9 reasons your pitch was rejected
It's probably not what you think
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Hello friends! I’m back in your inbox after a little two-week hiatus (take time off when you need it y’all!), lovely to see you again!!
Today I want to talk about rejections.
If you’ve ever been on one of my panels about writing better pitches, you’ve surely heard me say that there are countless reasons editors turn down pitches, and only a few of them have to do with the specific story in question. This is true! I promise! In all the years I spent commissioning stories for NYT, by far the most common reason I would pass on a story was: I’m just not looking right now. It was nothing against the writer, the story, or the idea; it was just bad timing.
The sad reality is editors can’t respond with specific feedback to every pitch — if they did, that would be the whole job — so with hopes to shed a little light on the black box of rejection, below are some of the most common reasons editors don’t take your story.
To pull together this list, I went over notes from the 20 or so Zoom panels I’ve hosted about pitching stories, during which I’ve interviewed dozens of commissioning editors about what makes a good, and bad, story pitch. Again, there are countless reasons for an editor not commissioning a story, but the nine below are some of the most common.
9. The editor’s budget, rather than the editor, said no
Newsroom budgets are messy and constantly changing, and odds are the editor you’re pitching has no input on their budget. Budgets are set wayyyy at the top, and editors who commission stories work wayyyy below. If the budget isn’t there, most editors can’t do anything about it.
8. The editor just ran a story around your idea
Check the archives! This is among the most common reasons editors turn down stories, so remember to do a search of stories that publication has run in the last few months around your topic. (Hint: Never use a news website’s internal search — they’re universally terrible. Always use Google’s site search instead.)
7. + 6. Your story is outside of the editor’s expertise or purview, and/or you pitched the wrong editor
These two go hand-in-hand. Our friends at The Writers’ Co-op recommend freelancers pitch the editor, rather than the publication, and I could not endorse that message more. Knowing exactly whom you’re pitching, rather than blindly pitching an editor who happens to work at the publication, can protect you against making an unforced error, and it exponentially increases your chances of selling your story.
Need help with your pitches? On Nov. 17 at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time I am hosting Pitch perfect: everything to know about pitching stories. This panel will cover everything from the nitty-gritty components of structuring your pitch to the high-level, “Is this even a story?” questions. (Paid subscribers get free access to this and all panels — details to register will be in this Thursday’s subscriber-only newsletter.)
5. The editor never opened your email
When pitching a story, your top priority before anything else is getting the editor to open your email. How do you do that? By writing a fantastic subject line! I recommend all subject lines follow the same format: “Freelance pitch: [Proposed headline of the story].”
This also helps ensure that you know what your story is — more details on that here:
4. You pitched the wrong publication
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: A “no” from an editor is not a blanket “no” to the idea. Take it elsewhere! Where you pitch a story is just as important as the story itself. I often advise my coaching clients to work in the opposite direction we generally think: Start with the publication you want to write for, then find the story idea to pitch. Working backward like this makes it far easier to customize a story pitch to the specific publication and, ideally, to the specific editor.
3. You’ve pitched an idea, rather than a story
In my experience, this is generally the most common reason pitches fall flat — and, a lot of the time, the trickiest thing to fix.
Part of writing a good pitch is justifying the existence of the pitch itself. For example: “I want to write about why we should all be more mindful” is an idea pitch. But, “I am pitching a reported explainer about the specific mental and physical benefits of adding more mindfulness into your life, and how it can improve your levels of stress, anxiety, and overall well-being and life satisfaction” is a story pitch.
2. You don’t have a lot of Twitter followers and/or you misspelled the editor’s name and/or your pitch is too long and/or there’s a typo in your subject line and/or you sent your pitch on the wrong day and/or you don’t have the ‘right’ bylines
Lollll okay obvi I’m kidding — literally *none* of the above matters when an editor is deciding whether to commission you. Truly! I am dead serious! Without fail, each of these questions comes up multiple times on every panel I’ve ever done about pitching, and I always give the same answer to each: Don’t worry about it. I know these are all things freelancers sweat over (myself included), but I can promise you that editors do not give them a second thought. Do yourself a favor and stop stressing over this stuff!!!
(Just to zero in on the issue of having the “right” bylines, because I know that one is a little more serious than the others: Editors are most interested in the quality of your clips. If your best writing was published in Rolling Stone, great, but if it was published in a local blog, that’s great, too — a good story is a good story, and where it was published matters far less than you might think.)
1. The editor simply isn’t commissioning right now
Yep, that’s it. Timing can mean everything, so before spending the (unpaid) effort on crafting the perfect pitch for a specific editor, just double-check that they’re commissioning right now. (A simple DM on Twitter will do the trick!)
Need help crafting the perfect pitch? I am now offering one-on-one coaching! This can include anything you need help with: pitch feedback, writing and/or editing coaching, story development, story editing, social strategy, and anything else. Book a timeslot here.
TODAY Digital, New York | Multiple openings, including Senior Social Media Editor, Social Media Video Producer and Social Media Producer (Source: @melissaradz via Twitter)
Politico, Arlington, Virginia | Multiple openings, including Loyalty Editor, Senior Engagement Editor, Social Editor and Digital Editor (Source: @elanazak via Twitter)
CalMatters, Los Angeles | California Divide Reporter (Source: JournalismJobs.com)
PolitiFact, St. Petersburg, Florida preferred | Audience Engagement Producer (Source: @PolitiFact via Twitter)
ProPublica, remote | Reporters (Source: @ericuman via Twitter)
Oh, a few other things …
• For paid subscribers: Huuuge update coming to the panel archive this week! Publishing this Thursday we’ve got:
How to get into and succeed at copywriting
How to write better personal essays
How to launch and host a podcast
Everything you need to know about perfecting your pitches
The full archive of recorded Zoom panels is available to paid subscribers, as well as posts including this roundup of what a bunch of publications pay freelance writers; the dos and don’ts of writing the perfect pitch; and the only pitch template you’ll ever need. (Subscribers also get a discount to every paid workshop.)
Click here to see options for subscribing.
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Okay bye ily!