As an editor and journalist, I’ve experienced life on both sides of the fence.
When you’re a magazine editor, you are the one who holds all the power about which stories gets published. It’s your job to get the right combination of stories and stay within budget. However, when you’re a freelance writer, you pitch your story ideas to editors, living in hope that they will say ‘Yes’.
In this post, I wanted to share some of the reasons that editors – and by that I include features editors, section editors, deputy editors and so on – might say ‘no’ to what you think is a brilliant story idea.
Or, even worse, why they simply don’t reply to your pitch. Sometimes, your story idea might be fantastic. But, ultimately, it can also boil down to timing, relevance and budget. Or that the editor is just too busy…
Why some editors don’t reply to pitches
1. They’re interested in the story but are waiting to discuss it at a features meeting – which could be several weeks away, depending on the title.
2. They’re interested in the story but have enough to be going on with, so have put it in a “possibles” file. The story could work, but is not so good that they need to snap it up in case the freelancer takes it to someone else.
3. The deputy editor is interested in the story but needs to run it past their editor, who’s off seeing their family in the UK for a few weeks. In the meantime, they’re running the show, so are trying their darndest to look like Miranda Priestley from The Devil Wears Prada on the outside, while internally they feel like Ted the lawyer from Scrubs.
4. They’re on deadline and too frantic to respond to non-urgent emails – and on some titles that busy period could be a couple of weeks.
5. They’re so inundated by emails that to reply to every one would take months. (I remember watching my inbox on a very average day gradually filling before my eyes – as it chugged away, with truckloads of emails backing up and being dumped in my inbox by the minute, I made a decision that I wouldn’t deal with any message that fell off the bottom of the screen before I had time to read it. The MD could bloody well email me again if he really needed a reply…)
6. While the mag is made up of 186 glossy, beautifully produced pages, it has only five staff, one of whom is the art director, one is the sub, one is the stylist, one is the editorial assistant, and one is the editor – who is the only person to reply to freelancers but barely has time to wipe his bum, let alone attend to his emails properly. (This is a real example of a well-known mainstream mag.)
7. The editorial assistant, who on certain mags sends standard replies to rejected freelancers, left to go overseas six weeks ago and has yet to be replaced, because it’s mid-February and according to the powers-that-be it’s getting near to the end of the financial year and we’ll have to wait a while to recruit any new staff.
8. They’re fed up with a particular freelancer emailing/calling every other day about the same story, unaware that any of the above issues could be at play, so they’ve decided to blacklist him/her. That freelancer is lucky not to be reported to the police for harassment, but if they call one more time, just once more, so help me God, I’ll take this phone around to their house and shove it up their…
9. The email is misspelled, poorly constructed, finishes with the phrase “cheers and beers!” (I had one like that once) and has been printed out and stuck on the kitchen noticeboard, for the amusement of the rest of the staff.
10. The person emailing has no experience and thinks that deciding one day to switch from being a bank teller to being a freelance writer means they’re immediately good enough to be published in Good Weekend/Sunday/Sunday Life/The Australian features section/That’s Life!/NW/Your Dog.
These days, of course, I’m freelance and furiously harassing all the people I used to work alongside, or even oversee, and thinking, “Why won’t the bastards reply to my email?” Ooh, who’s this knocking at my door with a phone in their hand?
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Nigel Bartlett is a freelance writer and editor with more than 20 years’ experience in magazines. He has written and edited interior design features for Belle, Inside Out, Real Living and other magazines. His work has included house and apartment stories, before-and-after pieces, kitchen and bathroom supplements and interviews with architects, interior designers, furniture makers and store owners. He presents the courseat the Australian Writers’ Centre.