Rejection is part of being a writer -- but what about the embarrassment?
November 1, 2011 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Rejection's part of being a writer. I can deal with rejection. How do I deal with the embarrassment?

Anonymous because I know some of you are editors and I'm pretty sure I've pitched some of you before....

So I'm starting to freelance more. Almost all of my work until now's been offered to me without my having to pitch. This is an awesome thing and I don't want to come off like I'm humblebragging. But it means I have no idea how to do it myself and I'm fumbling my way through. Google is hilariously useless for this.

My success-to-failure ratio is just OK, which I guess is normal, and I'm confident in my writing ability. The rejection emails/letters are standard boilerplate bullshit - they know what it is, I know what it is, and we're both polite about it. I know better than to pick them apart.

But every time something gets rejected I feel humiliated, like I've permanently burned bridges at the place. It's to the point where I'm scared to contact the same place twice because I'm afraid of how much my old pitch got made fun of after I sent it. And this does happen. I've worked in publishing places and I've definitely seen proposals get mocked, a lot. Like, one place I worked had a special folder just for shitty pitches and applications to be stored and pulled out every so often when the office needed a laugh. They're extreme - one guy sent hardcore erotica, it's that sort of thing - but still.

Problem is, my field is small enough that this is something I need to get over fast. The easy way is just to grow a pair and keep pitching. But I feel like That Guy when I'm doing it, that guy who can't take a hint. Do you have to be explicitly told "feel free to contact us again" to be free to contact them again? Is there a secret code? Do I just suck?

Throwaway email: pitchesaintshit at gmail.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Not a former editor, but a former freelancer who regularly got schooled on why my piece this week sucked, only to have another one requested from me the following week. In reality, most editors don't really have the time to sit around remembering how bad or good your previous work was. Keep sending stuff in. If they tell you to stop, then you know it's time to move on. Chances are that won't happen, though.
posted by Gilbert at 2:34 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about why you got a reject -- it's part of the business. Sure, maybe it sucked. But maybe it just wasn't the right time. Move on, keep pitching.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:41 PM on November 1, 2011

I've never worked anywhere where a pitch was mocked, unless said pitch was CRAZY OFF THE MARK, like....crazy crazy. In my experience, most editors are too busy to take that much time to think about rejected pitches after they reject them. In other words, you're worrying about your pitch, but they're already onto the next thing and have totally forgotten about it.

The easy way is just to grow a pair and keep pitching.

That's not the easy way -- that's the only way. Honestly, I doubt you have anything to be embarrassed about. EVERY writer has pitches rejected. Just keep on trucking.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:44 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to wrangle a lot of freelancers, and the ones we didn't want to hear from again got told "No thanks, don't call us, we'll call you." The ones we liked but whose piece this time just wasn't right for the project/issue got "Thanks, not this time."

Every place is different, of course, but if you quit pitching you'll never get work. Keep pitching, and make a wall or something of your "best" rejection letters and throw darts at them.
posted by rtha at 2:44 PM on November 1, 2011

Look, if you're getting regular work then your pitches aren't even in the same league as the "oh my goodness what is this how many times can you use the word 'excrementalism' in one sentence and why is your sign-off an animated GIF of Jesus riding a dolphin" all-stars. And even those, we don't have the time or energy to mock for more than a second or two.

And even That Guy's persistence sometimes pays off. I have one writer who had submitted 23 stories to me over the course of eight months, all of which I turned down with form rejections. Then the 24th story was head and shoulders above the rest and I bought it without reservation.

Perseverance is rarely looked down upon, so long as your correspondence remains professional.

And there is no code. Sometimes I'll specifically request a writer to submit something else when I get the inclination, but I generally figure they'll keep trying anyway.
posted by 256 at 2:51 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well... you're taking it too personally. Rejection is a part of life and business; even if you are the most successful writer in the world, you will at times get rejected. Haters gonna hate... and there always be haters, don't let them living rent free in your head.

Remember when Apple introduced the first iPhone, Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) commented that there is no hope for it to gain foothold in the mobile phone marketplace. But today; several years later... who's laughing now?!

So don't let negative comments bring you down. Just do what you believe in doing and keep doing it. If you need inspiration... Sylvester Stallone is a great source of inspiration
posted by bbxx at 2:53 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

i will promise you that unless you are CRAZY GOOD or CRAZY AWFUL, editors aren't rejecting or choosing *you*, they're rejecting or choosing the pitch. Like, it wasn't crafted right, or it was just the wrong time, or they just covered something similar, or the subject matter just didn't fit. No one is laughing at your or identifying you as any kind of "That Guy". The truth is, they probably do not remember your name in connection with the pitch.

Which means you should go on pitching different things to those same people, especially if you work in a small or niche market. When you've pitched half a dozen times without success to the same place, you can ask an asst ed if there's anything you can do to bring your pitches more in line with what they're looking for. In a small market, editors are usually happy to encourage and foster talent.

