How Getting Rejected Made Me a Better Freelance Writer

Freelance writer gets rejection letterBy Larry Bernstein

How do you react when someone tells you “no”? The answer might be the key to building a successful freelance writing career.

Whether you’re an aspiring freelancer, a veteran, or somewhere in between, you’re going to deal with rejection. And hearing “no” when you’ve put in the time, research, and effort to construct the perfect query can be devastating.

What do you do?

If you’re going to be a successful freelance writer, you have only one choice — learn to hear that “no” and use it to become a better freelance writer. Here’s how:

Two mindsets

In her book Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck explains why some people are devastated by rejection and others aren’t. The key to turning “no” into a positive is your mindset.

According to Dr. Dweck, there are two types of mindsets.

First, there is the fixed mindset.

A person with this mindset believes intelligence is fixed and can’t be increased. A “no” or negative response devastates someone with a fixed mindset, leaving them feeling powerless.

It’s hard to imagine how a freelance writer with a fixed mindset could be successful. After all, if such a person heard “no” from a potentially decent-paying client, they would play it safe and scurry back to their low-paying gigs — or give up on freelancing altogether.

The second type of mindset is growth-oriented.

When this type of person hears “no,” they see it as a learning opportunity, not as a failure. Such a person is more willing to take a risk because their ego and self-respect are not on the line with each query.

It’s easy to see how a freelance writer with this attitude will ultimately be successful. They will constantly be trying to stretch their skill level and striving to get into those higher paying markets. When this type of freelance writer hears “no,” their response will be “What can I do better? How can I make it work next time?”

Using rejection to succeed

A few months back, I received a significant check for an article I wrote for a magazine. And I was really proud of it.

You see, I had multiple queries rejected by the editor of this magazine.

Fortunately, when rejecting me, the editor sent along his thoughts. It was as if he was encouraging me to have a growth-oriented mindset. So I didn’t take the rejections personally or let them knock me down.

Ultimately, I learned what he was looking for, and I was able to come up with a story that worked for him and the magazine.

Writers who don’t yet have a growth-oriented mindset need not fear. You can learn how to move past a “no” and use your rejections to become a better freelancer.

At first, it may be hard. Try setting that rejection letter aside for a day or two, then come back to it after you’ve moved past your emotional response. Did the editor give you feedback to make the next pitch better? Can you see what you might do next time to make that pitch a better fit?

As Dr. Dweck says, “Those with a growth-oriented mindset will take on the challenge wholeheartedly, learn from their setbacks and try again, or hear the criticism and act on it.” This is certainly a recipe for success for freelancers.

How do you deal with hearing “no”? Leave a comment and tell us your strategy.

Larry Bernstein is a freelance writer whose areas of focus include education, family, and architecture.

 

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35 comments on “How Getting Rejected Made Me a Better Freelance Writer
  1. Great post! Often times becoming a super star writing is just playing a numbers game. If you go back and look at some of the most successful fiction and nonfiction works you will be surprised to see how many times some were rejected by publishers.

  2. I think it’s important to remember that even the best freelancers often only have a 50% acceptance rate (at most). A journalist I know who writes for some of the most prestigious publications on the planet (think New Yorker, Wired, etc), has written a best-selling book, and is a sought-after speaker, says only about 10% of his queries ever sell. Or to put it another way, he has a 90% rejection rate.

    It’s part of the game. My belief is that if you’re not getting rejected, you’re not aiming high enough.
    Mridu Khullar Relph recently posted…21 Small Things You Can Do Today to Find New ClientsMy Profile

  3. Prashant Bajpai says:

    Couldn’t agree more with having a growth-oriented mindset to tackle rejection. I stopped associating pitching as an edge-of-the-seat coin flip exercise in self-affirmation. Once I started looking at pitching as an extension of market research, it became a lot more exciting to relentlessly fine-tune this business skill.

    Playing the odds of self-improvement is always a better bet than gambling on the odds of acceptance or rejection.

