Tag Archives: publishing

Thoughts and advice for aspiring writers on pitching, waiting, and rejection

One of the questions I get asked the most by people who want to write for a living is “how do I pitch?” Folks simply don’t know how to communicate to a newspaper or website that they would like to write for them. When I first stared writing, this was one of my biggest obstacles. I didn’t know how to pitch, or even if I could—I was just a kid with a history degree and a dream. Imposter syndrome, they call it.

The best advice I ever received was from the writer Kellee Terrell, who told me to “just pitch.” The worst they can say, she correctly pointed out, is no. If being told “no” is scary for you, then you are in the wrong field. Writing is not a career for the easily dejected.

Earlier, I tweeted that I received three rejection e-mails this morning, but that isn’t entirely accurate.  I received two rejection e-mails and one no-response, which I take to mean a rejection. One thing that is true about writing is you hear “no” more than “yes.”

The important thing to remember is that a “no” is not a reflection on you as a person, or even you as a writer. One “no” I received was a fairly blunt “we’ll pass,” but I have written for that website previously so they clearly like my writing. People are busy, editors especially so, and they don’t always have time to explain why they’re rejecting your pitch. You just got to take it on the chin.

Another editor (who I’ve worked with for years) e-mailed me to say they already have someone writing about the topic I wanted to write about. It might be a freelancer who beat me to the punch, or who has some expertise I don’t. Or perhaps there is someone in-house who can write the piece, which means they don’t have to pay a freelancer’s fee. Newspapers and websites have a bottom line to consider, and you might not be in their budget.

If you get a response, even a rejection, you should be grateful. Not all editors will even bother to do that much. No responses are frustrating, because I am never sure exactly how long I should wait to pitch the piece elsewhere or put it on my blog. (This is assuming I have written copy, or that I don’t just abandon the idea.) The nightmare scenario is to pitch a piece elsewhere, get a yes, only to later receive a yes from the place you originally pitched. This has only happened to me once, and it was on a weekend when no one was working but the news item was hot so I mentioned I might publish it elsewhere, so both the editor and I forgave me.

How long should you wait for a response before pitching elsewhere? Sometimes outlets will have clearly stated policies on their website letting you know that after a specified period of time, you can assume no response is a “no” and should feel free to pitch elsewhere. Sometimes, writers will say in the pitch how long they’ll wait for a response.

I am not typically one of those writers who give editors a deadline to get back to me. It feels pushy, and I don’t want to be off-putting. I am not saying that is the best attitude to have, but if a piece isn’t particularly “hot,” – meaning that it won’t “go stale” (read: lose relevance) relatively quickly – then you should let editors take their time getting back to you. If it is “hot,” like the one I pitched but haven’t heard back on, it might be better to give an idea of by when you’d like a response. Most editors would intuitively understand the reasoning.

The piece I pitched but haven’t heard back on is “hot,” but it isn’t so “hot” that I felt “I need an answer within 24 hours.” So, I’ll wait another day. If I don’t hear anything by tomorrow, you’ll read it on Medium. Ordinarily I might try to find it another (paying) home, but it’s the week of Christmas and people are busy enough without me bothering every editor in London and New York. Remember, editors are people too, and they have lives outside of their jobs.  

Part of why I might not have heard back is because I pitched to a general mailbox. You know, the pitches@writeforus.website kind of communal inbox many websites and companies will have. That can sometimes feel like shouting into a vacuum. In my experience, it is always better when you have a direct contact, an editor who you can reach out to directly. That isn’t always the case, and some outlets prefer or require pitches be sent to the communal inbox. Best practice is to follow the instructions on their website, at least until you’ve built a relationship with the publication.

