Keep Getting Rejected? Here are 12 Reasons You May Not Be Landing Freelance Writing Jobs

The following is a guest post by Nkuleko Sibanda.

A string of rejections early in your freelance writing career? Many newbies can relate. However, I think mine rivals Stephen King’s record. I’m a disgruntled newbie who has received well over 50 rejections (and counting) inside six months in my efforts to published online; never mind actually land freelance writing work.

Appyling for Freelance Writing Jobs: 50 Rejections — and Counting

I wouldn’t be surprised if getting rejected 50 times didn’t put me in the running for a top prize as The Guinness World Records’ book of worst writer ever; at least that how it feels.

Why am I so freely admitting all of this? Because l consider it folly to downplay the effects that failure has on the psyche of a new writer. Pretending otherwise would be living in a world of self-denial; glossing over the frustrations feeding upon my sense of entitlement. Yes, I felt somewhat “entitled” to be a writer.

Rejection is an emotionally traumatic and shattering. It is little wonder that many aspiring writers fall by the wayside. At one point, l considered jumping onto the bandwagon of losers, but somehow I found the willpower to continue.

12 Reasons I Know Wasn’t Landing Freelance Writing Gigs

What is it I’ve done so wrong to deserve this poor run?” I said to myself. Upon some self-reflection, I identified a list of the top 12 mistakes (there were more than this, believe me) I’ve made thus far. The list is packed with tips from hard-earned, first-hand experience.

My hope is that you’ll be able to avoid these mistakes if you entertain hopes of making it as an online writer or blogger.

1. Inability to Conduct Comprehensive Research

Since l started writing, my articles have lacked grit and quality. This can be attributed to a lack of comprehensive research to back up facts and claims made.

There is no excuse for this in the age of Google. We live in a digital age where it is inexcusable to be lazy enough not to make use of it.

The vast chasm of knowledge online writers and bloggers have access to today are practically limitless, eg, there’s: Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic Search, PubMed and the Social Sciences Research Networks, to name a few.

Web surfers expect writers to be credible. This means backing up whatever claims you make.

A side benefit of doing online research is that I’ve learned a lot of other things I didn’t know that are important to being a good online writer, eg: like search engine optimization tactics, noted authority organizations, keyword research, etc.

All of this was so alien to me when l began my quest to be a freelance web writer.

There are many free tools online to curate researched data. For instance, I’ve discovered and made use of Evernote, a research tool which you can utilize to clip notes for use later. lt has proven to be an invaluable too in my freelance writer’s arsenal.

2. Being Overzealous

Another serious mistake I’ve made is “going big.” I’ve been overzealous enough to approach big brand magazines to try and get a shot at being published. For a novice like me, this approach has proven to be catastrophic. lt’s like trying to fell an elephant with your bare knuckles.

What I figured out is that, for me, the ideal approach would’ve been to start small and build a strong freelance writing portfolio, or a name for myself. Writing guest posts (like this one) for some noted blogs blogging is a great stepping stone in the right direction.

That’s what I’ve started to do, identifying top blogging sites. I visit some daily to study their writing style and posts. For articles that tickle my taste buds, I cut and paste notes on those into a swipe file. The reason I do this is to study them for clues on what makes them good; what makes it appeal to readers; what value does it offer.

l realize that building a credible portfolio first in this business is fundamental to my success, and that’s what I’m concentrating on mostly these days.

3. Not Establishing a Tone of Voice

My writing has generally lacked punch and a voice. I’ve struggled to write compelling copy in a conversational tone, like the manner in which l speak. I remember one of the first articles I ever wrote. Boy did I take wordsmithing to the next level! I was so wordy and my language so flowery.

l thought l needed to impress editors with my vocabulary skills. The result was either no acknowledgment at all from those I submitted to, or a string of rejections in my Inbox.

To address this, I read works by others. I learned the importance of writing in simple language that appeals to a given audience. This not only connects with readers, it also ensures that they don’t get lost in my effusive, over-the-top use of prose.

4. Not Writing Stronger Pitches

The majority of pitches I’ve submitted to most magazines have generally been weak and pathetic. Looking back, I can admit this. For instance, l would forward a pitch in this format: “Here is my article for publication.” For starters, this isn’t a pitch at all. I was being lazy.

A Proper Pitch

A good pitch will touch on a number of issues, ie: a good headline; a brief outline of the proposed article; length; target audience; and research/resources, to name a few.

Pitching is not rocket science in that it’s hard; but it is in that it must be detailed and professional enough to catch a potential editor’s eye. Otherwise, you’re in for a long string of rejections.

To strengthen my pitching skills, I’ve tapped into free online resources. Though I’m nowhere near perfect – if there is such a thing – I’m on my way to getting better.

5) Not Keeping a Tracking System

There are so many instances in which I’ve submitted rejected copy – without corrections or modifications – to the same publication on more than one occasion. The result? Editors of publications in question ran mad and literally banned me from ever making any future submissions.

l attribute this to the lack of an accurate tracking system. This got me to using spreadsheet packages like Excel, which has been very handy in helping me keep track of which publications I submit to, when, what their responses were, etc.

Ever since discovering this tool, I’ve never looked back as l don’t want to make the same mistake ever again. And of course, I don’t submit poorly written copy; polishing it as near to perfection as I can get it before submitting anywhere.