  4. Daryl says:

    Whenever I think of rejection and failure, I always think of Edison’s journey to design the lightbulb. Edison went through over 10,000 prototypes before he finally found one that worked. Instead of viewing these 10,000 failures (similar to rejection in this case) he said

    “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work”

    When you realise that the rejections have helped you to learn what does work, then you’ll be better off for it.
    Daryl recently posted…August 2014 Freelance Writing Income ReportMy Profile

  5. This is just what I needed. Thank you.

  6. F. Scott Fitzgerald wallpapered a room with rejection letters. I admit I do take the rejection personally, but I am working on that.
    Victoria Terrinoni recently posted…Exciting news!My Profile

  7. That’s an amazing perspective. And makes me want to send a couple queries today!

    But seriously, when I first started writing, I cried when I got rejection letters. Then I decided that it was a sign that that publication, at least at that time, was not the right place for that story. So I kept fishing around other places to find someplace that would be a better fit for the piece (and sometimes for me). And a lot of the time — not all the time by any means — I found someplace else willing to take the idea.
    Rebecca Klempner recently posted…Writing ethics: Defining your voice by what you don’t write about as much as what you doMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Exactly, Rebecca — I always think of it as simply playing Match Game — remember that old TV show? If I got a rejection I thought — ‘this isn’t a match yet.’ I need to keep going until I find the match. That’s all.

      It’s sad the way writers beat themselves up over a ‘no’ that may not even be about you, your idea, your writing. Editor have agendas you’ll never even know about. It’s sorta nuts to take it personally.

  8. Lisa says:

    Carol, you’re the queen of empowering rejections! I first found this site because I was searching for sites that paid at least $50/blog post, and I found the writer’s guidelines. So my first interaction with you was when I pitched you an idea for a guest post. My pitch was completely terrible, as was my idea, but your response was so helpful — explaining why the idea wouldn’t work and what would need to change — that I immediately signed up for the waiting list for the Freelance Writer’s Den. I thought, if she’s that helpful and that good at teaching for some dummy stranger who pitches her a guest post, I need to be part of her community so I can learn from her for real! And boy was I right. And I actually DID end up writing a similar idea for a guest post a couple of years later. 🙂
    Lisa recently posted…Why Cooking Dinner Sucks — and How to (Mostly) Avoid ItMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Lisa — thanks for sharing that story!

      One of the reasons I do pay for guest posts IS to give writers a chance to start having those interactions and learning abut how to please editors. Glad it worked for you!

  9. Elke Feuer says:

    Great post, Carol! If they don’t like my ideas then I either try someone else, or ask what they’re looking for.

    Rejection is a part of life and learning how to handle it is important so you can continue to move forward and not let it paralyze you.

  10. Larry says:

    So true Ben. Harry Potter was rejected 12 times! I wonder how those publishing houses feel today? Rowling persevered.
    Larry recently posted…The NFL Doesn’t SuckMy Profile

  11. Larry says:

    I love the attitude about needing to aim higher if not being rejected. It’s easy to get comfortable and not continue to strive.
    The success rate of this journalist is a good reminder for those of us who have yet to reach his prestigious level. Like you said Mridu,rejection is a fact of life for freelance writers.
    Larry recently posted…The NFL Doesn’t SuckMy Profile

  12. Larry says:

    So true Daryl.
    Think of the amazing accomplishments of Edison. His impact continues to be felt.
    His brilliance was clearly matched by his persistence.
    Larry recently posted…The NFL Doesn’t SuckMy Profile

  13. Larry says:

    Good luck Victoria. I’m positive the change will help you to become a more successful freelance writer.
    P.S. Fitzgerald is one of my favorites!
    Larry recently posted…The NFL Doesn’t SuckMy Profile

  14. Marcie says:

    There’s actually a rejection therapy game that gives you activities to help you better deal with rejection. It’s pretty cool. Check it out at http://rejectiontherapy.com/.
    Marcie recently posted…Read My Blogging Article on Social Media TodayMy Profile

  15. Larry says:

    I can’t agree with you more Elke.
    Larry recently posted…The NFL Doesn’t SuckMy Profile

  16. Larry says:

    Interesting. I’ll check out the game.
    Larry recently posted…The NFL Doesn’t SuckMy Profile

  17. Tanya Adams says:

    I’ve decided to turn the “no’s” into positives, by seeing how many I collect before getting to “yes.” That keeps me from being afraid of rejection.