You can’t build a relationship on unsent e-mails, though. Don’t be afraid to pitch because you have never written before, or because you’re not a subject matter expert—although that helps, and it’s worth considering whether you have the expertise or experience to write about said topic. But the worst they can say is “no,” and “no” isn’t so bad.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

#ThatAwkwardMoment when you get your big break, then leave the country

villiers street

Dreams do come true. In case you missed it, I published my first piece at The Advocate last week. When I was in high school, I used to sneak and read it at Barnes and Noble every time I visited my parents in Ohio. Never in a million years did I think I would have a byline on their site. To be honest, it’s still pretty surreal, but it feels fucking great.

It’s so funny, because when I started blogging again last month, I spent quite a bit of time lamenting the fact that I kept pitching and not hearing back. And then, one drunken election night, I tweet to the managing editor that I have a pitch, and she says to e-mail it over. Bam, there you go, first piece. I suppose this is evidence that if you just whinge and moan enough, the universe finally gets tired of hearing your bullshit and throws you a bone?

Haha, I kid. Look, I’m over the moon thrilled to have been allowed to write for The Advocate. It’s exactly the confidence boost I needed. In fact, I just finished another piece tonight that I’ve pitched to another high-profile site. I’ve got a couple more that I’m going to be working on in the coming days. I’m a guest lecturer at Triton College on Wednesday, where I’ll be talking about gender norms in same-sex relationships. I’m very excited for that.

But perhaps the most exciting thing happening to me this week is that I’m returning to my beloved London. I fly out on Friday, and I’m there for 8 glorious nights. What am I going to do? Not go to that Starbucks between Embankment and Charing Cross to see if Danny, the cute barista, still works there. Nope. That’s not happening.

Okay it might. It’s on my way to the National Portrait Gallery and it’s going to be chilly so I will need a coffee. Don’t judge me.

Honestly I’ve no idea what I’m going to do whilst back in the motherland. My mate Nick is making a Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, which coincidentally is the same day I’ve applied to be in the Question Time audience. So that’s one day booked. As for the other seven? No clue. I plan on doing some writing; I know a lovely coffeehouse in South Kensington I may squat at, but beyond that…?

I know, I know, I should try to take some meetings. And I’m going to put word out on Twitter that I’m there, and if any journalists or, more importantly, editors want to meet up for a coffee or a drink, I’m game. But I don’t want to just start tweeting at writers who follow me and asking them out to brunch. That seems intimidating, completely unprofessional, and a bit bonkers. “Hi, perfect stranger who sometimes reads my work, would you like to meet up with a totally-not-a-serial-killer stranger from the internet?”

Not a good look.

So we’ll see. Frankly, I’m not established enough yet to even have the clout to ask for and expect to receive a meeting with the likes of (NAMES REDACTED FOR FUTURE CAREER PROSPECTS). That’s why I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself to network and find a job and make my dreams come true overnight. I’m a small fish going to a very, very big pond, and I’m going to just keep a low profile, look at some paintings of dead kings, and get drunk at a gay pub. Maybe make out with that guy in Kensington Gardens again. That was hot. There’s also an economist I’m looking forward to seeing again. Fingers crossed.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m not super excited, because I am, or that my ambition is waning, because clearly it isn’t. But there’s some freedom in letting go. As I wrote about last month, the constant pressure to produce, perform, and skyrocket to the top took the joy out of writing. I’m rediscovering why I love this medium, especially online commentary and analysis, and so I’m just taking it day by day. I’m being proactive where I can, but otherwise, I’m enjoying living the life of a burgeoning pundit who just published his first piece at a major news outlet.

The only three things I do know with any certainty is that when I land, I’m going to be exhausted, but empowered by the adrenaline rush I always get when I’m back on British soil. I know that I’m about to see how the British interpret one of America’s most sacred traditions, Thanksgiving dinner. And I know that when it’s time to leave, I’ll once again bawl like a baby.

Everything else is being left up to chance. But considering how well this month has gone so far, I’m optimistic. Who knows? Maybe I won’t get a column with GayTimes, but maybe my quest for prince charming, or even better, the perfect pint, will come to an end.