Guest Interview Rejection in Academia Discussion
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Guest Interview Rejection in Academia Discussion
After viewing this guest interview, what questions or reflections do you have that could be discussed in the next Live Session?
Hello, nice working with you again!
This is the transcript-
Thanks so much for joining me for this interview.
Thanks for having me.
I’d like to start by just hearing a little bit about you for the benefit of the students. And if you could also tell us a bit about what you do in your current position.
Sure. So I’ve been a journalist for about 12 years. I’m kind of an accidental business journalist.
So I started out in journalism thinking that I would go into politics, or culture, or something of that nature. And it turns out the only jobs were in business journalism.
Over time, though, I think I really have come to enjoy it. I’ve learned that at the heart of every story is a story about a human being. And those are usually fascinating.
So my current position– I’m the managing editor of inc.com, which is the website of Inc magazine. So we cover startups, fast-growing small businesses, and what you need to know, basically, to be a successful entrepreneur.
So I do a little bit of everything. Some writing and reporting, some editing, and some events, some speaking. And, yeah.
So what does a managing editor do, specifically. Or what does that mean?
So what it means at Inc, anyway– it might mean different things at different publications. But basically, I have a hand in sort of shaping our editorial coverage. So deciding on a day to day basis what’s worth jumping on and writing a news story on, and what do we need to plan for, say, next quarter, or even a year from now.
- So I’d love to hear a little bit about how you kind of make those decisions, and how you evaluate pitches.
Sure. So we work with a lot of freelancers. And often– and this might be relevant for your audience. Often these, are business owners themselves who now want to write about their own experiences.
So when we evaluate pitches from freelancers, the sort of biggest question I think on an editor’s mind is, who are you? Why should we trust you, and especially on this particular topic. I would say that’s probably the first crucial question.
The second crucial question is, why this topic right now. So there’s an element of timeliness. And I think it varies from publication to publication, what timeliness means, whether that’s something we need to jump on today, in the next few hours, or whether it’s something that’s still relevant, you know, four or five days from now.
But those are probably the two biggest questions when we’re evaluating pitches. We want to know, are you the most authoritative person on this topic. And is this topic of relevance to our audience right now.
- So I’m curious. For a psychology graduate student, or a psychology graduate in a career and a professional, if they wanted to start writing for non-academic outlets, like what advice would you give them?
Yeah. I would say first and foremost, develop a voice and a point of view. There’s so much noise out there. There’s so many people who have something to say and want to publish, especially online.
And so, you know, the most important way to distinguish yourself is to bring something fresh to whatever topic you’re writing about. So if you’re coming at it completely cold, and you’ve never published in the popular press before, I think it’s helpful to you know, maybe make a list of your ideal publications, where you would want to publish.
And put those in a hierarchy of sort of easiest to break into, and hardest to break into. So don’t aim for the New York Times right off the bat.
Oh, darn it.
And then, if you have no web presence, when you’re starting out, I think that’s also a critical place to start. This doesn’t mean you need to become the world’s most frequent tweeter. But it does mean that when an editor puts your name into Google, they should pull up a fairly fleshed-out profile. And they could figure out quickly who you are, what you’re an expert on, and where you’ve published.
So I think LinkedIn can be really useful for these purposes, just to have a very detailed LinkedIn profile. I think for an academic, you can give a little bit of insight into your area of research. So people know where your expertise lies.
A personal website is always a good idea, particularly if you have the time and inclination to write your own blog, that can be extremely helpful for editors who are evaluating you. Because then there’s already a body of work online, ideally written sort of for a popular audience. And they can very quickly, at a glance, see what kinds of topics you write about.
So I would start there. And then of course, there’s the art of pitching an editor, which is kind of its own genre of writing.
And so, this does take a little bit of practice. But typically, these queries are very short. And I think this may be one– you would be better at telling me this. But I think this might be a big difference between the popular press and the academic press.
Typically, when you’re pitching in an editor, you, in the popular press, you have not written the piece yet. Whereas, I think, if I remember correctly, in academic publishing, often you’re writing the piece first. And then shopping it around.
Yes. Unless you’re writing a book proposal, which is a separate sort of thing.
