How I Got a Column Writing Gig — After My Article Was Rejected

Editor

Column writing is a great gig if you can land it.

One of the most satisfying freelance writing gigs to snag is regular column writing. The chance to write what you want and have ongoing work you can rely on…it’s a dream.

There are a lot fewer opportunities out there to become a columnist than there were a decade or two back, so these can be hard to land.

But I recently got a contract to write a regular column — in the most unusual way.

I totally screwed up an assignment for a new editor. But I handled it with grace, and turned the situation into a monthly column that’s easy to write — and nets me $150–$200 per hour in ongoing income.

Here’s how I did it:

 

It started with a response to a job board ad. After the initial introduction and a short phone conversation, I got my first assignment.

Getting it wrong

This first assignment was to write a “cautionary” story about a well-known investor who had some public complaints and a couple of legal issues in his background.

I conducted the necessary research and contacted the investor to get a response, wrote the article, and submitted it to my client.

After a couple of revisions, they decided to kill the article and notified me that I was not the right fit for their needs.

However, they did offer a nominal kill fee for my efforts.

Staying cool

I immediately took a deep breath and responded to my editor’s email with a well-thought-out and carefully worded response. It included the following key points:

  • An expression of disappointment and regret that I didn’t ask enough questions to ‘get’ their needs and deliver a story that would work for them. (This can add work to the front end, but it’s actually fun — and it helps you give your client what they want.)
  • A restatement of the original message, indicating the type of piece they wanted me to write
  • Emphasis on my background as a former newspaper editor and award-winning journalist
  • Surprise that the client reached the conclusion that I wasn’t right for them based on just one article, which I thought was written to their specs

Finally, I took the opportunity to negotiate the kill fee and offered to fix the article if the client wanted me to.

In a surprising (to me) turn of events, my editor let me know they would pay my requested kill fee and offer me another chance on a new assignment.

Turning it around

The reason this approach worked is pretty simple. I remained professional while communicating my disagreement with the client respectfully, even though it was clear that I had goofed. I took responsibility for my failure, while standing firm that the client was also partly responsible.

It was a play on their conscience, and it worked.

I soon received an email asking if I’d be interested in writing about the ABC-TV reality show Shark Tank. Of course, I would!

After some discussion, we decided to expand on the first article and turn it into a monthly column. I was given leeway to approach the series any way I wanted.

Not only did I salvage the original job, but I got to become a columnist with total freedom to write about it my way. There’s no better deal than that.

How have you recovered from a failure? Tell us in the comments below.

Allen Taylor is a freelance journalist, blogger, and author of E-book Publishing: Create Your Own Brand of Digital Books. He curates The Content Letter, a weekly e-zine for indie authors and knowledge hounds.

20 Comments

  1. Lene Fogelberg

    Wow! Wonderful experience!

  2. Laurie Stone

    Wow, writing about “Shark Tank” sounds cool. God knows you have enough material there. I have a friend who writes television reviews for a well-known paper. Sounds like a dream job. Congratulations.

  3. Katherine Swarts

    There’s a great slant: how to NOT take no for an answer–without making enemies. Most people would either slink away without a word or try to throw the blame back on the other party and bully them into admitting that the article was really a good one: in either case, end of relationship. Your approach is the hardest AND the best.

    • Allen Taylor

      That’s true, Katherine. Arguing with an editor rarely works out in your favor. If you must argue, you have to do it respectfully if you want to write for that venue again.

  4. Rob S

    Just what I needed to hear today. I locked horns with an editor last month and regretted it. Now I’ll try and mend the fence.

    • Allen Taylor

      Rob, good luck. I hope that works out well for you. You can always use new knowledge and skills on the next relationship. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      I have to admit that I’ve burned the occasional bridge as well…but it really pays to be nice to editors. You never know what publication they might land at next. 😉

    • Rob S

      All good. I sent her an email yesterday and we worked it out. Thanks!

    • Allen Taylor

      Great news, Rob. Salvage those relationships as soon as you can. You never know when you’ll need them.

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