CRAFT: The Five Responses to Rejection and How to Craft Your Own by Estelle Erasmus

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So your piece was rejected? You’re not alone. We’ve all been there. After licking your wounds what should you do? I’ve been on both sides of the publishing wall as both a writer and an editor, and have some advice to offer that you can use to sharpen your craft and power your career forward.

RESPONSE ONE: “Thanks it’s not a fit.”

Craft Tip: This feels impersonal, but wait. Sometimes it comes down to not following the submission guidelines correctly. Or was your pitch too long and rambling? Or was your writing filled with changing tenses? This is where you need to be a sleuth and parse through the publication to see the kinds of pieces they accept. Compare yours. Do you need a more powerful intro? A more universal takeaway? A stronger narrative arc?  That’s your cue to revise and submit it to another publication. I find it also works to cut and paste a story you admire from the pub, and then put your story under it. See where the other piece flows, its narrative arc, and what resonates about the piece (perhaps it’s a powerful opening). Then, make sure your story meets those same criteria before your next submission.

RESPONSE TWO: “Thank you for your submission. We just ran a story or essay similar to yours (with the link attached). But, please do submit again.”

Craft Tip: Don’t make the same mistake twice. Do your due diligence and search the site for the topic of your article or essay before submitting. Find a good fit for your piece by researching different publications (through Duotrope). If you find yourself stuck for ideas, try writing your essay in a poem, or letter. Or use a different font (change from Times Roman to Garamond). It works through a concept called neuroplasticity, that encourages your brain to make new connections.

RESPONSE THREE: “Thanks so much for sending me this. I really love your writing, and this is a fantastic story, but we aren’t covering adoption stories at the moment. Please submit again because I would love to work with you.”

Craft Tip: This is a gift. Definitely email the editor back thanking her or him for the feedback and send something else that might work almost immediately. Editors are looking for writers who produce work they can get excited about, so why not you?  Any time an editor uses superlative words (fantastic, love it, fabulous voice) that is a sign you are connecting with the editor, so make sure to maintain it.

RESPONSE FOUR: Sometimes writers will get rejections with very specific feedback about what is wrong. For example, as an ongoing guest editor for, I have told writers, “I would love to work with you on something, but this piece isn’t it. Narratively is the extraordinary stories of ordinary people that are not relatable to most. This story is about the aches and pains of aging, and unfortunately, many people can relate to that.

Craft Tip

If you get a response that gives a clear direction or instruction, that’s gold for a writer, because you can take that information and directly apply it to your next pitch or submission.

RESPONSE FIVE: No response.

Craft Tip: No response is still, well, a response even if it means that someone literally never opened your email. Here’s what to do: Let the editor know when another pub picks it up without revealing the name. Then when the piece is published, send the link or pdf to the editor with a sweet note, reminding them that this is the piece you had submitted to them initially. In my case,  I had submitted a pitch to Quartz that the editor responded to three months later saying it wasn’t a fit for the pub. I emailed the editor back and shared the piece based on the pitch, that ran in The Washington Post, which also became a print cover story in the Post’s Local Living Section.

The editor responded please pitch me again, and I immediately did. The result was this piece on the psychological impact of the deaths of celebrities that ran in Quartz, and a new relationship with that editor. So, be bold. You never know, taking that extra step might just get you noticed. And you know it will feel so good.

Bottom line: Nobody but you can determine the value of your work. So get to work.

estelle erasmusEstelle Erasmus, an award-winning journalist and writing coach is an ongoing guest editor for Narratively. She has written for The New York TimesNext TribeForbes, Next Avenue, The Washington Post, Family Circle Magazine, Your Teen, Writer’s Digest and more. She hosts/curates the podcast, ASJA Direct: Inside Intel on Getting Published and Paid Well, is an adjunct writing professor at New York University (NYU) and teaches pitching, and personal essay writing for Writer’s Digest. Follow her on Twitter (@EstelleSErasmus) Instagram (@EstelleSErasmus) and on her website and sign up for her newsletter.

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