Can’t Get Published? Freelance Writers, Stop Doing This…

can't get published freelancers writing If you can’t get published, you’re making mistakes. Freelance writers, here are the top reasons I don’t assign articles – and sometimes don’t even return emails from writers.

These tips will help you get your articles (and perhaps books) published…but only if you take a cold, hard look at your own writing.

Before the tips, a quip:

“If you want to be creative in your company, your career, your life, all it takes is one easy step…the extra one. When you encounter a familiar plan, you just ask one question: ‘What ELSE could we do?’” ~ Dale Dauten.

If you think you’re doing everything you can to get published, ask yourself what one little thing you could do to take your writing career a step further. Sometimes getting published means getting back to basics! Read Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (Second Edition) by Moira Anderson – she’s a professional freelance writer who’s written a few bestselling books on writing.

If You Can’t Get Published…

Last month, I started hiring writers for my Quips and Tips blogs. The following tips include the gist (not the real words) of actual emails, article pitches, articles writers have sent me.

But before I jump into the examples from writers, I have to share one of the most important things I’ve learned as an editor…

Learn how to use transitions in your writing

Writers who can’t get published use bad grammar, improperly capitalized titles, spelling mistakes, and run on sentences. As an editor who gets several article pitches a day, I see it ALL the time. So, it should go without saying that freelancers need to improve their writing skills if they want to earn money writing!

I’m shocked at how many people call themselves writers…and they can’t write.

If you want to stand out as a smart, experienced, professional freelance writer, work on your transitions. Writing articles for Quips and Tips is challenging because I require a quip (quotation) at the beginning of each article. It requires skill, time, and thought to weave that quip into the article and use it to flow into the tips. That’s a transition — and it goes beyond using “so”, “however”, “in contrast” and “on the other hand.”

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Learning that skill – transitioning from one thought to another without losing or confusing your readers – will improve your writing skills immensely and help you get published.

Focus on the magazine’s needs, not your craving to get published

Here’s the gist of an email from a freelance writer who wants to write for Quips and Tips: “I think writing for your publication will increase my online presence and help me get published in bigger, better magazines. Plus, I need the money.”

Um, maybe you should try a different approach? Like telling the editor what you like about the magazine and how your article can make it better? Or, how your articles will complement the content, style, and direction of the publication? Don’t tell the editor what getting published means to you, tell her what getting published means to the publication.

If you can’t get published in magazines (or on little blogs like Quips and Tips), you need to change your approach. Read Writing for Magazines – How to Get Published for New Writers – it’s not just for beginners.

Accept the editor’s decision not to publish your article with grace

From a freelancer who doesn’t agree with my decision not to publish the first article idea he pitched: “You think this idea is to general? It’s not any worse than any of the other stuff on your Quips and Tips sites. Those ideas are too general, if you ask me.”

This writer doesn’t obviously doesn’t realize I want to take Quips and Tips in a new, more interesting direction! If he wants to get published, he needs to roll with my decisions. A two-way conversation may be appropriate when we’ve established a working relationship (ie, I’ve published several articles by him) – but even then, it’s wise to tread softly with editors. Sometimes they’re PMSing, and that can affect your future with the publication.

Don’t threaten the editor or tell her how to do her job

From a writer who really really wants to get published: “I spent a lot of time working on these article ideas. In return, I hope you give them the time and thought they deserve.”

My friends, the risk of being a freelance writer and pitching article ideas is that you have to spend time preparing your proposal! That’s the cost of doing business as a freelancer. Even if you don’t get published, you’re still learning and growing as a writer – and you can use that pitch elsewhere. So, don’t tell editors how to do their jobs. Focus on doing yours.

Edit your article without complaining

From a writer who wrote an article with four writing tips, but refused to expand them from one sentence to two or three: “You want me to describe the tips in more detail? Nah. I think they make sense the way they are.”

Remember that the editor wants to publish the best possible articles, so readers keep coming back to the publication. It’s in your best interests to work with editors and learn from them! If your articles are interesting and well-written, then you have a far greater chance of getting more article assignments.

For more tips, read How to Pitch a Query Letter to Magazine Editors by Sharon Hurley Hall – a professional freelance writer.

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Are you wrestling with the “can’t get published” beast? Have you taken a cold, hard look at why you aren’t getting more assignments?

