If we pitch an idea to an editor and no commission results then clearly it was a rubbish idea and we should give up on it. If we do get the commission, then once we’ve gloated over seeing our name in print and spent the fee, that’s the end of that.
I made both of these mistakes when I began writing non-fiction. Now I’ve seen the error of my ways, it’s hard to see why I ever fell into that trap. I’ve written fiction for years without ever being so silly. If my fiction is rejected, or fails to be placed in a competition, I read through, rewrite if necessary, and submit again until it ends up on the right desk at the right time and is accepted. Once a piece has been published, I’ll submit it to markets which consider reprints, enter it into competitions which allow previously published work, and finally self publish in themed collections. A few pieces have been published five times.
How to avoid these mistakes
When a non-fiction pitch fails to meet with success, read it again along with any reason for rejection you may have been given. Was it truly a bad idea, or does it still seem worthwhile? Perhaps it was just a case of it not being quite right for that publication, or perhaps the editor had recently commissioned something similar. Is there another publication you could try, with the same pitch?
Would a slightly different approach make it more appealing to editors? Try looking at the subject from a different angle, or presenting it as a list, interview, how-to piece or with a more, or less, serious tone.
Maybe your idea wasn’t really suited to an entire article and would work better as a letter. These have a greater chance of being accepted, still allow you to express your point and will reach the same readership as a longer piece in the same publication – and may earn you a prize or small payment.
Alternatively you could consider e-zines or blogs (your own, or as a guest on one with a suitable theme). Although you’re unlikely to earn a fee, the publicity and experience might be beneficial.
Was your idea too broad, and would work better as a series of articles, even a whole book? You could try pitching those, or break it down into separate elements, or select the single most interesting aspect.
Once your article has been published, consider reusing either the whole thing, or the ideas and research used to create it. The facts and opinions can be given a new slant and rewritten to produce completely new articles. You may be able to sell the original article again, or publish it yourself – perhaps together with other articles on the same subject.
If your idea is sufficiently interesting for you to want to write an article on it, and you can present the subject and your research in an original way, then there will be people who want to read it. Doesn’t it make sense to reach as many of them as possible?
Patsy Collins writes novels, short fiction for women’s magazines in the UK, Australia, Sweden and South Africa and articles for Writing Magazine. She’s the co-author of From Story Idea to Reader – an accessible guide to writing fiction. Through The Garden Gate is one of three garden themed short story collections, and Patsy has also published collections on the themes of family and romance. Not A Drop to Drink is a free collection of stories with a liquid theme. She blogs at Words about writing and writing about words (“All sorts of writing stuff, including regular links to free to enter writing competitions”) and Womagwriter (official guidelines and other useful information to help those who wish to write for women’s magazines).