Journalism Advice

The Real Reason Your Pitch Was Rejected

Uncover the truth behind the "no" to land more assignments

“We’ll pass. Thanks.”

“Not right for us.”

“Thanks, but no.”

If you’ve received any of these as a response to a magazine article query, you’re definitely not alone. While many journalists are happy to receive some sort of response — some editors don’t acknowledge queries unless they want to assign a piece — it can be frustrating to figure out why your pitch wasn’t picked up.

Luckily for you, we’ve put together some insights on exactly why your query got axed. Use this information to soothe your ego and do better next time.

“We don’t cover those types of stories.”

Translation: You’re pitching the wrong publication.

Lisa Haney, senior editor at Fitness, says she receives plenty of queries that have nothing to do with what the magazine covers. “You really need to know the magazine you’re pitching,” she explained. In proposing an article on a topic that is so off-target from what the magazine covers, she noted, “It shows that you’re not prepared, that you really just don’t know the magazine and that you haven’t taken the time to really check it out.”

Linda Hamilton, health editor at Woman’s World, agreed. She said she’s hesitant to take on new writers, because they often don’t take the time to understand her pub’s style, voice or the type of content it runs. For example, Woman’s World doesn’t like health stories that use scare tactics in the reporting. “It’s going to be a real turn-off if a writer doesn’t keep that in mind,” Hamilton added.

Another reason Hamilton uses a small base of writers that she can count on is that time is of the essence when running a weekly publication; the content has to be on point and need minimal revisions in order to meet deadlines. If a writer has a great proposal that’s well-written, she said she may take a chance on it, but admits that doesn’t happen too often.

“I need somebody that knows the magazine so well that they can come up with ideas,” Hamilton said.

“We’re not taking pitches at this time.”

Translation: No, really. The magazine isn’t accepting article queries right now.

Keep in mind that the media world has been shaken up in the past few years. As such, some publications don’t have the budget to pay freelancers, use them much less or have moved all writing operations in-house. If you keep up with publication guidelines, you’ll know which magazines are accepting freelance work, so you don’t waste your time pitching those that aren’t.

“[This is] all the more reason to do your best to cultivate as close-knit a relationship as you can with the publications and media outlets you most want to write for,” advised Michelle Goodman, a writer and author in Seattle.

“We’ve already run that.”

Translation: You pitched an old idea or the angle isn’t specific enough.

Magazines typically publish stories on the same topic, but the key is to approach these concepts with an angle the publication hasn’t used before.

“You might have checked the publication’s database to make sure they haven’t done the story yet, but maybe it’s already assigned and in the works with another writer and just hasn’t appeared in print or pixels yet,” noted Goodman. “Try to take that as a positive sign. At least you’re on the right track.”

Haney says that when writers pitch an evergreen topic without a creative angle, the pitch may be passed up. “It needs a really cool, new study or packaging device… that we’re like, ‘Oh wow! That’s a new take on it.”

Dawn Papandrea agrees. The seasoned freelance writer and magazine editor from Staten Island, N.Y. says that packaging counts more than the idea itself at times. “If you can work in ‘surprising’ or ‘newsy’ hooks to tell the editor why it’s worth reading right now, even better,” she advised. “Try to think in terms of ‘Would I click this headline if I saw it online?’ or ‘Would I buy this magazine if I saw this story on the cover?’ That’s what editors are looking for.”

Papandrea added that writers should query their timeliest topics to websites over print pubs. “Magazines are six months out sometimes, so watch out if you’re pitching seasonal ideas,” she said.

“We’re not assigning features at this time.”

Translation: You’re low on experience, so pitch front-of-book pieces instead.

It may very well be a fantastic article idea, but if you do not have much of a track record as a freelance magazine writer, you’re better off breaking in with a shorter, front-of-book (FOB) piece.

“[Pitching FOB articles is] a really great strategy, especially if you haven’t had national magazine experience yet,” Haney said. This gives you the chance to cultivate a relationship with an editor, who then may be more likely to take a chance on you when larger assignments become available.

Hamilton says that editors at the larger titles also want to see clips from national publications. Specifically, she wants multiple samples from the same publication. That tells her that the writer does a good enough job not only pitching and selling him or herself, but writing and revising.

“They’ve gone back to you, so obviously you’ve done a good job,” she said.

No response

Translation: The editor is consumed with deadlines, or your pitch flat-out sucks and was deleted (on purpose).

Editors are busy and sometimes they don’t have time to let you know the pitch isn’t right. When the response is nonexistent, it’s all right to check in to make sure he or she got your query. In other cases, sometimes an editor just doesn’t have the heart to tell you that your query doesn’t make the cut.

So, to increase your odds of staying out of the slush pile, make sure your copy is — you guessed it — free of typos, grammatical errors or plain old goofs. Examples: spelling an editor’s name wrong, including the name of the wrong magazine in the letter or sending hefty attachments with an email.

“Make it easy for the editor to love you,” advised Goodman. “They really do need good stories. Yours just have to be better than everyone else’s to get an assignment with a new-to-you editor or publication.”

So, where do you go after rejection?

Look, rejection happens; it’s not the end of the world. The key to longevity as a writer is to just do your best to learn from the experience.

“I never scrap pitches that I believe in. I usually tweak them for a different publication and send it off,” Papandrea said. “I take rejections as an opportunity to open up a dialogue with an editor to find out what their current needs are so I can pitch accordingly.”

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