Right. So, yeah. In the popular press, editors want to sort of have a hand in shaping what you’re writing. Because they know their audience. They know what works on their website.
So this is why they prefer a pitch letter as opposed to a fully written piece. They can give you guidance along the way.
So in terms of pitching an editor, I mean, knowing the publication, where you want to pitch, is absolutely crucial. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a pitch from a writer saying, you know, I’d like to write on such and such topic. This is extremely relevant right now.
But they haven’t done the basic work of doing a Google search to see if we’ve already written on that topic. And so that can sort of cancel out your pitch right off the bat, if you haven’t done that first step.
But you know, if you don’t have an established profile or body of work, you know, the first thing your pitch letter needs to do is establish who you are and why you’re an authority on that topic. If you’ve done original research on that topic, that’s fantastic. And you should make that a pretty important part of your pitch. That should be high up in your letter.
I would say the second most important thing in your pitch letter– and we’re talking, this is just in a couple of paragraphs.
I was just going to ask you how long these pitch letters typically are.
Yeah, I would say, if you can keep it to two, maybe three paragraphs. That’s the most you would want to send.
These are editors who get hundreds of emails a day. And so your main goal is to not go immediately to their trash bin.
I appreciate the forthrightness.
It happens. So you know, after you establish kind of who you are and why you’re the best person to write on this topic, there’s then the task of saying, you know, why this topic right now for your publication.
So you really want a sense of urgency. And this is where the question of timeliness comes in. And it really depends on your goal as a writer.
If you really want to make publishing in the popular press a big goal, then you should set aside time to try to write on timely topics. But that means a very fast turnaround.
So that could be, depending on whatever the topic is, if you’re, say, responding to something that happened in the news, an editor might want to see a draft, you know, by the end of the day, or maybe the next day.
Oh, wow. OK.
So I think that’s another crucial difference. When I’ve spoken to academics before about publishing in the popular press, defining what’s timely is a big difference.
You know, we’re operating on a news cycle that never stops. And so, I think determining kind of what your bandwidth is, and how quickly you can turn around a draft is really important in terms of shaping what kind of pitches you send.
How important is it for a person to have completed graduate school, for instance? You know? Because in the academic world, there’s these degree milestones. And you have access to certain opportunities, only once you’ve crossed those thresholds. But that doesn’t mean that a student who’s in graduate school, you know, doesn’t have something to say or contribute. So does that matter?
Or how does that impact the pitch, I guess?
I think there’s room for graduate students to publish. Obviously, you know, degrees can help. But you know, the thing about writing on the web is it has completely democratized who can publish. And I think if you can successfully make the case for why you are an expert on a certain subject matter– and usually, that would involve citing research you’ve done, citing maybe where you’ve published elsewhere, even if it’s an academic press. I think, depending on the publication, it’s not necessarily a black mark against you.
So on that note, thinking about students who are nearing the end of their school, or maybe fresh out of school, in academia for sure, rejection is part of the process of publishing. And I think that’s just a general, if I’m correct– I think that’s a general part of the writing publication process in general.
So I’d be curious to hear, if you’re comfortable sharing, kind of in your own professional journey, how you have coped with that, and how you have persisted. And then also if there’s any advice you might have for our students who might be considering writing for the popular press.
Yeah. You’re absolutely right. Rejection is a big part of publishing. In my own experience, I’ve experienced rejection both on staff, working at a publication, and your ideas get rejected by editors. And I’ve also been rejected as a freelance contributor.
And I think experiencing rejection so much makes, or has made clear to me, anyway, that I can’t be too precious about my ideas. So I may have developed what I think is a brilliant idea for an upcoming article.
And an editor might immediately poke holes in that idea. And essentially, my value as a journalist does not lie in that one particular idea. And my value as a writer.
So what’s helped me cope, in any case, is to realize that an idea is just an idea. And to the extent that I can become proficient at coming up with more ideas, the more success I’m going to have.
I think the other crucial thing is to try to learn when you’re rejected. Now this can be challenging as a freelancer, because editors aren’t always going to offer an explanation as to why they didn’t accept your pitch.
