Eight reasons why good articles get unwanted rejection slips
Here comes another one, just like the one before it. This time the envelope is from Condé Nast Traveler. Tearing it open, you discover the depressingly familiar contents. Instead of a check, it’s yet another rejection slip…
Six months along the freelance travel writer trail, and you’ve just garnered the 17th refusal for your story about the gal pal trip to Paris.
What’s wrong with these editors? You’ve shown it to your humor-deficient Mom, and even she giggled like crazy. That sleazy guy on the Metro who stood far too close for comfort… losing Tammy at the Eiffel Tower… the karaoke bar full of drunken Australians. Oh, and the mad picnic at Versailles — nobody realized Marita had false front teeth until they got stuck in a baguette… Emily erupted in violent blotches after one slice of garlic salami… and, to top it all, a poodle came and piddled on the pâté.
But Budget Travel didn’t want it, Travel & Leisure didn’t want it, and the Washington Post’s travel section never even replied. So why is your story constantly being rejected?
Well, it does sound suspiciously like the kind of claptrap that some novice writers just love to indulge in. Editors (and readers) want to hear about the destination — not about you, your family, or your lunatic friends. In a nutshell, they want to know what’s in it for them.
But say you haven’t written reams of “me, me, me” nonsense. You know you’ve got a really great story — there are benefits galore for the reader — but it’s still pulling in the rejection slips.
Are you absolutely certain you’re not doing something fundamentally wrong? I’ll list a few common reasons why you might be getting the editorial cold shoulder in a moment, but first, look more closely at those rejection slips. Are they all standard print-outs and generic e-mails? Or has an editor sent a more personalized reply?
If it’s a personal reply, don’t give up hope with that particular publication. Personalized notes show the editor may be receptive to working with you — editors are busy people and it would be far less time-consuming to send a standard “no thanks” rejection slip.
Yet if they’ve taken the trouble to send a personal reply, you might actually take that as a sign of encouragement. Just because, on this occasion, the story (or even the query letter about a story) won’t work for them, doesn’t mean that will always be the case. What you should do is thoroughly study some past issues of the magazine — and then send off another story/query that’s more in keeping with previous articles.
That said, let’s turn now to those common reasons for rejection…
1. Are you aiming too high, too soon? Most of us have tried it, but the well-known glossy travel magazines are notoriously difficult for novices to crack. Unless you have something astoundingly unique to offer, the best way to break into these publications is with short, “front-of-the-book” pieces.
2. Do the writer’s guidelines say “queries only?” (You have read the writer’s guidelines, haven’t you?) If so, do you really think you deserve special treatment… and that they’ll accept your unsolicited manuscript?
3. Is your story right for the publication you’re aiming at? Again, carefully study the writer’s guidelines as well as copies of the magazine. If none of the articles are written in the first person, this is not the place for your personal experience of camel-riding in Mongolia. No matter how fascinating the tale, it won’t find a home in publications that only use North American travel stories either.
4. Has the publication focused on the destination recently? Or is your article “old news?” For example, there’s no point in pitching stories about locations in The Da Vinci Code — that was done to death years ago.
5. Is your query or story title too vague? “An American’s Impressions of Rome” won’t work — but something on “The Nine Most Romantic Places to Picnic in Rome” might. It doesn’t have to be a round-up article, but most good travel stories have a definite theme.
6. Is your spelling atrocious? Many editors are lousy spellers themselves, but it offends their journalistic principles to see others doing it. We know of one travel editor who immediately bins any article when she sees the word “accommodation” spelled incorrectly. Use your computer spell-check! Grammar and punctuation are vitally important too.
7. Ah, the azure blue waters and all those villages that nestle. Is your story too cliché-ridden? Any article that starts by calling a place “a Paradise” or “an Eden” means automatic rejection if you send it to Howard Pousner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (It’s one of his pet peeves.)
8. Have you got the editor’s name right? Most editors hate it when their name is misspelled. Mary Lou Nolan, travel editor of the Kansas City Star, says “the writer doesn’t have a prayer.” What’s even worse is addressing your query/story to the previous occupant of the job.
That’s almost guaranteed to bring on fits of editorial apoplexy.
I had my own share of rejection slips when I was starting out as a freelance writer. So don’t be disheartened if you’re still waiting to see your name in print. If you can learn from your mistakes, your professionalism and persistence WILL pay off.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]