While most editors actually do respond to pitches sent their way, here are some good reasons why they don’t.
A common complaint among writers is that editors are not responding to their pitches. If it’s not an acceptance, the least they can say is a simple “Not for us,” right? In fact, visit any writing forum or website and you’ll find at least one post of the “How hard is it to send a one-word rejection?” variety.
Yet, the one time a New York Times editor sent me a one-word “No” in response to a pitch, I thought it was the rudest thing I’d ever encountered. It is pretty harsh, after all, to send a well-researched 1,000-word idea that you thought was perfect for the publication only to hear a one-word “No” in return.
If you have a working relationship with an editor and they don’t respond to your emails, that’s a red flag, and you need to question whether there’s a problem.
(I had this happen recently and after following up and emailing several times, I basically stopped pitching the editor. Why waste my time on someone who doesn’t respond? I pitch someone else at the publication instead and hear back promptly.)
However, if you don’t have a relationship with an editor, they have no obligation to respond to you. You are, after all, like any other business pitching them a service that they may or may not have a need for.
While most editors actually do respond to pitches sent their way, here are some good reasons they don’t:
1. Your pitch is completely off-topic
You’re pitching a parenting magazine poetry or sending 2,000-word literary essays to a bridal magazine that only takes 600-word “what went wrong at my wedding” vignettes. I recently pitched a pretty heavy and controversial parenting story to magazines that pretty much only publish light listicles, so despite a good pitch and strong credentials, I didn’t hear from most of them. (See, we all make mistakes, no matter how long we’ve been doing this!)
2. You’ve pissed them off
They don’t like your name. Your surname is the same as the boyfriend who cheated on them. You’re based in a country where they had a terrible experience. Whatever. I don’t worry about this because it’s not something I can control, but it happens and you won’t hear from people who have a bias against you regardless of whether you deserve that bias.
You can’t change these people’s minds, so don’t worry about them.
3. They dislike saying no
Every now and again, people chicken out. It can be difficult to say no to a talented professional you like and respect. I recently had the opportunity to be on the other side of the pitching table and let me tell you, it was NOT pleasant. In fact, I procrastinated on sending out those emails for four full days. And I felt terrible at the end of it.
4. They’re overwhelmed with email
Again, this overwhelm is something I struggle with, so I can empathize. I often let my Inbox get away from me—right now there are 286 unread emails, two of them from editors I need to get back to. I struggle with my email and I know I don’t have half the volume these editors have. If you’re constantly bombarded with hundreds of pitches a day, you can see why it would be easier to just delete them. In fact, trying to respond to each and every one would be highly impractical. I can’t imagine they’d get anything else done.
5. They don’t respond with rejections
Because of this email volume that I mentioned above, some editors make it clear in their guidelines that they won’t respond unless they’re interested. This is the case with most national publications, so just treat is as a matter of course. Wait a few weeks and move on. It’s not personal.
6. Your work is still under consideration
I know writers who’ve heard back from editors months and years after writing to them, so sometimes editors stick ideas and pitches they like but can’t use right away in a “Later” folder. They might mean to respond to you or get in touch when they have a use for the story, but that may not happen for a few weeks or months, and so you don’t hear back.
7. They don’t feel obligated to reply
Again, remember, unless they know who you are and have a professional working relationship with you, editors aren’t obligated to respond to you. That many do makes them wonderful, but it’s not a requirement. So the best thing you can do is to follow-up after a certain amount of time, wait a couple of weeks, and then send your ideas elsewhere.
P.S. Turning rejections and no responses into acceptances and long-term relationships is a bit of a specialty of mine. And I can teach it to you. In my free case studies series, I lay out how I broke into and became a regular at TIME magazine, as well as The New York Times, ELLE, and many more. Get those five case studies (at absolutely no cost to you) on this page.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more. She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators. Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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