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. Brett Pribble

    Sometimes being an amicable person will get you further than writing skills. It’s the way of the world. I try to never burn any bridges.

  2. Me

    That’s a great story Allen and as Derek Thompson mentioned, too often we lose sight that jobs, all jobs, are often from building relationships more so than credentials. Having said that, your credentials were an obvious bonus for you to include in your reply.
    How do you think someone without your credentials may have fared and they attempted the same tactic with a client?

    • Allen Taylor

      Hi David, great question!

      I think the outcome would have been the same. When the client decided to give me a second chance, they didn’t say, “Oh, yeah. We forgot you were an award-winning journalist.” They said, “You were so respectful and professional in your response, so we’ll up your kill fee and give you another article.”

      That told me they valued my skills but also me as a person. I think anyone could have done that.

  3. Lori Hil

    That is fantastic, way to turn a potentially bad experience around. I will keep these points in mind for the future. Being respectful always goes a long way.

  4. Derek Thompson

    Nice piece – a great reminder that writing is as much about building positive working relationships as it is about the content. I pitched to a client in what I thought was my specialism, but they turned me down in favour of someone else. (I made the final three, which is a good sign!) However, because I’d included humour in my approach – and I was the only humour writer to pitch to them – they came back to me and asked if I wanted to write a test piece on a completely different topic with added humour. I researched and followed their requirements very carefully, and I wrote a magazine column for them for two and a half years. When that came to an end, naturally I was ready with a new pitch!

    • Allen Taylor

      Great success story, Derek. Humor is always fun. But you are correct, it’s as much about building relationships as it is about producing great content.

  5. Leigh

    Great piece on the importance of keeping your cool. It’s a good reminder for writers, whether they have decades of experience or no experience at all.

    I am obsessed with “Shark Tank,” so I’m off to find your column. I would be thrilled if there was a channel that played nothing but “Shark Tank,” “The Profit” and “The Apprentice” (original, not celebrity) 24/7.

    • Allen Taylor

      Absolutely, Leigh. A lot of trouble can be averted just by taking a breather and thinking about your response before shooting off an e-mail. This client actually made a point to tell me they were keeping me on because I was respectful in my approach rather than defensive.

      Let me know if you have trouble finding the column.

    • Leigh

      Thanks for the reply. I found your pieces right away by Googling “Allen Taylor Shark Tank.” =)

    • newbee

      Hi Allen,

      I read your article on feedly. Awesome. Your “playing on their conscience” act was wise. My jaw dropped when I read your porfolio- editing almost 30,000 articles and 10,000 blog posts. I am just a budding writer- I just wondered when I would even hit 50 articles- lol. Was just wondering if you could offer me some tips on how to advance in the writing world. By the way, I just also completed a program in nutrition. It will definitly be a dream come true if my request is considered favourably. Thanks

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