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20 thoughts on “Can’t Get Published? Freelance Writers, Stop Doing This…

  • Gregory

    I once pitched an idea for an article to a county magazine who had already accepted a piece from me before only to be told they weren’t interested. Imagine my consternation when browsing through the magazine section in Sainsburys a month later, my idea was on the front cover! I was flattered. It clearly wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

  • nancy austin

    Look, I hear you and appreciate your experience. However, breaking in is very difficult for writers who don’t have top notch credentials. Nobody does in the beginning although I think personal projects should count. Yet, we’ve all learned it’s unwise to list the chat book you self published or the four websites for which you created all the content. They don’t want to hear about the decade you spent as a feature poet for the spoken word stage. So, you wind up with a lifetime of creative experience no one can respect or accept. Also, tell them the truth. If you are not a stuck up literary type, you’ll never get published. Only the most studious of writers such as L.J. Smith and Dr. Seuss will ever be published. Hard work means nothing to editors. Basically, you’re asking for some big cover letter when you don’t want to hear about our so called accomplishments. Just be bold and blunt. Tell us up front you only publish well known authors. Be honest and keep us informed of the fact so to speak concerning the practice of ignoring any writer who is shy in their cover letter regardless of how good the manuscript is in taste and volume. You certainly don’t base your choices on whether or not it’s the worst thing you’ve ever published. Don’t forget, unless you have an EGO you will not likely be published. Those of us who have been instructed early on to bow before you on the red carpet of the literary world finish last. So, listen kiddies, piss an editor off today!

  • Amandah

    I had an editor reject an article idea, but he gave me the opportunity to pitch him another idea. I appreciated his feedback on my first attempt. It made me think about my story angles and question if they’re truly unique.

  • Andrea Costantine

    The responses are both sad and entertaining at the same time.

    It’s fascinating that so many people think they are “right.” It’s even more fascinating when they voice it to someone they are seeking to build a relationship with. I have heard this so many times, especially about writers. I realize people get attached to their work, but feedback and constructive criticism is the only way to grow as a writer.

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I totally agree, Aidy! My Reader’s Digest editor would (almost) rip my articles to pieces…and I learned SO MUCH from her.

    Freelance writers, if you can’t get published, start getting feedback and critiques on your writing. It could make all the difference in the world.

  • AIDY

    One thing, I believe, many writers never get enough of is criticism. Criticism, if done constructively, remains a powerful tool for every type of writer.

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen Post author

    Thanks Uppal, I appreciate your comments.

    Good point about writers being sensitive. My sister always used to say, “Stop being so sensitive!” — but that’s who I am. Why would I want to stop being who I am?


    Thanks for the article.How admirably and effotlessly you make a transition from one sentence to the other. A great plus point in your writing style!
    Writers, I think are very sensitive human beings and developing a thick skin must be hugely ardous for them.No wonder some potentially good ones fade away prematurely.
    But hats off to your patience, goodwill and welcoming approach.May your tribe increase!

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen Post author

    Thanks, Rachel, you made my day! This “Can’t Get Published?” article was fun to write…and I hope it helps freelance writers.

    Delena ~I haven’t heard of Howett or her reaction to an online book review! Must ask Google…

    And yes, I agree that thick skin is a prerequisite to getting published.

  • Delena Silverfox


    Wow, some of these responses you received actually made my eyebrows disappear into my hair line. Of course, anyone in writing circles has heard about Jacqueline Howett’s reaction to an online book review, and she will take the cake for a while, but still.

    Being gracious and understanding that, after the last word is written, a piece of writing ceases to be “your baby” and now becomes a “written work,” there’s a difference in how you approach your baby from a piece awaiting publication.

    Writers, those silly, starving artists, need to grow some thicker skin.


  • Rachel Zant

    This is hysterical Laurie! I love your writing style BTW… and I can’t believe that these are true examples of emails from your writers. (I DO believe, but am shocked!) Kudos to you for your patience and grace, and the kind way you profiled these people.

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen Post author

    Johnny ~ I’ve been meaning to write an article on how to write transitions, and now I have a reason! Will write it within a week, and post the link here.

    And I don’t know what you call yourself if you don’t feel like you’re a writer, but you’re writing a book. A “writer in progress”, perhaps? 🙂

    I was comfortable calling myself a writer when I started getting paid to write. Not before that, though. That’s just me!

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen Post author

    Thanks for your comments…I think that freelance writing and getting published is MUCH easier than writers think. Don’t get me wrong – it’s hard to break into magazines and get paid to write. But, you have to be professional and businesslike if you really want to succeed.

    Most of the examples above are simple business practices, I think. Your editors are your CLIENTS, and you have to be as professional as possible at all times.

  • Kate

    Wow! And I thought I had a people problem! Too funny, how some have these folks applied and decided against constructive criticism!

  • Bianca

    Wow! Whenever I read things like this, I always think their can’t be people out there that do these things. I don’t know much but I know insulting the editor is not the way to go!

  • Johnny

    I’m one of those writers who can’t write. I told my friends not to call me a writer but they said I’m writing a novel, if not a writer what should they call me? So my question to you is what should they call me? Haha.

    I’m also weak at transitions. Do you have any tips how I can improve it?

  • George Angus


    I always thought that being a writer was hard work. I’ve changed my mind. Being an editor who has to deal with writers has GOT to be the toughest job around.

    Some of the things that you point out here, in terms of what writers say/do just blows me away and makes me a little embarrassed to call myself a writer.



  • Sharon Hurley Hall

    This gave me a laugh, Laurie, and took me back to my days as an editor. Some writers find it hard to take criticism, but I think a thick skin is a good quality for a freelance writer or blogger to have.

    Thanks for the mention, too. 🙂