Whether you’re a professional magazine writer with decades of experience or a not-yet-published freelancer, you are bound to get rejection notes. Editors don’t always explain clearly why they’re saying no. Some reasons have nothing to do with you and others have everything to do with you, while many other reasons rank between those two extremes.
To succeed as a freelance magazine writer, you must do your best to optimize the factors within your control. Then accept the rejections that occur despite your efforts, as an inevitable part of the business. Use this list of 10 common reasons for rejection as a tool for crafting article queries that make it hard for editors to respond in any other way than “yes!”
1. We already did this topic
When a magazine has its archives posted online, you should try to make sure this objection isn’t the case. However, sometimes you couldn’t possibly know that your topic is already assigned to another writer or already set to appear in a future issue. Your idea being “in the pipeline” is the quintessential reason for rejection that you can’t prevent. Oh well! Just go on to the next idea.
2. We’re not ready to redo the topic yet
Many magazines revisit some topics after a certain length of time has passed or if there’s a compelling rationale for shortening their normal repeat cycle. If your research reveals that the publication has covered a topic before, explain what’s changed to warrant another article now. For instance, your article would focus on post-Big Dig Boston. Or you’ll cover the fertility treatments that have been discovered since their last discussion of the topic in 2006.
3. It’s not relevant to enough readers
Forestall this response by making a strong case in your query that your topic is either relevant or interesting to their target market. For instance, editors at a men’s magazine would most likely reject an article on eating disorders unless you cite statistics showing that it’s rapidly growing or an increasingly serious problem for men in the age group the magazine serves.
4. Your idea isn’t focused enough
Very often queries go in five different directions for a topic, so that the editor can’t figure out what the article would really cover. If the editor can tell you want to write about volunteerism in big cities but not what you want to say about the phenomenon, that’s a “no.” Whenever possible, include a sentence in your query defining your focus or stating the main idea of the article.
5. You’re trying to cover too much
Editors know what can and can’t be accomplished in 700 or 1800 words or whatever length is usual for their publication. Beginning writers have a tendency to propose something that would need a book-length treatment to accomplish or that’s way too broad for an article. To prevent this reason for rejection, carefully study your target magazine to determine what a reasonable scope for an article is – for instance, “ways to help your child complete their homework,” rather than “ways to help your child succeed in life.”
6. Your focus is wrong for us
If you propose a profile when the magazine runs how-to articles, or vice versa, the editor will say no. The same thing would happen when you propose writing about a tragedy or outrage when the publication prides itself on hopeful, upbeat stories. Research, research, research first!
7. Your query is okay, but not exciting to us
Here the topic and focus may work, but the writing lacks persuasiveness and pizzazz. Head off this reason for rejection by writing vivid, energetic queries in the style preferred by the publication.
8. We’re not convinced you can pull it off
Certain kinds of articles require journalistic experience, technical knowledge, contacts or unusual storytelling skills. Try to anticipate the fears editors might have about your abilities in reference to what you’re proposing and explain what in your background shows you can handle it.
9. There are factual errors in your presentation
Always, always look up the spelling of proper names and check any facts mentioned in a query. One of my writing students showed me a query he was going to send off that described a highway as going somewhere it didn’t and put a tourist spot in the wrong state. These would have been deadly errors. Editors hate working with writers who can’t get details right.
10. Your query is poorly written
Editors also hate receiving assignments that need a major rewrite, so they send queries containing mangled sentences, verbs that don’t match subjects and misused phrases to the “reject” pile. Learn to write correct, competent English, and you’ll ensure a fair reception for your ideas.
About the Author:
Magazine writing coach Marcia Yudkin is the author of Freelance Writing for Magazines & Newspapers, 10 other books and articles in Ms., Psychology Today, New York Times Magazine, Yoga Journal, Business 2.0 and elsewhere. Check out her home-study magazine writing courses: http://www.yudkin.com/mags.htm