I wrote an article no one wanted
No, not this one, a different one (that’d be too meta).
I thought the article was awesome. On point, with a point. Totally valuable to the people who would read it. Written in a voice I felt was honest, and in a way that told a compelling story.
And sure, I typically think all of that for at least a few minutes until my inner critic tells me it’s awful and people will unsubscribe or unfollow or send hate-mail after reading it. But before the critic piped up, I thought this article felt too awesome to just live on my website, which doesn’t get as much traffic as say… The Huffington Post, The New York Times, Fast Company, LifeHacker, Forbes, Inc., or Smashing Magazine.
This was the article that would launch 100,000 book sales for me, or so I thought.
So I pitched it to the big, relevant, abovely-noted (not a real word, but you get what I mean) publications. All of them. Actually, it was about 20 publications, not just the abovely-noted ones.
I got kind of sweaty at the prospect, because what if one of them wanted to run it? Most of them have run articles I’ve written, so it wasn’t too much of a long shot. Plus, I get sweaty when I write (which is puzzling and annoying).
I waited a few hours, checking email every few minutes. No response.
Then I waited a few days. No response.
After a week of waiting (I hate playing the waiting the game, I’d rather play Hungry, Hungry Hippos), it was time to give up on those pitches. I found 20 additional publications to pitch the article to. Not as big in terms of following or author cache as the first 20, but still amazing publications with much bigger audiences than I have. Once again I waited. Hours. Days. A week.
“Maybe the article is awful” I started to think.
“Maybe these publications see me for hack I am” said my inner critic (jerk).
In a last ditch effort, I pitched it to a friend who has guest posts and a big site, but I didn’t even hear back from them for a week (even though I see them tweeting hourly). “Not right for the website” they eventually said. This was the only response I got.
I ended up posting the article on my own website and then tweeted about it (which was the start and finish of my shitty promotion plan for it).
I assumed it wouldn’t go over well. Because why would my readers want to read it if no publications even bothered to reply to tell me how much they hated it? I post it anyway because I still think it’s (partially, at this point) awesome and valuable.
Then the article gets read.
First by a few people, then by more. Then someone with a big following promotes it, then a few different publications contact me to see if they can repost it on their own sites. And it gets traction and gets a little popular. It gets up-voted on HackerNews (until those assholes remove it from their front-page because they have their own editorial agenda).
It ends up being read by a lot of people. 100,000 book sales did not happen, but there was a small and noticeable increase in sales for a day (woo!).
The first part, about not hearing back on pitches, happens practically every time I write and pitch something — a handful of times, it hasn’t. The second part, about an article getting popular, happens only once in a while.
I write and/or pitch articles to publications and get no response all the time. It doesn’t matter if a month prior I wrote an article for them that they published, which received loads of comments and views.
They’re busy, underpaid, overworked, and have too many emails to get through in a day. But they’re the gatekeepers of those publications.
I can publish whatever I want on my own site and it might become popular (or not). I can publish whatever I want on any other platform that allows anyone to publish anything. And those articles might get popular or they might not.
The point is that I keep writing.
Sure, I’ll pitch articles I think are a fit to publications that I think would like to run with them, but I don’t let it stop me if they turn me down (usually via deafening silence).
If they don’t want my writing, it can live elsewhere. And if no one reads, likes, shares, whatever’s it—that’s fine too. That just means next time I’ll try to write more valuable pieces.
I just keep writing.
The more I write, the more likely it is that my writing will provide value to the people that read it. And that can happen on someone else’s publication or my own website. And more importantly, it can happen for one person or more than one person. Either way, it’s a win.
I’m not attached to the idea of my writing becoming the next big thing (well, there is that nagging ego of mine...), I just like sharing what I notice.
I’m only attached to doing more writing. Because that’s all I can control, right now, in this moment. Not who could read it, but that the article is there, just in case someone wants it one day. Wherever it happens to be (or not be) published.
Hi, I'm Paul Jarvis. I write a weekly newsletter called the Sunday Dispatches where I share articles about working and living online with 35k subscribers: