So why do some writings get rejected? Why don’t editors print all they get? What are the mistakes that writers make? I am answering these questions, and some more, to help freelancers minimise their rejection chances.
As an editor of my magazine, Young World, Dawn, I come across a lot of work submitted by writers interested in getting their writings printed in this magazine. Each week, many of these writings are printed, but there are a greater number that do not make it beyond our mailbox or computer folders. I am sure everyone tries their best, spends hours crafting the words with care and only sends their best writings to us.
So why do some writings get rejected? Why don’t we print all we get? What are the mistakes that writers make? What is our selection and rejection criteria?
Today, I am going to be answering some of these questions and many more that must be in the minds of all those writing to us and even those who have not yet started writing, but would like to start one day. And instead of talking about what makes a good piece of writing, I want to write about the common mistakes that freelance writers make, which lead to their work being rejected. I feel what writers need to know is what not to do, rather than just what to do, to get their writings printed anywhere.
So let’s discuss the common mistakes that writers make that lead to their work being rejected. There are many more things that can be discussed under this heading, but we will focus on the more common ones.
Plagiarism doesn’t lead to rejection, it leads to being banned. Yes, there is zero tolerance for plagiarism everywhere. And no, the excuse that the writer did not know they could not copy something and send it with their name is no excuse.
Copying is cheating, and copy-pasting is boldly cheating. And the funny part is that some copy from popular websites and writers and send it with their own by-line, thinking that they are the only ones who have read the original work, so no one will know. Others work a bit harder and change a few words, or write a story in their own words, and think that they have worked hard enough on it and it has become their original effort.
With all kinds of tools available on our fingertips, checking for plagiarism is the easiest thing in the world. So don’t pass on someone’s work as your own and discredit yourself anywhere.
Not researching about the publication
When sending something to be printed anywhere, whether online or elsewhere, make sure you know the requirements of that publication or section. For instance, Young World’s readers are children, so if you are interested in writing for this magazine, it should be something that children would enjoy reading and which would make sense to them. The write-ups should be for children, though not necessarily about children.
Often, I have come across articles that do focus on children, such as parenting articles and those related to social problems, such as child labour. But what the article says is of little use to children since they can’t do much by learning how to do the right kind of parenting to themselves. So, there is a difference between writing for kids and writing about kids.
Always make sure that your writing’s theme and tone are suitable for the readership that publication focuses on.
Getting the word count wrong
While in online publications and websites, generally space is not a problem. But when it comes to newspapers or anything in print, the word count of an article is important. In print, there is often a fixed layout or format that has to be followed and most writings need to be up to a specific word count to fit comfortably in it, along with enough space for the headline and a photograph or two to go along.
Often writers get so carried away that they send a 2000-4000 words story or article in print publications, which would require a space large enough to accommodate two to three medium-length articles. Or, some just write a couple of paragraphs, of maximum 250 words, and send it as an article, which would take up less space than the size of the heading that accompanies any writing. Thus, both get rejected due to their unsuitable length.
Try to ask the publication about the approximate length of an article they require and then come up with a number that is close enough. This will save you from rejection and the editors from extra work.
Using slangs and messaging vocabulary
Writing short messages, chats and comments on our phones has led to the rise of a totally different kind of vocabulary and phrases. These are easily understood by most people and universally accept as the medium of communication — but it is not the correct style of writing. It is not acceptable in print.
Newspapers, magazine and websites still follow proper spellings, grammar and writing rules, and most have their own standard style. Youngsters, especially when writing about a trendy topic or depicting excitement, start using abbreviations, sometimes even adding emojis and become confused when such articles are rejected.
Others, who may speak English very well, do the mistake of writing the way they speak. You see, there is a difference between the spoken language and the written one. Written English is more proper, for instance, we may all use ‘gonna’ when saying ‘going to’ but when we are writing it, unless we are using it in a quote by someone, we should use the full form.
So shorthand is a big ‘no-no’ — see, ‘no-no’ is an informal phase, used when speaking, so when using it in writing, I have used it with inverted commas, to signify it’s verbal roots.
A by-line is the writer’s name that we always see under or alongside the heading of any article, but this is something I don’t often see in the articles I receive.
I don’t get why people put in such hard work to write something and then don’t bother to write even their names, let alone any contact details, in the document they are attaching in the email. Generally, they do write their name and some contact details in the email and a bit of a cover letter, but some don’t even do that at all.
How on earth do writers expect us to accept something from an anonymous source? Or print an article without the writer’s name?
What we need is that writers always write their name and contact details, and since most of our contributors are children, we need to have their parent’s name and details too, for a lot of reasons. All our requirements are clearly printed in our magazine and they should be thoroughly read by anyone wanting to send in a contribution to avoid rejection and disappointment.
Another point that is important to note here is the writer’s details should always be written in any attached file being sent. We download and save the attached file, and if it has no details of the writer, it becomes useless for us when we open it later on and don’t see the name of the writer. It is impossible to go through all the emails received, open each attachment and see who sent that particular file.
Spamming the mailbox
Sending multiple emails, or repeatedly emailing to send the same work or to enquire about it, only increases the emails in the mailbox, making editors spend more time going through the same things. We would rather spend that time on something more fruitful, like editing articles.
So it is important to have patience after you have sent your work somewhere for publication. Every publication has a schedule and there are many freelancers sending in their work too, so things take time. Unless you have been assigned to write something and given a deadline to deliver, you cannot expect your writing to be published immediately.
Yes, you can drop an email to ask for an update, but do so after a couple of weeks.
There is more to be written on this topic since requirements of different platforms and publications are different, and here I am focusing on the magazine I am heading. I will discuss some other points some other day and we will look into freelance requirements for other places too.
Hope you have a better idea of what not to do as a freelancer and it helps you in your freelancing journey. Good luck!
Published in Dawn, Young World, July 23rd, 2022