What Really Happens When Your Pitch Gets Rejected

It’s not as bad as you think.

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

Writers have active imaginations (obviously). And those imaginations get quite a workout after they send an article pitch to an editor. When you send in a pitch, it’s easy to imagine the worst. That the editor hated your pitch so much, they’ll frame your photo on the wall for dart practice and plan their revenge.

Really, rejection isn’t that bad. Okay, it’s never nice to hear “no,” but I come from the acting world. People told me to my face that I was too fat for a part and all kinds of other BS. A friend of mine had four callbacks for Glinda in Wicked only to lose the part because she had “too much of an Elphaba shaped face.”

Freelance writing rejections? They’re a walk in the park, comparatively. Even if you haven’t been abused by an acting career, it’s likely that you’re imagining a more tragic story around every rejection. Here’s what really happens when you get rejected.

Nothing

Often, you never hear back from an editor and that’s how you know they aren’t interested in your story. This is what lots of writers think that means:

Oh, well they don’t think I’m good enough so I’m not even worth a response. They probably only take people from Yale or something and since I’m not some fancy-ass person, they just ignored me. They could tell I don’t have enough experience from the subject line and they went out of their way to snub me.

Here’s what probably happened at the editor’s desk:

Hmm, we just did a story like that a few weeks ago, I’ll have to pass. Oh, what’s that? I have to cover Khloe Kardashian getting pissed off about her grandma posting an unphotoshopped photo and you need it 30 minutes? Oh, great. Ugh, I haven’t even eaten yet and it’s 3pm! Thanks for nothing Khloe!

Or

Hmm this looks interesting… oh God, California’s on fire? Uh and we’ve got all those Playing With Fire ads on the site. That “0% contained” tagline’s not going to look good…

And the editor rushes away and forgets about your pitch. Bonus fact: Playing With Fire had huge billboards all over LA that said “0% contained” as a joke right as the city was burning in November 2019.

When an editor doesn’t return an email, it doesn’t mean they think less of you. It just means they don’t have time. Yes, it’s nice when they can give you a polite no, but it doesn’t always happen. Remember, it doesn’t mean you’re awful or being snubbed, it just means that’s not the right story for that publication at that very moment.

A Curt Response

Editors won’t always ghost you. Often, you’ll get a simple response that might read a little cold. Like “Thank you for getting in touch. Unfortunately, your idea does not fit our current editorial needs. Because of the volume of email I receive, I cannot offer a personal response.” This is what a lot of writers think that kind of response means:

It’s just a form rejection, they didn’t even read it.

Or

Okay, cool I wasn’t even asking for a personal response, so thanks for being a robot about it. Ugh, I don’t even think I’m getting through to real people with these pitches, what’s the point.

Here’s what probably happened at the editor’s desk:

I like that idea but it’s not right. Well, I have 35 other pitches to go through in the next two hours. Looks like it’s copy and paste for me!

A form response or a very curt email can easily be read as cold or rude. But it’s just a symptom of business. Editors go through multiple pitches every day, on top of all the other work they have to do for their job. Publications are routinely understaffed, so keeping a blanket rejection statement can save a lot of time.

The good news: People are reading pitches. A form response doesn’t mean that they didn’t take time to go through your idea.

Bonus fact: That’s an exact rejection email I got from the New York Times.

Again, this rejection doesn’t mean your idea is terrible or you’re a bad writer. It just didn’t work for that particular publication. You should definitely try somewhere else.

A Jerky Response

Every once in a while editors will be jerks and possibly criticize your idea while saying no. Honestly, this barely ever happens to me, but there are a-holes everywhere and sometimes you just catch a decent person on a bad day. When you get a jerk response, here’s what a lot of writers think it means:

Why was that so mean? Oh God, they probably hate me now. I bet they’re showing my pitch to everyone and making fun of it. I’m probably blacklisted from this site for life.

Here’s what probably happened at the editor’s desk:

Seriously? This is the 6th pitch about Regé-John Page leaving Bridgerton I got in the last hour. We don’t cover Bridgerton! Oh well, I’ve totally forgotten that writer’s name because someone just bailed on me and now I have to cobble together an article before I go home. Sarcastic hooray.

Editor’s shouldn’t be jerks and if you get an outright abusive email, you should report it to someone at the publication. If the email is just a little rude, you don’t have to pitch that editor again! But most of the time, it’s that you happened to catch somebody at a bad time and their email turned out a little jerkier than they intended.

No matter what caused the jerky email, they definitely won’t remember you. You won’t be blacklisted or mocked. You just have to deal with an insensitive email, which isn’t fun, but doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer.

Help & Encouragement

Sometimes, a no can be pretty nice. Editors might give you better pitching guidelines or a more appropriate contact to use. I’ve accidentally pitched the wrong editor and they’ve written back with the right email to use and wishes of good luck on my pitch.

Once, I sent out a crappy pitch (I didn’t realize it was crappy at the time, but later that became clear) and the editor replied with more info on what that vertical was looking for and some tips for the future. She didn’t chastise me or say “you’ll never work in this town again!” The rejection was encouraging and helped me do a better job in the future.

Overall, don’t assume that editors are out to get you. They’re just busy people with a lot of emails to go through. So, if they send a super kind rejection or even a kind of crappy one, remember that the “no” is temporary.

Sure, you won’t tell that story, at that publication, at that time. And that’s all it means. It hasn’t nothing to do with your abilities as a writer or worth as a person. It’s just one small no. There will be many small yeses on the way.

If you want to find the masthead and pitching guidelines of over 240 other publications, get my free Big Guide To Paying Publications That Take Pitches. You’ll get the guide plus weekly emails about open writing jobs and freelance tips.

Writer for Thrillist, Bustle, Parade, Greatist, MTV, IFC, Snooki’s blog. Want to hear about open writing jobs? Sign up for my free newsletter at AmberPetty.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store