When I began my freelance writing career, I was sure that my first article was my ticket to the big time. I sent it off to a women’s magazine.
When a form letter rejection arrived five days later in my thoughtfully provided envelope, I was devastated. I knew the article was good, how could they not see that? I told myself that any editor who could not appreciate a manuscript on which I’d worked so hard was not worth writing for.
I sent it to another magazine. The rejection took a week to arrive this time. Again, it was a form letter addressed to “Dear Writer.” If this was what the writing business was like, I wanted no part of it. I could see the cycle all too clearly. Research, writing, submission, rejection, dejection…it was just too much. I quit.
Two months later I was talking about those two rejections and lamenting the cruelty of editors when my brother-in-law, a vacuum cleaner salesman, opened my eyes.
“Stop whining!” He told me. “So your stuff got rejected by two customers, so what? That happens to me all the time. If I let it get to me, I’d never make a dime.”
I was offended. He was comparing my carefully crafted words to his vacuum cleaners. I said, “It isn’t the same thing at all.”
“Isn’t it?” He replied. “Think about it. I’m selling a product, and so are you. If my customers don’t want my product, I do three things. First, I look at my approach. Is there something I could have done better? Second, I look at the product. Was I trying to sell the Econoline Deluxe to a carpet sweeper customer? Third, I go back the next day with the right approach or the right product. If none of that works, and sometimes it doesn’t, I just move on to the next customer and forget it.”
He went on to explain that success in any kind of sales requires knowledge. “It doesn’t matter what you’re selling or who you’re selling it to. Don’t try it until you know your industry, your product and your clients. Learn what you need to know first, then offer them a carpet sweeper or go sell your vacuum to someone else.”
I dismissed his diatribe, still smarting from the comparison to vacuum cleaners. I did realize, though, that he was right about sales requiring knowledge. I started reading everything I could find about the business of writing and was shocked to discover that all my writing mentors were saying the same thing. They all wrote about approaching a publication properly and the different editorial needs of individual publications.
As it turned out, my approach was wrong and so was the product. Neither of those magazines accepted unsolicited manuscripts. My perfect article, an essay, was most likely never read. It’s a good thing it wasn’t. Neither publication accepts personal essays.
Many years, many rejections and many published articles later, I freelance full-time and enjoy a decent income. I know the industry and I keep myself informed. I know my product, I research every subject thoroughly and prepare a list of sources before sending a query. I also know my clients and their needs. I read at least two issues of a publication cover to cover before submitting to them and I always read their guidelines and editorial calendars when they’re available.
I still receive rejections on occasion but I don’t whine about it anymore. When a rejection comes now, I just smile to myself and wonder if they might be interested in a carpet sweeper.
Robin E. Shirley is an award-winning journalist and full-time freelance writer with hundreds of published articles to her credit. Her work appears regularly in national and regional publications as well as on the Web. You can read more about Robin at: http://www.reswritingservices.com