  18. Cherese Cobb says:

    I love your blog, Carol! When I first started freelancing my mother told me to remember that rejection was a just part of business. The rejection of my idea had nothing to do with me personally!I take that to heart, but I love it when editor’s tell you what made your pitch a poor-fit for their readership. For example, I pitched to the Penny Hoarder, and the editor told me that she loved my ideas and hoped they found a home somewhere. She then told me that their readers where looking for odd ways to earn money–like raising a cricket farm! If you’re not sure where you fell short, you can always ask the editor; I did this at Listverse!

  19. Penny Jo Johnson says:

    Wow, what a timely post this is for me! I’m trembling on the edge, trying to decide whether or not to leap into the wonderful world of freelance writing. I will be pondering this post at midnight. Am I ready to consider a rejection as a learning opportunity? I hope so!

  20. Larry says:

    It’s great when editors go out of the way to give you feedback Cherese. It’s invaluable and can inspire you to take further action.
    Larry recently posted…The NFL Doesn’t SuckMy Profile

  21. Anne says:

    Lots of great points here. I like your comment about moving beyond the emotional response. It’s probably pretty hard not to experience an instant emotional response to the “no thanks” message, and we shouldn’t feel bad about that, just, as you say, deal with it then move forward positively. Getting feedback about why your work was rejected is invaluable. It would be great if more editors/publishers had the time to give it.
    Anne recently posted…Fasting and Feasting Week 1My Profile

  22. Larry says:

    I think you are right in that are initial response is disappointment and no one suggests being a rock with no feelings. However, ultimately, moving forward is the only way to go.
    Larry recently posted…The NFL Doesn’t SuckMy Profile

  23. Linda H says:

    One of my first articles was accepted by the magazine initially, but the final reviewing editor put it on hold while he traveled to India. I waited six months before he wrote back and said he’d changed his mind and wouldn’t accept it. I was more frustrated with waiting than angry the editor rejected it. So I kept working on things and eventually wrote for three local magazines before getting a full-time writing gig within Corporate America. I remember that when I get frustrated and just keep trying.

    Facing rejection my first thought is — what’s the opportunity here that I need to see? What’s the lesson hidden within?

    It was good to read this as I start a fresh marketing campaign, well aware that I could hit some rejections. And I, too, like that comment that if you’re not getting rejected you’re not trying hard enough. Very influential thought.
    Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks — Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

  24. Paul Jones says:

    Great post. I am not sure I have a growth oriented mindset but if I do get a rejection letter/email I do feel down, and this drives me to ask for feedback. However, I do still find rejection without feedback a little soul destroying.

  25. The concept of fixed intelligence has been extraordinarily fascinating to me. It was mentioned when I was doing research on impostor syndrome. It’s so true that having that mindset will do nothing but hold you back. Learning that every day. (linked blog just in case).

    Great post!
    Williesha Morris recently posted…Stop Feeling Like an Impostor. Just Listen to One.My Profile

  26. This is such a great way to look rejection, Carol, and the comments really help, too, to provide perspective.

  27. Manasa says:

    In my book, a “No” is always preferable to silence, but a “No” accompanied by feedback is ideal. It’s the silence that’s unbearable! 😉

    I also think that overcoming obstacles as writers helps us more easily overcome obstacles in any area of life. Rejection builds both better writers and better humans!

  28. Larry says:

    I agree with you Manasa. I hate the silent treatment!
    Excellent attitude regarding rejection.
    Larry recently posted…The NFL Doesn’t SuckMy Profile

  29. Larry says:

    I found it fascinating and inspirational as well.
    Larry recently posted…The NFL Doesn’t SuckMy Profile

  30. Larry says:

    That’s a great story Linda and so glad it ultimately worked out.
    I agree with you – I also thought that comment was excellent.
    Larry recently posted…The NFL Doesn’t SuckMy Profile

  31. Dharmik says:

    Recently, I have come across a lot of writing assignments (Copy Writing). But, my pitches have not have had positive results. In fact, I haven’t tried copywriting earlier nor am I able to do so because I don’t get a chance due to my lack of experience. Can anyone help me out with some online resources from where I learn copy writing. Thanks !

    • Carol Tice says:

      Dharmik – we have a ‘break into business writing’ course inside my Freelance Writers Den community that includes a module on basics of persuasive copywriting with top coach Chris Marlow. We will reopen this fall to new members, so check it out and get on the waiting list if you’re interested!