After Rejection - The Next Step in Freelance Writing
The First Rejection of Your Writing is a Badge of Courage
I've said that getting your first rejection is the first step in building a successful freelance writing career. And it's true; it's also true that what you do after your first writing rejection is critically important.
Review what you submitted
After you've posted your rejection on the wall in celebration, and you've taken a short bit of time to lick your wounds, print out a copy of the rejected work and settle down with a cup of coffee or tea and an editing pencil.
If you have a copy of writer's guidelines and/or a copy of the publication, pull those out too. If the rejection was for a book proposal or some other type of project, you gather whatever materials you may have that acted as guidelines.
The goal is to take a cold, hard look at what you wrote and see if you can figure out why it was rejected. Usually the reasons for rejection fall into one of three categories:
The first two you can do something about; the last you can't.
Understanding your market
You've got to understand the market you're submitting to. Who are they? Who is the reader? What does the reader need/want to know?
Magazines make this easy because they publish regularly. If you want to get published in a particular magazine you simply must read that magazine. That sounds obvious, but it's amazing how many would-be writers ignore this advice. In fact, you need to study the magazine.
That means reading everything, including the ads. As you read, keep asking yourself about the reader. Pay attention to style and voice and length and tone.
The reader is the ultimate reason anyone publishes anything - they want to inform or entertain the reader. The more you understand how they approach their reader, the more likely you'll be to write for that reader, and make a sale.
Writer's guidelines will also give you a clue and are important, but knowing who you are writing for is the real key.
Now, evaluate the piece you sent with the reader in mind. What did you miss? What do you see now that you didn't understand initially? Be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Remember, this is a learning process and the more you do it, the better you'll get.
Poor writing or not writing well enough is sometimes obvious, and sometimes not. As an editor I sometimes knew exactly what was wrong with an article and could spell it out for the writer. But sometimes I just knew it was wrong and didn't know why.
There are obvious problems, like poor spelling, incomplete sentences, wrong modifiers and the like. Those are easily handled by paying more attention to the details and, maybe, getting someone to help you with proofreading, etc.
It's the other, less definable problems that are, well, a problem. Again, I think the solution is simply to write more, to practice. I recently had occasion to read something I wrote back in 1987! It wasn't bad, but if I were writing it today, it certainly would be much better.
Mysterious other reasons for rejection
Writing gets rejected for all sorts of reasons that you cant' do anything about. Magazines may have something similar in the works; publishers may change directions; the editor may have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed that day. Rejection happens to every writer at every stage of their career.
Your only defense against these mysterious reasons is to keep writing and submitting, again and again. Maybe to the same magazine or publisher, maybe to new ones - probably some combination of both.
Which is the real answer to the question, what to do after rejection. Learn from your mistakes, if indeed they were mistakes. Honestly appraise what you've written, but keep writing and keep submitting. Persistence pays in writing as in so many things.
Write well and often,