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Freelance Writing: How to Deal with Rejection

Freelancers, particularly those new to the game, have to deal with rejection, sometimes on a daily basis. Having your story pitch rejected or ignored is an inevitable part of the freelance writing life, but it can still be hard to deal with some days.

If you wrote a list of the pros and cons of freelance work, rejection would have to be one of the things on the top of the ‘cons’ list. The other ones? Lack of regular income, no holiday or sick pay and the hustle of selling yourself and your pitches are just a few more of the challenges.

How do freelancers deal with rejection?

Freelancers who have been working for a few years and have managed to carve out a niche can shield themselves from the full brunt of rejection. A regular column, retainers and good relationships with a few publications that provide regular work can make a big difference to the experience of freelancing.

Freelancers, like many creatives such as authors, designers, actors, are vulnerable because the work relies on our ideas and the approval of others — editors, publishers, producers. It’s one of the reasons there are freelance groups for writers, designers and others who work on their own. It’s an important source of support, a place to rant, seek advice and share experiences when work can be isolating.

Freelance Writing Tips: Handling story rejection.

  • Don’t check your emails too often waiting for responses.
  • Pitch more, not less, if you’ve had a few stories rejected.
  • Expect to not hear back from half of the editors you contact.
  • Don’t take it personally — editors are busy and most don’t like having to say no all the time.
  • If you really love the story idea, write it anyway. Then sell it on spec, save it for your own portfolio or start a blog and put it out into the world anyway. 
  • Send one initial email story pitch and then follow up twice over a couple of weeks. Then move on if there’s no response.
  • Find a freelance group with a day for rants and vent on this day so it’s shared.
  • Find a support person who will listen if you’re having a hard time with the freelance gig. Consider buying them coffee or a wine for their time.
  • Set new goals to find regular work such as a retainer or ongoing projects to limit the cold emails with story pitches.
  • Look for support and inspiration on reputable psychology sites to develop more strategies.
  • Join a writers group or union to campaign for fairer terms such as eradicating kill fees or pay on publication to you’re actively working to make freelancing better for everyone.
  • Consider taking a short-term contract job if you need a break from freelance for a bit.

Freelance Writing Tips: Get Your Pitch Accepted

The positive way to look at rejection is that it’s one step closer to getting the story accepted, but it has to be said that it can be bruising getting regular rejections. Freelancers need to shield themselves and protect their mental health when dealing with a regular stream of rejection. I know I’m having to get my freelancers thick skin on and expect the inevitable stream of rejections. 

Joining freelance groups has been a real source of support and comradeship since coming back to freelancing. They’re generally a friendly, helpful bunch, even if they can get a bit heavy on the complaining, not that I blame them. There’s a lot that’s challenging about freelancing in 2018: low, and falling, word rates, more publications opting for pay on publication, which drags out the money to the final round when a story is actually published, and magazines and websites closing each year.

So back to rejection. It’s a mainstay of freelancing. It’s inevitable and goes hand-in-hand with regular story pitching  — there are those that will be accepted and those that won’t. Many freelancers swear it’s a numbers game — pitch more and you’ll get more stories accepted. It’s probably true to a certain extent, although you still need to have great ideas and well-crafted pitches that are targeted to the right outlet. But this also brings more rejection. Lots of ‘thanks, but not thanks’ or, even worse, the black hole of silence where there’s no response or an initial positive response and then the black out.

Freelance writing = Online Dating?

Some days freelancing can feel like dating. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, it’s waiting for the email to arrive. It can feel incredibly disempowering knowing that other people, namely editors, are the gatekeepers to your stories being accepted and eventually published. They’re also the gatekeepers to your income and livelihood. So it can feel like you’re courting prospective partners and you’re not sure of their level of interest.

If you think it’s tough being a freelancers and dealing with your story pitches being rejected, take a moment to consider the editor’s role in this process. It can’t be easy having an inbox full of press releases, work messages and story pitches from freelancers when time is tight and budgets are even tighter. It takes time to read and appraise every pitch and then figure out if it’s a no, maybe or needs a bit of tweaking.

Freelance Writing Tips: Improve Your Pitching

Remind yourself not to cut corners and always send well-developed pitches, particularly if it’s to a new outlet or a new editor. Give your ideas the best chance of being accepted. Spend time reading the publication and getting a sense of the tone and style of stories. It can sometimes help to do a course on pitching to revise and freshen up your approach to freelance pitching. I haven’t done it myself, but I’ve certainly considered paying for some mentoring with another freelancer or coach. This can be useful to get feedback on crafting a pitch for a particular story to try and limit it being rejected.

Freelance Writing Toolkit

Freelance gives lots of variety and scope to work with many different people across a wide range of topics and publishing outlets. Rejection? Just a part of the mix. You might not be able to do a degree in freelancing, but putting together your own toolkit that includes a support network and professional development like new courses and training will go a long way to supporting your freelance venture.

Rosalyn Page

Freelance journalist and editor. Rosalyn is an award-winning journalist, writer and editor with a niche in digital lifestyle, tech and travel who has worked in the media for nearly 20 years across newspapers, magazine and online.

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