6. Not Proofreading, Editing & Revising My Work

This may seem like an obvious tip, but it can’t be overstated enough. I’ve realized most of the work I’ve been submitting contained a lot of typos and grammatical errors. There can be nothing worse to piss off an editor. Typos reflect badly on the writer for the obvious reason – no care given to their work.

Editing skills are essential to make copy sparkle and become strong.

Lack of revision gives the impression a writer is careless and does not pay full attention to detail. The one lesson learned? Leave the copy for a day or two, then revisit it with a fresh pair of eyes to read and cull it ruthlessly when you come back to it.

Typos that may have slipped in unnoticed can easily be identified and corrected. Reading your work at least twice and rewriting helps produce stronger, tighter copy that’s clear and concise.

One final tip in this area: Where possible, give your work to a third party for critique.

7. Not Following Submission Guidelines

The last thing you want to do as a newbie is ruffle publisher/editor feathers like l did.

Every publication has its own set of rules and guidelines. Somehow when l started, l had this false notion that submission guidelines were standard for every publication. l found no need to read each publication’s. I would just blithely submit copy without first studying the publication’s requirements. This, of course, must surely have riled editors who without hesitation hit “Delete” on my submissions.

I’ve since learned that studying and following religiously every publication’s guidelines before making any query or submissions may be the missing link to a breakthrough. Important as it may sound though, it may still not be enough. You also need to dive deeper to read and study the publication’s top posts so as to get a feel for their style and the theme(s) of their content. This would ensure your writing is tailor-made to the publication’s tastes.

8. lncorrectly Inserting Links

What l learned at college was to write my project or essay, then list all references and links at the tail end of the finished copy. I inadvertently applied this principle when l submitted my articles for publication, assuming this to be the norm for online writing. ln other instances, l never took the trouble to insert any links at all.

In most cases I’ve submitted improperly formatted work with errors. I’ve since learned the hard way that all links should be embedded in the length of the body copy to back up my facts. This ensures rhythm and flow, while also lending authenticity and credibility.

9. Not Creating a Writer’s Website

Without a website of my own. it has been difficult for me to stake a claim as a writer worth his salt.

I established a WordPress site some 5 years ago, which l later abandoned for unknown reasons after writing only two posts. The website is in no way close to reflecting who I am as an active writer. Hence, it’s one more reason it’s been difficult for me to prove I’m serious about freelance writing as a business?

Potential clients don’t hire writers who aren’t serious. They may think you’re going to flake out and not finish an assignment.

I’ve since learned the role having my own, professionally hosted website is. I’m on track to getting one.

10. Working in Isolation

When you think you’re your own best teacher, you’re embarking on a wild goose chase. Instead, you need to learn from successful freelance writers who’ve made it big; the likes of Yuwanda Black, the brains behind this blog; Carol Tice, founder of the Writer’s Den; and Joshua Boswell of AWAI fame, to mention but a few of my role models.

These bloggers, together with many others available online, offer comprehensive mentorship programs and/or online courses at very nominal costs. I’ve latched onto their fountain of expertise to gain a lot of knowledge. I’m certain this would begin to pay dividends in the long run.

11. Not Getting Training

Lack of training has been a single biggest factor that has contributed to my failure to get results. Like in other business spheres, training is a vital component to ensure that you put your best foot forward. And the best part is, you don’t need a degree or a lot of money to get started in copy writing.

An example of this is Yuwanda’s online SEO copy writing. course. She says you’ can be trained in about a week – at an affordable affordable fee.

While getting finance to pay for my training needs has been a challenge, this has not shattered my hopes. There are many free tutorials in the form of e-books available online that I’ve found to get started. In fact, I’ve been on a downloading frenzy trying to soak up all the knowledge I can.

These free resources have not only taught me the basics, like writing a good headline and introduction, but I’m mastering other skills like search engine optimization.

12. Not Investing in Basic Equipment

Starting a freelance writing business requires a small amount of investment in basic equipment, like a computer and an internet connection. From time to time you also need pay maintenance costs for things like laptop repairs and to get software updates.

I’ve been unable to get a basic computer from which to professionally run my business. I still type my articles on an antiquated tablet gadget which has seen better days. I’ve embarked upon saving a small amount every month towards the purchase of a laptop, which doesn’t have to be that sophisticated to start a freelance writing business – thank goodness.


To conclude, in the words of Yuwanda, “Motivation is the key when starting a freelance business.” In this post here on Inkwell Editorial, she writes:

“Get comfortable with rejection; make friends with it; don’t take it personally – and move on. If you don’t have the balls to do this, you’ll quit before you ever experience success as a freelancer.”

Rejection is a learning curve in the writing process. lt fosters a deep sense of critical thinking, which forces one to go the extra mile to evaluate their shortcomings – all in the name of creating content that provides value and resonates with readers. I’ve come to learn that how one handles rejection may indeed be the ultimate tipping point in whether you succeed, or fail, as a freelance writer.

Your Turn?

What mistakes have you made in your quest to become a freelance writer? How did you “fix it?”

About the Author: Nkuleko Sibanda is an aspiring freelance writer. He can be found on Twitter at @ChaukeAnthony.

P.S.: Don’t Wait for Writing Jobs: Here are More Ways to Make Money Writing

P.P.S.: The Quickest, Easiest Way to Start Making Money as a Freelance Writer

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