My 2016 Freelancing Report: 28 Pitches Disappeared into a Black Hole (but I’m okay with that)

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Image Source: Pixabay

I like reading other writers’ submission stats, so I started tracking mine last year when I started submitting more regularly again.

Last year I only submitted for the second half of the year, but this year I had a full year’s worth of numbers to look at. I freelance as a side gig, but I still got a fair amount out there this year.

Numbers Overview:
Pitches/Submissions sent: 96
Acceptances: 25
Straight-up rejections: 40
Black hole (no response, which is probably a no, but maybe they are just holding my pitch, trying to convince the powers that be to give me large amounts of money?): 28
Still waiting on responses: 3
Pieces assigned to me: 4
Total pieces actually published this year: 27 (Some of these were from pitches sent in 2015, and some accepted pieces in 2016 haven’t run yet, but you get the picture).

So assuming the black holes are actually rejections, that means I had an acceptance rate of 27%. Last year my acceptance rate was 19%, so it seems to be increasing, but there are so many factors that affect the rate — what you submit, where you submit, the alignment of the stars, etc. — that the rate seems somewhat arbitrary.

Highlights:
* I broke into some markets I had my eye on this year including Parents, AFAR, and Marie Claire.
* I wrote several humor pieces — 13 of the 27 published pieces were supposed to be for laughs. These included a Quiz (which taught me an important lesson — people don’t like trick questions), a Harper’s Index type list, and some conceptual humor pieces.
*I had set a goal for 3 new markets and I ended up publishing in 13.

Lowlights:
I failed to meet the 2016 goal of a New York Times byline and continued to get rejected by New Yorker Shouts. I also had wanted to do more research-based writing, but I find it really hard to fit in during my free hours of the day, so the quick hit pieces seem more plausible for me now. And I’m okay with that.

Goals:
Rather than focusing on byline goals, I am trying to set submission goals since I can control what I submit, but not what they accept! Some markets on my submit list this year include NYT, New Yorker Shouts, The Cut, and Atlantic. Should be really easy, right?

I also want to work on/learn how to do more humor pieces with graphic or illustration elements. Since my artistic skills are pretty much nonexistent, this should be an interesting challenge.

I’m sure I will continue to accrue rejections or complete silence, but so it goes. Onward.

On Submitting to McSweeney’s

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Photo from Kevin Ball Creative Commons

I developed a soft spot for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency when I first heard about the site when I was living in Brooklyn in the early 2000s. McSweeney’s had a small store which featured things like taxidermy and a book about how to care for your miniature donkey, and I liked the work they were doing, particularly on their quirky humor site.

I sent them my first submission in 2001, and it was rejected. A couple years later I took a humor writing class through Mediabistro, and was inspired to start submitting to them a little more. I got six more rejections. Then in 2005 my first acceptance — an essay about U2’s song “One Tree Hill” for a series they were running about songs.

Since I had accomplished my goal of getting a piece placed with them, I took a break from submitting there. Life got in the way. Then in 2015 I got back into writing and submitting more regularly. I read their site regularly for a while and then sent them a new piece, and it was rejected. Then I sent a second piece, and it was accepted. It was a piece that poked fun of all the contradictory rules that parents hear about how to discipline toddlers. It was my most successful piece for them thus far (and one of my most successful pieces at any publication) and has helped me get other writing assignments.

I decided to submit again last year, and that piece was also accepted. At this point I felt like I had cracked the McSweeney’s code and would have better luck with acceptances — so of course my next four submissions were rejected. But the fifth one was accepted — a imagined note to a kid’s college roommate about things he never grew out of (e.g. needing to be swaddled at night and sleep in an infant swing).

I still really like the site and will probably submit again. I don’t know that I have cracked the code in terms of acceptances — they can be a tough site to publish in. But reading what they regularly publish and being persistent seem to be the things that have worked for me.

 

Toddler Discipline Humor

This piece went up on McSweeney’s in July 2015 and it spent several weeks on the “Popular” list on the site. Apparently others are also confused by toddler discipline rules.

 

Do you have a toddler? Are you confused by all the advice on how to discipline him or her? Here is a set of guidelines collected from various experts and interweb pages to make your life easier.

Language

Your child just threw a shoe at your head. Ignore it. They just want attention. Don’t ignore it. It needs to be addressed. Your toddler deserves respect and to be treated like an adult. Use a calm tone to explain why you don’t enjoy having Crocs in your face. Your toddler is not an adult and doesn’t understand complex sentences. Talk like a cave woman: “No Croc in face.” A calm tone doesn’t convey how serious you are, so use a stern but polite Mom voice: “PLEASE, NO CROCS IN MY FACE!”

