The Crappy Art of Rejecting Writers

Rejection is my biggest weakness. Whether it’s me saying no, or me on the receiving end, I’m just not good at it, at all.

I can take criticism. I'm a pro at that, assuming the criticism is constructive and intended to better my work. But outright rejection just sucks.

The worst point, as a freelance writer, was being told a story "doesn't feel right for them", that my writing "isn't punchy enough", or flat out having someone scoff at the idea of paying me to write.

I took each rejection personally. To me, it meant the person delivering the confidence damning blow thought I was a terrible writer or marketer. They had judged me—wrongly, in my mind—and I would respond in kind. They’d now be immortalised, their name permanently inscribed on my shit list.

Of course that was just a knee jerk reaction and the shit list never grew. I can’t hold grudges. It’s just not in me! In fact, that’s probably my second biggest weakness. 💩

Being terrible at receiving rejections also made me one of the worst people to have to deliver them. I know how it feels. It sucks. So, I’d go out of my way to be as amicable as possible.

It took a fair few “It’s not you, it’s me”, “I really wish I could say yes”, “You’re awesome, but…”, and other half-hearted cliché knockbacks before I realised other people aren’t me.

Sure, most people take rejection personally on some level. There’s always the initial gut punch, but it’s slowly dawned on me that taking rejection well is one of the main things that separates successful freelance writers from the wannabes.

What I’ve realised is, actually people don’t want the eggshell-friendly, bullshit excuses. They want a clear “yes” or “no”—I mean what they want is a yes, but if it’s a no just say no!

Back in the day, I thought I wanted a better rejection. I thought I wanted more than the simple no. Some feedback, something to work on. Give me a little hope that one day I’ll be good enough to write for your blog.

Softly Softly Angry Monkey

The reality is, the softly softly approach tends to infer there’s way too much hope for the rejectee (is that even a word? Let’s roll with it). It’s like telling someone a gate’s closed, while opening the gate and building a wall in front of it. All that happens is the person being rejected get’s strung along, believing they might actually be able to talk their way in before face planting a wall.

I’ve been guilty of stringing people along a little too much recently, as we’ve received increased interest from freelance writers hoping to contribute to the blog. As the default marketing lead, it’s natural it falls on me to assess and—unfortunately pretty much always—reject them.

At first, I was kind. I read through every word of the linked submissions—irrelevant though they might have been—and softened the blow a little. Something like, “I really loved your interesting take on 5 ways to crush cryptocurrency.”

I’d go on to qualify, “We aren’t fans of listicles, don’t cover crypto, and I’m not sure your voice is the right fit for our blog as we’re less competitive and more collaborative in our tone.”

And I’d end by thanking them for reaching out, with what I thought was a positive, “I’ll let you know if anything changes”.

Turns out this kind of rejection is the worst.

It alludes to the possibility that I could be swayed. Invariably, it results in another response. Usually they oppose the idea their voice isn’t the right fit, and go on to pitch something like “The 10 ways to out support your competitors”.

A back and forth ensues, and eventually I’m struck with the choice of either ghosting—not cool—or being a blunt asshole.

Turns out, I’m always an asshole. And it makes me feel terrible every time. 😔

Pitching the Right Way

There is a positive to this, though. It’s hard to find, and it’s only just come to me while writing this post that perhaps it would be a good idea to set out some tips when it comes to pitching us.

So here goes.

I should start with a disclaimer. While we are doing pretty well in terms of MRR, our marketing budget is a little like a hedgehog riding a unicorn—a cute idea.

I can’t say there’s no money. Honestly, I’m just very careful with it and wary of paying unfairly.

We don’t have the resources to pay for every contribution we get. So, 90% of the time, I’ll reject good writers because they’re not HelpDocs writers. As someone who’s been on the other side of crappy fees, I refuse to be the kind of person who pays crappy fees. But I also refuse to pay for contributions that aren’t a great fit.

As a side note, this is a bit tough to write. I’m the first to say my writing isn’t to everyone’s taste and isn’t very good by most standards. That said, the way Jake, Jarratt, and I write is what we consider to be HelpDocs writing.

Disclaimer done, there are only really 2 things to keep in mind when it comes to pitching a story for the HelpDocs blog—should you still wish to do so!

Read the Blog and Judge Yourself

My biggest hate when it comes to reading unsolicited pitches is when someone has obviously not bothered looking at the blog. Instead, they send a blanket pitch that’s been blasted out to probably hundreds of other blogs.

I’ve been there. I get it—though I’ve never batch pitched. I know I’m one of many pitches you need to get out in order to get a placement. But not knowing who you’re pitching, or how you’ll fit will put you on the back foot.

Pro-tip: Understanding our blog will help you stop wasting your time. I’m going to respond, because I respond to everyone. So, if we are never going to be a good fit, you’re wasting your own time.

Have an Idea for a Story and Keep Your Listicle in Your Pocket

Once you’ve read our blog, you’ll realise we write pretty personal stories. It’s pretty much all anecdotal and colloquial, save for a couple of customer testimonial pieces.

I’m saying this, because I don’t want your fucking listicle. I can’t stress this enough.

I know everyone writes listicles. Everyone is writing clickbaity, spammy content, too. But we just don’t want to read anymore. When was the last time you read a really good listicle you wanted to share?

Instead of pitching me something like your top 10 support hacks, take a different stance. Pick one. Write about how you used a particular support hack, and how it impacted your work and life. Write about how it changed you into a superhero, and how you now spend your days stalking the night, saving the world with a utility belt of support hacks. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Stifled attempts at whimsy aside, the long and short of it is, don’t be like everyone else. Be you!