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Mining the Rejection File for Gold
by Ann Brandt

Return to Successful Freelancing · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

Saving your rejected manuscripts can provide a chance to look at your work from a greater distance in time, allowing opportunity for revision or rework. Sometimes these documents offer topic ideas, other times new angles on a topic. Often you will see how you could have written the piece better or with more care. Occasionally you might find a manuscript that has been rejected and is almost good to go. This process of mining the rejection file can be stimulating and lucrative -- worth the time spent -- but you need to accomplish this task in steps.

Step 1. Sorting and Evaluating:

When looking at a manuscript in your rejection file, consider where the piece has been sent, how many times it has been rejected, and what you were trying to convey to readers. Think about the topic addressed in this piece. Then ask yourself these questions:

What were you trying to give to the readers? Is there any part of this piece that you could use now? Has your writing style and mastery of grammar improved since you last viewed this piece? If you were to use this article today, what would you do to it?

Years ago I got quite a bit of mileage out of an inspirational piece. Eager to sell more in that genre, I accumulated a sizeable collection of rejected manuscripts. During the last mining operation I clipped them together and slipped them into the back of the file with a note to pursue that endeavor some time in the future. The time it would take to revitalize content and contacts is not worth it to me at this moment, so the whole batch of papers remains relegated to a file I call "Some Day."

In my rejection file is one story I have written in many different ways -- long, short, three or four different angles. Finally I chopped it mercilessly and sent the shortened version to a particular Christian publication, saving all the articles with the copious amount of paper that had been used to come to that point. I couldn't quite bring myself to discard all those thwarted efforts, so another batch went into the Some Day file.

When considering future use of a particular rejection, ask yourself if the topic still holds your interest enough to keep writing about it. Is the topic outdated or no longer relevant in today's market? One example is a dog magazine that had published a couple of my essays. Not only did the magazine cease publication just after I sent in a third essay, but I noticed other publications for pet owners had begun offering stories requiring extensive research and interviews. In my last rejection file mining operation, I set aside all my dog essays for future use in my blog.

Conversely, is this topic hot on the market now? After trying sporadically to peddle an article on acupuncture, I recently had success. Everything I have read lately about markets indicates that readers want more information on health. With extra and updated research on a couple of health related topics that were rejected years ago, I plan to mine that section of my file vigorously.

Have you gained additional knowledge or expertise that would help you refine and market the piece? Most of us progress both in writing style and in creating topics, gaining a better idea of which editor expects what kind of subject and how he or she would like it handled. Going through the rejection file can be an exercise in sorting ideas for querying or submitting to editors; their needs sometimes change with time.

This sorting process is beneficial both for creating ideas and for gauging your progress as a writer. For example, things that you wrote years before might not be considered in your publishing plan now. However, all the items in your rejection file offer something to build on as you read and sort.

Step 2. Selecting topics.

Is a topic in greater demand than when you first sent it out? Perhaps its day had not yet arrived. Set aside manuscripts with this topic to examine and consider further. If the material in a rejected piece contains information that you may need for something in progress at the moment, mark or highlight and set it aside. A note of caution: If you had researched a topic expressed in a rejected manuscript, check the sources to be sure the piece is still relevant and accurate before you mark it for future use.

Are you still interested in this topic? Do you have more to say on this topic? Have you gained further information? Do you feel more confident in handling this topic now? Does this topic tie in with anything you are presently doing or thinking of doing? Have you thought of different angles to handle this topic? Have you found a market appropriate for this topic, one that you would query or submit material?

Step 3. Discovering reasons for rejection.

This part is tricky and involves a bit of guesswork. Sometimes the reason for rejection has nothing to do with your writing. Timing plays a big part in whether your writing is accepted or rejected. Perhaps your material has been covered at length in the target publication. If you are fortunate, the editor has commented on the returned piece and offered that information. (Hopefully, you submitted something else to that editor ASAP.) In any event, during this mining process, make a special note of that editor and how he or she delivers rejections.

Another possible reason for rejection was that your approach to the topic missed the mark on what the editor wanted. Again, you might have been fortunate to receive a sentence or two regarding this problem. Bear in mind, however, that workloads in most publishing houses are increasing while staff is decreasing. If you have filed your rejection without submitting further, now is the time to reconsider and take a fresh look at your writing. Many editors respect perseverance in their writers, and you can establish a good working relationship by exhibiting willingness to produce what editors need. If a manuscript has landed in your rejection file under these circumstances, by all means pull it out, redo it according to what is needed, and resend it. If a lot of time has elapsed since you have corresponded with this editor, include a brief note.

Sometimes, though hopefully not often, you have misread or failed to read the publication's guidelines. In some cases this can be fixed by reformatting or tweaking of verbiage. In a highly competitive freelance market, you need to follow directions closely. Check the current guidelines for any changes. Put yourself in the editor's place: If two excellent pieces are under consideration and one has not been submitted according to guidelines, the correctly submitted piece will be accepted.

Step 4. Gathering material.

After you have chosen what is immediately useable, what you want to put aside for future use, and what you need to discard, get started on the topic that interests you the most. Think of your rejected piece as a rough draft. Now we come to the gold in your files. Pick out two or three of the most promising pieces, chosen according to what you want to write about next. You might find yourself using content from more than one rejected piece to create a new submission. You might want to submit something to an editor who has published some of your material since rejecting a story and with whom you have established a rapport.

Rejected manuscripts contain a wealth of content waiting to be reshaped and resent. They can inspire, inform, and -- best of all -- earn money in their new incarnations.

Find Out More...

How to Repurpose Your Rejection - Isabella E.C. Akinseye

Copyright © 2011 Ann Brandt
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Ann Brandt has learned to use her rejection file as a writing tool. She is the author of two books, both based on her experiences with rare diseases. A Caregiver's Story: Coping with a Loved One's Life-Threatening Illness was inspired by caring for her husband as they battled and survived brain cancer. Visit Ann at http://www.annkbrandt.com/.


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