5 Ways to Fail a Writing Gig, and How to Avoid Future Mistakes

You did it! You landed your first big story at a magazine. You spent three weeks researching, interviewing sources, gathering photos and writing the article.

When you finished and felt satisfied with your work, you proudly emailed the award-winning story off to your editor, patiently awaiting her reply that would, no doubt, be filled with praise.

But there was no reply. Not the first day, second day, or even the first week.


You begin to wonder if your email even went through. So, you send your editor a quick note to check on the status of your story.

The response you receive is something along the lines of, “Yes, we received it; thank you.”

Wow, not exactly the praise you were expecting. What went wrong?

As a former editor-in-chief and longtime freelance writer, I’ll tell you that there are several things that could have happened here.

Before we begin, pull out your original pitch, the assignment from the editor (if applicable) and your story, before going through the following list of possible issues.

1. You missed your deadline.

The worst thing you can do, as a new writer, or working with a new client, is miss a deadline. In an editor’s eyes, it’s nearly impossible to bounce back from this.

Before you ask, it doesn't count if you asked for a deadline extension and met the extended deadline. Extensions should only be requested in very rare situations.

2. You didn’t write the story that you originally pitched (or were assigned).

If you pitched the editor a 1,200-word story on the deforestation of Brazil, and then turned in a 750-word article about how Brazilian coffee beans are becoming more scarce, that is not the same story.

Editors work off very specific editorial calendars. The sales team sells ads around these specific topics. If a story changes drastically, it can mean the loss of an ad in the magazine (this makes the sales team very unhappy).

If you turn a story in that’s too short, the editor has to make up for it by creating a sidebar or extra text to fill the space. Alternatively, if it’s too long, they have to cut text from your story or someone else’s to make it fit.

Remember, they accepted your pitch to make their job easier, not harder.


3. You didn’t include enough credible sources.

More often than not, your editor will tell you how many sources they expect you to include.

For a 1,200-word article, the standard is three sources. For a 2,000-word article, five sources is usually acceptable.

If, however, the sources you end up using are either not entirely credible (websites, relatives, friends), or you only use one or two lackluster sources, your story will be affected — and it will likely show in the final product.

If you can’t, or don’t know how, to find a good source, ask your editor. They would rather help you up front then wind up rewriting your story later.

Editors have a lot of contacts, so don’t be afraid to ask if you need a source or a nudge in the right direction.

4. You didn’t write in the proper style for the publication.

I get it. When you’re blasting out pitches it can be tempting to skip steps along the way.

Not everyone reads a publication before pitching to it. After all, what if they don’t respond? You don’t want to waste your time, right? So it's better to waste an editor's time? You know the answer to that one.

If an editor does accept your pitch, they expect you to write in the style of their publication.

If it’s a business publication geared toward business owners, make sure you’re writing in that voice. If it’s a consumer magazine with a quirky style, it’s vital that you keep that voice throughout your story.

If you show an editor that you don’t care enough to understand the magazine or their reader, they won’t take you seriously, or send you future assignments.


5. There were too many mistakes.

Take another look at the story you turned in. If you have to, send it to a friend or colleague who you trust to tell you the truth.

If it turns out that there were a lot of grammar, spelling or syntax errors, that may very well be the culprit.

The fix could be as simple as using an online grammar tool and proofing your work more carefully next time.

Look for factual mistakes as well. Did you accidentally misspell a company or source name? Did you (gasp!) plagiarize information from a website or author?

RELATED: 9 food writing tips for new and experienced food writers

How to fix the situation

The good news is, even if you weren’t able to nail down a specific cause for your editor’s silence after going through the list above, you still have a chance to save the relationship.

Editors want to work with good, reliable writers. It's easier to keep a good writer than to search for new ones.

Reach out to your editor and let her know that you’d like to continue writing for the publication.

Kindly ask for her feedback on your last story, including ways that you might be able to improve for the next assignment.

Trust me when I say she will be happily surprised at your request for feedback.

Just be honest with yourself before you reach out. Are you truly open to constructive criticism? Your editor may tell you things about your writing that you are not ready to hear.

As a writer, you must be open to feedback from editors. It’s not a reflection on you as a person, it’s simply advice on how you can improve your work and receive more assignments in the future.

Besides, feedback from an editor is gold. If they’re willing to tell you what you need to do to land more work