Rejection to Gold
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Turn Your Rejection Slips Into Gold!

by Allen Rolf

Rejection slips are really money in the bank if you know how to cash them in!

As a beginning writer, I wrote for two years before making my first sale. I collected rejection slips like most people collect baseball cards or postage stamps. I probably had the world's best collection!

Then, one day (I was sitting on the back step of my house trying to decide the best place to dig for worms. I was so disappointed I was going to eat a few and die!), the answer came to me out of the blue:

Rejection Slips: What do they represent?

I took the manuscripts with rejections slips over the past two months and laid them out on the kitchen table. I remember staring at them, wondering what it all meant. I desperatley wanted to make a living by writing magazine articles.

Eight manuscripts, each averaging 1,000 words each, meant I was producing and mailed out an average of one article per week. Certainly, I figured that was good production. At a rate of 10 a word, that would bring in $100 per week! In 1957 a small family in rural Arkansas could live on that kind of income! So, the good news was that I was producing a sufficient number of marketable words. The problem must be elsewhere!

Could the problem be in the quality of my writing? Even though I had not made a sale in two years, I was confident that I was an excellent writer and that I had excellent ideas. Why else would I be writing? My mind focused in a different direction.

Each of the manuscripts, I quickly noticed, had been sent to a different magazine. Could that be the problem? Somewhere in my brain gears began to mesh. Could it be that I had no "product recognition" in the marketplace? I knew that manufacturers spend millions each year just to get their name recognized in a buyer's mind. Think of laundry detergent and you think of Tide, of facial tissues and you think of Kleen-X, think of anti-freeze and you think of Prestone. Could the same be true with editors? The answer seemed logical; I was producing and mailing marketable material but seldom to the same magazine more than once every several months. Nobody had a chance to get to know me and that I was a writer who could produce good work!

This was probably the biggest revelation in my entire writing career. The simple fact is, I have come to believe, is editors are not looking for manuscripts so much as for writers who can consistently produce marketable manuscript now and in the future! Later experience as a published magazine writer has borne this out again and again.

Editors are faced with the continuing problem of creating twelve quality magazine issues per year and, editors being human, want to build some stability into their life. That's why every good editor has a stable of good writers who he can depend up for a steady stream of marketable manuscripts. Like it or not, having the editor on your side (or being in his stable) is the difference in many cases between making a sale and gleaning a rejection slip.

What is the answer? Simple! Concentrate on one market at a time until you get a string of published articles. This is what led me to the idea of "cluster selling" and I have found that it has worked over and over. The concept is simple:

If you want to write and be published, sit down and make a list of the five favorite things in your life, things that you enjoy so much you would actually work at them for nothing. For some, this may be a hobby like photography, an avocation such as cooking, a love of history, travel, politics, or other activity. These are the areas in which you will write best.

Next, research three magazines with audiences in your favorite field, then estimate the number of marketable words you have actually written over the past several months. By marketable words, I mean words that can be put to manuscript and sent off for publication. Now set an income goal. Remember, if you can't measure it, you can't manage it!

Setting An Income Goal

As an example, assume that you are interested in writing for magazines in the area of Disabled Living. Going to the Writer's Digest Big List of Guidelines On The Net ( you will find six magazines listed.

Let's target the following:

Careers & The Disabled

Accent On Living

Ragged Edge Magazine

These three magazines provide monthly issues and pay an average of 10 per word. Assume that you can produce an average of 1000 marketable words per week for these three magazines. Your target income would then be $433.00 per month ($100.00 week x 4.33 weeks per month), or $5,200 per year.

Now, admittedly, the magazine cluster I have randomly chosen for this example is not the most lucrative, but I can assure you it is a market that is open to good writers who have an interest in disabled living. Further, you will find that when working in a narrow specialty area such as this you will pull in another 25% income with associated articles in other magazines once you become established, including many local markets. Build four clusters such as this one and you will have built an income potential of $26,000 per year.

Putting The Plan To Work!

We have so far established a target cluster market and established a potential income goal. Next is the hardest part, one that requires some perseverance and a good measure of faith.

Your first object is to learn the market completely. This means continuing research into your target magazines as well as research in every area you can think of regarding the disabled. Get on the telephone and contact the non-profits and state agencies dealing with disabilities in your area. Spend some time surfing the net. As you accumulate information, article ideas will start to form. Keep a log of these, or a card index.

Start A Query Blitz!

Immediately, as story ideas occur, simultaneously query the three magazines you have targeted. Your primary goal is to land article assignments, even if on spec, but remember that each query plants your name in the editor's mind. By focusing your efforts on only three magazines, you can establish your "product identity" much faster than using a shotgun approach.

Keep records of what is happening. Initially, you will find that it will take 9-12 queries to land a story idea. Within a couple of months and a published article or two, this ratio should drop to 6:1. When your query ratio approaches 3:1, you have arrived. If you don't see this happen it means that you must do additional research on what the magazines actually want. In other words, you are not hitting their need button! Also, remember that it often takes from one to two years to develop a magazine cluster to its projected income.

The Fun Of Opening A New Branch!

Developing a new cluster of magazines is like opening an new storefront. Once you get your first store running, it's time to open a second one. This second store is much easier, you simply duplicate the first time efforts! After you have opened several clusters of magazines, you are sure to find that some of your original storefronts are not paying in relation to the efforts you must expend. At this point, you do what any chain store operator does; you close your least productive outlets and concentrate on building your income in more profitable areas. In other words, your marketing work as writer never ends. You have to constantly be on the lookout for new markets and be willing to take the time and make the effort to make things happen!

So in conclusion, please don't go out and eat worms because of your rejections slips. Instead, lay them out on the table and see how they can be turned into gold!