Nobody Cares What You Have to Say—That’s a Good Thing
Trying to get your work published often feels like calling out into the void, which can be disheartening, but also incredibly freeing.
Then, as Covid-19 shrank the outside world and simultaneously expanded my virtual one, I had an epiphany: Publishing essays was the only part of my platform I had any control over, and if I wanted to get back to short-form, I’d have to relearn it. I attended every webinar and editor panel and writing class I could find; if it was free, and sometimes if it wasn’t, I was there. I wrote emails at my day job in insurance with one eye on Zoom. I took frantic, scribbled notes, as if I could somehow learn how to put my tender writer self back in the firing line and stay there until I succeeded. I signed up for newsletters with pitch calls and advice, joined freelancer groups on social media, and generally spent months absorbing as much education as possible.
Finally, I began pitching with new vigor, developing as many ideas as possible and sending them out to anyone I thought might dig them. And about fifteen or twenty rejections in, I realized that I could flip my fear on its head, even embrace it. When I fussed over a pitch or panicked about embarrassing myself with an idea that might be a dud, I’d remind myself: Nobody cares.
Editors often don’t even have the time to reject the pitches they don’t want—hence the ghosting that’s ever-more prevalent—let alone the brain space to remember them and attach your name to them. The only way an editor is likely to remember my pitch is if (A) they like it (yay!) or (B) I was unprofessional or mean or laughably rude (unlikely). Everything else is in one eye and out the other. And while, yes, that can feel crappy, it’s also incredibly freeing.
I leaned into that feeling of being ignored, reassuring myself that, at the very least, I was unlikely to make a huge fool of myself. I kept pitching, and learning, and honing the very specific craft of writing a two- or three-paragraph amuse-bouche that simultaneously teases an editor’s appetite and gives them a feel for the structure of the piece. The knowledge that nobody was paying attention to my failures emboldened me to send pitches I might never have dared to send before (including the one that resulted in my first piece for Catapult). And my ideas began to land.
By the end of 2020, just after my thirty-sixth birthday, I had new published work to share with readers again. It was delectable, and I wanted more. All of a sudden, what had begun as an attempt to improve my platform for the sake of selling my second book was a joyous pursuit in its own right. Every essay or article filled a little bit of the cavern in my heart that years of rejection and disappointment had created, healing the disconnect I’d felt from the wider world of readers.
Now that I’ve gathered a few bylines and developed some confidence, my writer friends often ask me how I conquered my anxiety about cold-pitching editors. They tell me, voices hushed, that they prefer submissions, and I get that: Submittable offers psychic distance, and presenting a completed piece feels less risky than pitching a fleshed-out premise. But they react to my moderate success as if it’s mystical somehow. I always say the same thing: “I’m not special or magical, and I’m not less anxious than you—my Lexapro prescription is evidence of that. But if you have something to say that you think might benefit readers, you just have to start doing it.”
Of course, because I’m not a jerk who drops the Nike slogan and leaves it at that, I then give them practical tips on how to structure a pitch and how to find editors who are open to freelance pitches. But I never let them leave without reiterating the piece of advice that’s been the most effective for me: Lean intothe anonymity of the process.
If you’re a “nobody,” then you’re free of the judgment and preconceived notions people put on “somebodies.” And that means you can keep trying, throwing pitches out into the universe and learning from the process until something sticks and someone finally notices you—because you got it right.
Anne H. Putnam lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their cat and writes about body image, relationships, and anything else that requires an awkward amount of vulnerability. You can follow her @ahputnam on Twitter (for politics and random musings) or Instagram (for cat pics and baked goods).