Rax King: Rejection isn't feedback, so don't act like it is

Advice from one of our favorite essayists

Hello friends! Welcome to another installment in our series, “8 Questions With …”!

This week we’re featuring friend of FWT and one of my favorite writers (and surely the writer with the best byline), Rax King. Rax is a James Beard award-nominated writer, essayist and podcaster, and she has a forthcoming essay collection called “Tacky” coming out next year. She also has basically the best Twitter around, but you already knew that. Check out her website here, subscribe to her Patreon here and follow her podcast here.

First things first: Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Rax King (she/her or they/them) and I’m a food writer, personal essayist and all-purpose e-girl.

1. How did you find one of your anchor gigs? 

My Patreon is my bread and butter and pays most of my bills, and I found it by visiting the website patreon.com and creating an account. (To be less obtuse, I already had a sizeable Twitter following, so it was fairly simple to hit the ground running as a Patreon creator.) I also have a book, “Tacky,” coming out in September 2021 with Knopf/Vintage. My now-editor Vanessa Haughton contacted me back in January to see if I had any projects cooking that might be a good fit for Knopf, and my now-agent Sarah Bolling sent her the manuscript in April once it was finished. And now here we are!

2. What’s a favorite recent story of yours, and how did you land it? What was your pitch process like?

One of my favorite recent-ish publications is “After My Dad Died, I Started Sending Him Emails” for Glamour — but I actually never pitched it. I had a tweet about the same subject go viral, and Mattie Kahn reached out to see if I’d be interested in expanding on it in an essay for Glamour. That’s the one benefit of Twitter “celebrity,” is that people contact me to ask me to write for them semi-regularly, rather than my having to spend a lot of time cold-pitching. I’ve been really lucky in that regard.

3. When was the last time you negotiated a rate, and were you successful?

I negotiate rates pretty much every time I freelance, usually successfully! For the meeker members of your audience, I will reiterate that even in my handful of unsuccessful negotiations, no editor has ever gotten upset with me for asking.

4. Do you have a specific beat?

It’s a tricky question for me, since I’m primarily a personal essayist — my beat is, you know, the events of my life. The advantage is that no other writer is in competition with me to publish stories for that beat, but personal essays can be tough to place (it’s a big part of why I started a Patreon).

5. How have you been finding stories during quarantine?

With great difficulty. I initially expanded on this, but honestly, “with great difficulty” says it all.

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6. What are the different types of freelance writing you do, and what portion does each make up?

Maybe 25% food writing, 75% personal writing. There’s also occasional editing.

7. How can people new to freelancing develop working relationships with editors?

I can’t offer much in the way of general advice that will work for everybody, but I can say that Twitter has always been the single most important career booster for me. Twitter is the reason that people know who I am and want me to write for them without my having to prove myself to them by sending clips or whatever. It allowed me to sidestep so much of that chicken-or-egg hassle of, like, some editors want to see examples of writing from unfamiliar writers before agreeing to work with them, but unfamiliar writers can’t build portfolios without editors who are willing to take a chance on them. If you’re someone who thrives on Twitter — you’re good at quips and banter and have that natural self-destructive urge that leads people like me to hang around online all day — you can do a lot of career building there. It can be the online equivalent of an industry party if that’s what you want it to be. 

8. What’s one or two things you wish you had known at the start of your freelance career?

Make sure your freelance contracts give you IP rights. I’ve never run into issues with it, fortunately, but I’ve heard horror stories from other writers who have. And if you’re a personal essayist like me, remember that you can never really unpublish something. Media outlets often prefer juicy personal stories that have viral-going, pot-stirring potential, but you don’t have to give them shit — never tell a story about yourself if you have the slightest suspicion that you’ll be uncomfortable having done so later.

Any last words?

Freelancers are superstitious, which I get. The freelancing process is opaque and many industry norms feel pointless and fussy. But don’t let that make you superstitious. Your pitch doesn’t need to be worded or formatted in some impossible-to-know-without-insider-knowledge way, and it doesn’t need to be sent at a particular time of day. It wasn’t rejected because you sent it in the wrong font. [Ed. note: Preach! 🙌] So much of this stuff is incomprehensible not because of weird industry norms (though they can be weird), but because it comes down to matters of editors’ personal taste and the needs of their outlet at any given time. Rejection isn’t feedback on its own. If one editor rejects your pitch, move on and send it elsewhere instead of tinkering with the formatting or wording choices that you think led your work to be rejected.

Oh, a few other things …

Tonight at 6 p.m. Eastern time, Nicole and I are hosting the truly last panel of the year! Just like last Sunday, it’s an anything-goes AMA free-for-all. Register to join us here. See you tonight!

Missed a panel? We’re building an archive of our Zoom panel playbacks over on Patreon! So far we’ve got playbacks on how to cover culture during a pandemic, how to write better personal essays, how to write better pitches, the business of freelancing, how to be a better freelancer and more, and in the next few weeks we’ll be posting playbacks on how to get into copywriting, how to write a book, how to write better service journalism, how to cover travel during a pandemic and more. Subscribers at the $10 level get full access plus early access to panel registration, Patreon-exclusive posts and even more. Subscribe here!

(Curious why we launched a Patreon? Here’s an F.A.Q.!)

• Our friend Rae Witte publishes a weekly newsletter called Approved Pitches that we just love. Info about subscribing here.

NPR is hosting a super-cool storytelling workshop this Sunday. Register here.

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Okay bye ily!