But depending on the tone, if you’ve got a bit of a rapport, or a conversation going online, I wouldn’t be afraid to ask, why didn’t this pitch work for you? Does it not work for you right now? Or is the idea completely off base?
The more you can learn what a particular publication wants, and what a particular editor wants, the more success you’re going to have.
But it really takes that kind of being able to receive a rejection, or critical feedback, and then turn around and ask those questions.
Which is sometimes hard to do when the rejection stings.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think maybe, learning not to take it personally, which is much harder to actually internalize.
But you never know what’s happening on the other end. I’ve been in situations where we’re ready to commission a freelance article. And then something changes on the advertising side. We lose the spot in the magazine for a particular piece. And it had nothing to do whatsoever with the writer.
So you just, you never know what’s happening on the other side.
Yeah, that’s a really good point. I’ll just imagine that every time, if I get a rejection.
I’ll just assume that’s what’s happening. So, as we move towards wrapping up, I guess, on the topic of pitching, what’s the most common mistake people make when pitching a story to you?
That’s a good question. I think not getting to the point fast enough is a problem. And not having a point of view that adds to the conversation.
So just because you’re an expert on a topic, and you can write something thoughtful, does not mean that you should write the piece. And I think that that can be sort of hard to– that might be a hard piece of feedback to hear.
But like I said, there are so many ways to publish. And so many people can get published these days that, as an editor, I’m really looking for someone who has a fresh perspective, will teach me something I didn’t know, and may surprise me.
And so, that voice and perspective is so, so important when you’re pitching.
That’s really helpful. That makes sense.
So I have a broader question, now. Kind of a more sociocultural question. And I’m curious what it’s like to be a journalist in this time where we hear “fake news” being used as a buzz word, and in different ways, politicized. And this whole notion of just trustworthiness of the press. And I would love to hear your thoughts about what that’s like, and if you see any trends or ways to productively move forward.
That’s a great question. In terms of my experience of it, it’s obviously frustrating to see that this term, “fake news”, has become so prevalent. And it’s sort of thrown out there as a sort of a quick explanation for why one shouldn’t trust a story.
Certainly, the onus is on journalists right now to maintain and protect our credibility. I think it’s never been more crucial to get a story right.
I think, with the ease of the internet, it’s so easy to update a story now, if there’s an error, or if you forgot to include something. But my general principle is, the more you need to touch a story to correct things, the more credibility you lose.
So I think, certainly for journalists right now, we absolutely need to get our stories right. I also think that diversity of sources has never been more important.
And I mean, this is just sort of a general principle in journalism. You should always evaluate, you know, do you have enough of a plethora of viewpoints when you’re trying to tell a story. But certainly, when people are looking for ways to discredit your work, you need to cover your bases and make sure that your own biases are not unduly shaping a story.
And you know, we’re all human beings. I think it’s a fallacy to assume that a story will be completely void of a perspective. We certainly strive for objectivity, but again, we’re human beings. We bring to a story our own background and experiences.
But what we can control is the number of people we talk to, and who we talk to. You know, in terms of how to move forward, I think that that’s a great question.
I think just getting the story right, and continuing to search for the truth are pretty much the best tools we have as journalists. That and encouraging civil discourse.
Yeah. Well, thanks so much for sharing your perspective. Is there anything else we haven’t talked about that in thinking about our graduate students in psychology, who, the course, being about scientific writing, part of our interview is really to think outside of the box, outside of the academic box, anyway, and explore other avenues for communication. So is there anything else you think could be helpful for them to know, or that you wanted to share?
Well, I know I’ve spoken with a few other academics about publishing in the popular press. And I think, done in the right way, it can be something that sort of bolsters the academic side of your writing.
I worked with one academic in particular who has used publishing in the popular press as a way to develop new courses. It’s almost a way to sort of test themes for the way he teaches, or test themes for a new book, or a new article.
So I think it can be sort of this ecosystem of a way to just sort of engage in more ideas and bolster your way of thinking and writing on both sides. And so I would encourage anyone who has the inclination to certainly try it and see what comes of it.
Thanks so much, Lindsay. I really enjoyed our conversation.
You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.
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