The Editor Rejected Your Article. What Now?

Aspen New Voices
7 min readAug 8, 2018

Who doesn’t feel at least a little bit discouraged when an editor rejects an article you’ve pitched to them? This may especially be true if the article is very personal to you or is about a topic to which you devote your life!

When that “no thanks” email comes, (or when your initial pitch and follow-up emails are met with silence), it can be hard not to take it personally and feel like they are rejecting you. But many time, editors will reject pieces for unrelated reasons.

1) Maybe they just published a piece with a similar argument or a piece tied to the same newshook (this is why it can be important to read the recent op-eds published at an outlet you’re targeting to make sure this doesn’t happen).

2) Maybe it’s too long or not written in the style they want (this is another reason why it’s good to read pieces from the sites you pitch so you know what they want).

3) Maybe they need to focus their limited space on more pressing news stories.

4) Maybe they are under-staffed and while they may like your piece, if it will require editing and they don’t have the staff capacity, they may pass on it.

And there are plenty of other reasons why your piece may be rejected that don’t mean it’s a bad article.

Thus, in addition to knowing what’s been published on this topic already and making sure your piece meets the requirements of the site/s you pitch, it’s important to not give up! It didn’t work at this outlet? Try another one! Time is passing? Update your newshook and try again at a new outlet!

All of Aspen Institute’s New Voices Fellows have dealt with rejection at least once, and four of the members of our Alumni Council have generously agreed to share their experiences and advice!

Dr. Gulrez Shah Azhar (2017 NVF), Policy Researcher at RAND Corporation

The very first op-ed I wrote was a general piece about India’s heat vulnerability. I had just started the fellowship and I was really excited about my first piece getting published. But after a prolonged exchange in the editing process with my mentor Bee, there was no news of it getting accepted anywhere. Months passed in silence. I thought, “Maybe no one cares.”

With no news of its acceptance and publication, I started to become despondent. I had so many plans for the future, but my rocket did not even take off! I worried that perhaps writing op-eds wasn’t in me.

And then, out of the blue, one fine morning it was there, on the editorial page, across all editions, of the world’s largest selling English language daily — The Times of India — with 7.5 million readers. My social media accounts were on fire. It was shared across Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. My phone and Whatsapp wouldn’t stop ringing. That night, directly because of my op-ed, I went on national NDTV during primetime for half an hour to speak about the topic. Whenever I think of it I still cannot believe it, even now.

Gulrez on NDTV

My advice to fellows is to persist. Keep writing, keep sending your pitches to editors. Patience and persistence is the name of the game. Even if it is hard to get one op-ed placed, if you look at the bigger picture, that trouble is momentary. In the end, it all adds up, and your overall body of work will speak for itself. Later op-eds will be easier to pitch and place.

ElsaMarie D’Silva, Co-founder and CEO of Safecity

Once I wrote an article that I hoped the Guardian would publish. When they finally responded, they said they didn’t want to publish it, but instead they wanted to interview me. I was a bit upset that my article was not accepted at first, but the interview turned out to be a hit. It resulted in wide publicity for my work and it was read by many people. And I ended up successfully pitching the article to another outlet.

Elsa’s interview for the Guardian

I’ve learned that rejection could be due to various reasons — the topic might not be relevant to the media outlet; the timing may not be right; or they may have just featured a piece like yours. Therefore, try to not personalize the rejection but persevere in your efforts to get the piece published — and is always a back-up option. Your insights and opinions are important and there are people who want to know more.

Dr. Esther Ngumbi, Distinguished Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Entomology, University of Illinois

After the U.S. president called countries like mine “s — — holes,” I wrote an op-ed about it. I still remember doing my best to meet the nuances that come with a time-sensitive op-ed, which was made harder by my travels out of the country at the time. I managed to beat both hurdles and submit the piece — only to be met by a rejection by the first outlet. “No — we cannot use your op-ed.”

It was the first email I read after stepping out of an eight-hour long plane ride. I was sad, and I thought about giving up. Hours later though, I said to myself, “Hmm, Esther, just because this outlet does not like it, it does not mean it isn’t good. Try another outlet.”

I took my own advice, and this time, I shot for an even bigger outlet — -I decided to pitch USA Today. The editor had previously rejected a different piece I pitched, but I had kept her contact information. And behold, the editor accepted it this time and published my piece, with only minor edits.

Esther’s USA Today op-ed

My advice is to never, ever be discouraged. Someone’s trash is another person’s treasure! Just sleep it over.

Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa, Esq. CEO of Financial Sector Deepening Uganda

I once wrote an article that I was very pleased with and pitched it to Project Syndicate. They said no. I was a bit upset as it was one of the top outlets where I wished to be published. Several months later, just last month in fact, they accepted a different article of mine. It will be published soon. I’m happy about that.

Watch this space for Jacqueline’s forth-coming op-ed!

Rejection is part and parcel of the process. Although I get upset/frustrated when I get rejected, it does force me to think about why and how to improve next time. The positive thing is that “one person’s poison is another person’s cup of tea” in that one publication might reject it, but another will pick up the piece. Regardless of where the piece is published, practicing writing and testing one’s thoughts is rewarding in and of itself.

Sathya Raghu V. Mokkapati, Co-Founder of Kheyti and CosmosGreen

In December 2017, I wrote a passionate piece about how women’s life can change quite dramatically with better land rights. Land is not just an asset, it also is an opportunity for people to pull themselves out of poverty. If you give a woman a fish, you feed her for a day; if you teach a woman to fish and you feed her for a lifetime. But who owns the pond? This was the essential theme of what I wrote, with definite and practical solutions. I really thought that this piece would fly easily with the outlets. It took me 4 months of follow up, edits, changes etc., to finally place it with Reuters for International Women’s Day in March 2018.

In less than a week later, CNBC conducted a live program with me during prime time to discuss this issue and more than 25 senior activists and government officials reached out to me about the topic. The work is not done yet, but it certainly has begun.

Sathya on CNBC!

I also realised that not all those who wander are lost. Not all the delays in OpEds are bad.

When facing rejection, we should remember that we are certainly experts in our work. Acceptance means that we can amplify our voice today. Rejection means that we can do it later. But a rejection is no moral judgment on our competence or expertise or articulation capability.



Aspen New Voices

A groundbreaking initiative designed to bring more expert voices from the developing world into the global development discussion.