I Got a Rejection Letter, Now What?

 You sent your first (or 50th) query letter last week and you’ve been checking your email every hour since. Relax! this could take a while. Editors receive scads of emails every day. (I know, I used to be one.) And, if it’s a really big pub, they probably don’t even have the time to respond to every pitch.  But when they do, be prepared. Whether you get the assignment or a rejection letter, you have work to do.

I got a rejection letter, now what? | Be a Pro Writer

What to do when you receive a rejection letter

I got a rejection yesterday. The assistant editor revealed to me the department they needed ideas for the most. And I was on that like nobodies business. I immediately sent the editor three ideas. What I got back was:     SCORE!

“We have recently done stories about [this idea] and [that idea]. So those stories are up our alley, just not current needs. 
The [third idea] intrigues me. I’d be interested to know a little more about that and to see photos of what the business/property looks like.”

However, once I got back with her, she realized the season was off. So, I was back to square one. How did I respond?

  • Did I get depressed? No.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I get huffy because at first, she was interested, then she wasn’t? No!

I got back to the drawing board and immediately made a list of eight (count them EIGHT!) other possibilities.

Always have a back-up plan

I rarely send a query without a back-up plan. My back-up plan has several parts: what I’m going to do with the rejected idea and how I’m going to respond to the editor who rejected my idea. (Notice, she didn’t reject ME, it was the IDEA that didn’t fit!)

#1–First, I know what I’m going to do with the idea if I get a rejection letter.

The idea was the wrong season for Publication A, so I immediately sent it to Publication B. Some folks send their ideas out to several pubs at once and that is okay if it works for you. I prefer to start at the top of my list and go down.

#2–The next part of my back-up plan is to have a few more ideas to send to the rejecting editor.

“No worries, [editor name]. I have a few more ideas up my sleeve. What do you think about this….

No matter how you look at it, writers hate getting rejection letters. But I prefer to look at them as stepping stones leading me closer to my goal.

What to do after the rejection letter

Do you have a folder of rejections? Pull that puppy out and sort through it. Could you send them to different publications? Do you have a list of competing publications? If not, make one.

I keep a spreadsheet of my submissions. It lists the story title, publication and editor I sent it to, date submitted, whether accepted or rejected, date published, and how much they pay me. It helps me to keep my ideas organized and see, at a glance, where they are in the publication process.

I also keep lists of publications by topic–ag/sustainable living magazines, a list of food and beverage pubs, and another list of regionals. I organize them by what they pay. When I have an idea, I send it to the magazine that pays the most. If they reject or don’t respond within two weeks, it goes out to the next in line.

Other writers send an idea to their entire list at the same time and accept their first offer. I don’t feel comfortable with that method because 1) I have my favorite editors and like to give them first dibs and 2) what if the pub that only pays $300 assigns the piece and I accept. Then the next day the editor from the magazine that pays $600 responds and wants to assign? I just lost $300.

I say, do what works for you and you’re comfortable with.

What if no one wants my idea

If you’ve sent the story idea out to three or four publications and get a rejection letter from everyone, it’s time to take a look at the idea. Is it targeted enough? Remember the guy who told me he wanted to write about the dairy industry? “That’s nice,” I said, “what about the dairy industry?”

Some ideas are too narrow. While the editor may not want an article about the best tomatoes for container gardens, he may want one that discusses the best salad vegetables for container gardens. A working title could be “Grow a Salad on Your Balcony.”

Maybe your idea isn’t right for those readers. Remember, the first thing to do in evaluating a publication is to familiarize yourself with that target audience. Read this post to learn how to define a publication’s audience.

Find other places to send your idea. Look for online websites. Some magazines have print and online content with separate editors for each. If you think your idea might fit better in their online space, send it to the other editor with, “Hey, I sent this to John Doe but he didn’t think it would fit into your print space. Would you like to consider it for online?” Think about trade publications in the same niche, too. You may have to re-slant the idea a bit but that’s all part of the process.

Also, is your niche represented in larger publications? For instance, in keeping with my container garden idea, if gardening or sustainable living magazines have rejected it, try reaching out to consumer pubs that have a garden department.

Do you feel better?

If you’ve read this far, you should feel much better. Now get busy making a few lists of competing publications. Also, send that editor another idea. If you got a rejection letter, you have work to do.

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