by Kylie Orr
09 February 2018
Like most writers, I’ve had enough rejection emails to wallpaper my toilet walls. Even though I’ve been freelancing for 10 years, rejection never gets easier but I’ve learned that moving on from it does. I’ve also come to appreciate a ‘no’ from an editor, because it sure beats the silence of no response at all!
Author, columnist and social commentator Kerri Sackville has been writing professionally for 15 years and has become adept at distinguishing between rejections. “There are good rejections (‘This is great but sadly I don’t think it’s going to work for us’) and bad rejections (‘I really don’t think this has legs’). A good rejection can leave you disappointed, but not bruised. A bad rejection can be soul destroying.”
Food, health and lifestyle writer Lindy Alexander is another freelancer who has had her fair share of rejection and agrees that a “bad” rejection can be devastating. “I would feel quite crushed when I would receive a no to a pitch. I always felt slightly embarrassed because my idea hadn’t hit the mark.” Over her six years of freelancing, Lindy has reframed rejection as a learning opportunity. “When an editor gets back to me to say they’re not interested in a story, I see it as the start of a conversation.” Lindy responds to declined pitches asking what the editor is specifically looking for and then caters her next pitch with that in mind.
Even though we know rejection is part of the freelancing gig, there’s no denying it can dent your ego. Here are some reminders and coping strategies that may help.
Writing calls for putting yourself out there. It may be in the form of pitching a personal opinion article, or a topic you’re passionate about. It may be in a creative writing space, where you paint the page with your soul and hope someone feels it the way you do.
When the rejection hits your inbox, it’s difficult not to feel YOU have been rejected. It’s not your personality being assessed here. It’s not necessarily a rejection of your writing, either (unless you’re sloppy or unprofessional). There are so many reasons for rejection, and most editors don’t have the time for explanations or detailed feedback.
It sounds new-age to harp on about self-belief, but I’m certain it’s what separates the successful freelancers from those who give up.
After years of practice, I finally understand the importance of editing my self-talk. ‘Imposter syndrome’ can run rife and rejection feeds the feelings of inadequacy as a writer, so be kind to yourself. I remind myself that a rejection doesn’t define my writing success, it merely hones my craft.
Lindy keeps herself pepped up after rejections by looking over emails from editors “where they’ve praised my writing and that makes me feel a little better.”
When your self-belief takes a dive, hang with people who think you are pretty alright.
Freelancing is a particularly brutal vocation. There are limited avenues for positive feedback of your work and without performance appraisals or bosses telling you how awesome you are, there’s only you, and the jobs you win.
Real-life colleagues and friends are vital for providing reality checks and offering support when you are feeling particularly dejected.
I find proactivity is better than reactivity. If my inbox is awash with rejections, I change my environment by:
Lindy’s response to rejection is to allow herself the disappointment but then to get on with it. “I often refine the pitch and send it elsewhere until it gets picked up.” Kerri also gives herself “time to feel the feelings” and then she concentrates on the future, “the next idea, the next article, the next project.”
What if you keep receiving rejections? You may need to reassess, as Kerri says, “Consider all the feedback and try to figure out what is going wrong. Make sure you understand the publication you are pitching to. And wait till you have a strong idea before trying again.”
How do you handle rejection from editors and clients? Does it topple you, or have you got a thick skin?