. Nadia McDonald

    Hi Carol! I loved your insights on how to kill an article. I once wrote an article some years back for a local paper. It drew readers based on my style and content on the subject: WHY DO MEN CHEAT? Basically, it was written using people’s views, dialogues and research analysis. Social media can be an effective tool in this process.

    • Linda Formichelli

      That sounds like a fascinating article! A perennial favorite of the women’s magazines, and how cool that you talked to real people on the topic.

  7. JR John

    I disagree with you on point 5. By all means, you should definitely be an expert, just not THE expert. Professing expertise doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t interview other sources — it just means that you are an authority and an able writer in [insert niche].

    The rest of the article, though, is pure gold (and some parts are pretty hilarious). πŸ™‚


    • Linda Formichelli

      Absolutely! I was exaggerating with that subhed. Definitely use your expertise to inform the article, help you research, know who to interview and what question to ask, etc.


  1. Lumpy's Corner › Writer’s Links 03/30/2014 (p.m.) - […] How to Make Absolutely Sure Your Article Gets Killed […]

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