Food

Only offer your toddler what you eat for dinner. Don’t be a short order cook. When they refuse and claim they are hungry an hour later say, “You had a chance to eat that bone marrow and charred octopus at dinner time and now you are hungry. This is your natural consequence.” Be a short order cook. Continue reading.

Old School Gamify Your Household Chores

Writer’s note: I think I may have gone too niche on this one, but perhaps it will give fans of 80s arcade games a laugh.

8246345904_99d6c4b14c_bPhoto credit: Proudlove via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Do Fitbit badges motivate you to walk your dog around the block instead of taking your Segway? Did that work competition for a $5 Taco Bell gift card make you to fill out the best expense report ever? It sounds like you are motivated by games, and I’m guessing your house is a mess. Try these simple DIY ideas to gamify your chores!

Prep:

Buy a poster board, set of sharpies, and a sheet of stickers you are drawn to (gold stars, smiley faces, scratch and sniff dill pickles). Use the materials to create a leaderboard for members of your household.

Now, gamify!

Ms. Pac-Man:

Staple a pink ribbon to a corn tortilla and cut out a triangle mouth. Hot glue Ms. Pac man to your vacuum. Throw some Corn Pops and a pretzel on the floor. Vacuum them up.

Donkey Kong:

Borrow a monkey. Cut down a tree. Carve several small, intricate barrels from the tree trunk. Teach the monkey to stand at the stop of the stairs and throw barrels at you while you sweep the steps.

Tetris:

Pretend your dishes are Tetris blocks. Load your dishwasher.

Q*bert

Stack all the boxes from your recycling in your living room. Jump on top of every box. Clean up the boxes and the rest of your living room. Take out your recycling.

Frogger:

Get a frog (check a pond). Draw an intricate scene involving cars, logs, and turtles on your bathtub. Put the frog in the bathtub. Scrub off your drawings.

Check the leaderboard:

You: 5 stickers. Your cat: 0

Awards Ceremony:

Fashion a victory sword out of tinfoil and dance around with it in front of your cat. Ignore his disinterested look — cats are sore losers. Clean out his litterbox.

2015 Writing Year in Review

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Image from Pixabay

I love this post that Lola Akinmade Åkerström put together breaking down her stats for freelancing in 2015, and was inspired to write my own version of a year end writing review.

I started writing and submitting again in the summer of 2015 after a long break from it after I had my first son in 2011. I had tried submitting a little here and there in the intervening years, but hadn’t really made much of an effort.

The break seemed to help on a lot of levels. I looked at some essays I had written previously with fresh eyes — some I weren’t interested in anymore and others I still really liked and wanted to revise and submit.

Also, the amount of online markets to submit to and resources for submitting has increased dramatically. Resources I found like Beyond Your Blog and the corresponding podcasts and Facebook group have helped so much with submitting leads, tips, and a supportive community of writers.

I submitted to a wide range of markets in 2015 — lit magazines, print magazines, and websites. I did some pitching and a fair amount of submitting on spec since the latter is more common with essay and humor writing.

So here is my Harper’s Index type year in review of my 2015 writing stats:

Date of first submission for the year: May 11, 1015

Last time I had submitted a piece of writing prior to 2015: July 24, 2013

Date of first rejection this year: May 21, 2015

Date of first acceptance: June 18, 2015

Longest it took an editor to get back to me with interest in a pitch: 2 1/2 months

Total pieces published (or accepted and yet to run): 16

Total new markets published in: 10

Total pitches sent: 12

Pitches rejected: 6

Pitches never responded to: 1

Pitches still reasonably waiting on a response on: 2

Pitches accepted: 3

Percentage pitches accepted (total minus 2 still “reasonably waiting”): 30%

Total spec submissions: 87

Spec rejected: 43

Spec I withdrew: 9

Spec never responded to: 20

Spec submitted and still reasonably waiting for response: 2

Spec accepted: 13

Percentage spec accepted (total minus withdrawn and reasonably still waiting): 17%

So looking at the basic numbers, it seems like I’m having better luck with pitching percentage-wise. But some of these spec submission numbers are for lit magazines which I typically simultaneously submit to so that’s why the numbers are so high (and why the withdraw rate is high when something gets accepted).

I also write a lot of short satire pieces that often require spec submissions and often get rejected or accepted at shockingly fast rates, so that ups the numbers in the spec department.

Overall, I was really happy with the work I got out there in 2015. I published in some markets that had been on my wish list and in some new formats I wanted to branch out into.