Also: If you haven't needed to pitch a lot before, are you doing the standard Good Stuff To Do? Reading—and following!—submission guidelines, looking at back issues to make sure you're not duplicating content, etc?
posted by peachfuzz at 3:12 PM on November 1, 2011

Wall of rejection. I started one in college, when I lived in a house full of writers trying to get their foot in the door. It has this odd subconscious effect of making you look forward to rejection letters, or at least not taking them as seriously.
posted by roll truck roll at 3:13 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Most places are too busy to pay that much attention to a pitch, unless you're trying to sell your story about being Elvis' secret love child. One rejection doesn't mean you can't pitch that place again. 10 might.
If you're not pitching to places way out of your league, like the New Yorker when you've got 2 clips from the local alt-weekly, there's no reason not to go back.
Babe Ruth is your god.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:18 PM on November 1, 2011

I'm an editor who takes freelance pitches. The line I tell every writer who gets in touch about what I'm looking for is that they should feel free to throw ideas until they stick.

The key here is that a pitch rejection isn't a referendum on you, it's just a statement that your idea isn't right for this editor at this publication at this precise moment. Okay, fine, maybe it is a flat-out cruddy story idea. That doesn't mean that I don't want to be at the top of your pitch list when you get that AMAZING idea that's going to win both of us a zillion awards — why would I want to burn a bridge?

The editor-writer relationship is a bizarre one, because it's both transactional (pitching, invoicing) and personal (editing, schmoozing). The best advice I can give you is to try to compartmentalize: let the business conversations be about business, let the personal conversations be personal. A pitch, any pitch, even a pitch from my favorite writer or my best friend, is a business conversation. Don't take it personally.
posted by firstbest at 3:40 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you are really stuck in paranoid mode, and aren't being reached by all this rational stuff, reassure yourself the neurotic way: there is no way you are central enough to an editor's life for him/her to remember exactly how much you suck. Even in a small field, editors see a ton of pitches. Without going to the folder, they're not going to remember that you were the guy who proposed a crossover of Finian's Rainbow and Finnegan's Wake.
posted by gingerest at 3:52 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Two key things to remember:

#1: no amazingly excellent film, book, television show, song or other creative work involving money changing hands gets made without a lot of failed pitches. That's just the nature of the business. You're no worse than everyone else, even the people you think are amazing (because they had a lot of misses, and still do) and there are lots of amazing-people-to-come that you don't know about yet, because all they've had is misses.

#2: you are a drop in the bucket, barely worth noticing, and your name won't be remembered, until you have something that hits. Heck, there's a person I interviewed face-to-face a few months ago, and I didn't know they were hired, so when I met them, they had to remind me we'd met before. People who accept these pitches for a living learn to move on quickly and not remember anything except those people who have hit at least once, or who are harassing them. Eventually you'll do the first, and hopefully you'll never do the second.
posted by davejay at 3:59 PM on November 1, 2011

I've worked on the editorial side and currently only work on the freelance side. The only ones we made fun of were the barely literate ones or the ones where their ambition far exceeded their level of talent and you could tell they were completely blind to that, i.e. someone pitching a 10,000 word, 5 part feature to a place that didn't take 10,000 word, 5 part features, but you could tell by the tone of their writing that they thought they were god's gift to the world and we would take it just because they were so great.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:00 PM on November 1, 2011

Oh, and yes, that does mean that once you've hit, your next five misses will actually be noticed and potentially remembered. But, humans being humans, they won't be thinking "oh, they hit once, but they'll never hit again"; they will be thinking "okay, where's the next hit? I know there's gonna be another one." It is the reason people grow fond of certain slot machines, and that's what a successful creative talent is to an editor or agent or what-have-you (until there's a personal relationship): a slot machine.

I don't mean this disparagingly; just in terms of probability of success
posted by davejay at 4:01 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Flip it on its head.

When I wanted to submit my photography to publishers, I made it my goal to collect as many rejection letters as possible. I saw them as a sign that I was at least getting my work out there. Every time I got a rejection, I would file it in a folder and add a mark to the outside to keep track of my total. It made getting the rejection letters an almost pleasant experience.

Yes, it's a bit of a mind game, but it also really is an accurate measure of your efforts.
posted by The Deej at 4:37 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I work as a freelance writer and a full-time editor, and I cannot fully impress upon you how much better I feel about freelancing now that I get to see the gritty, mundane editor side. I don't make fun of someone's submission, and I have never had any of my editor friends do that, either, to my knowledge. Honestly, for most folks, it all just becomes widget made out of words really quickly, widgets that are quickly marked "great," "workable," and "no."

Try to think of it more like baseball, and less like . . . something that isn't baseball. You are going to strike out a LOT -- that's part of the game, and, in fact, is totally to be expected. Te best thing you can do is pitch MORE. I don't know that you ever grow a thicker skin, but you detach a lot from the outcome.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 5:06 PM on November 1, 2011

Dude, at least once each monthly pitch session I see 2-6 people sending in the EXACT SAME IDEA. Sometimes it's a matter of the order in which our emails get printed, or we assigned it the previous month to somebody else... sometimes your pitch isn't shit at all, it's poorly timed, has fewer sources attached to it or some other bs reason that has zilch to do with you personally.

Does that help? And I'm an editor that freelances and has about a 50/50 ratio on publication vs. kill fee with my own writing - and let me tell you, writing the whole article only to have it killed after you've agonized over it is FAR more humbling than pitch rejection.

Also, editors get insane, illiterate hate mail just like writers do, so cheer up - we're all in a sort of mutual love/hate circle of ideas and communication here, really.

It's OK to re-contact people you've pitched to before with new ideas unless they've outright said "we'll contact you if an opportunity arises, otherwise, we can't use your work right now" or something similar. But please make sure you wait a few weeks or so to do it, and vary your topics to see what sticks. Good luck!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:56 PM on November 1, 2011

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