Your editor killed your story. Now what?
It feels great to get a piece published, and it feels great to get a pitch accepted. But there’s nothing worse than getting a story killed after spending time, energy and sometimes money on a putting a story together. The only thing that stings more than an editor suddenly pulling out of a project because of a change in editorial direction is when an editor thinks your draft is in too poor shape to edit in the first place. I’ve been in both situations.
Before starting a story, you should always negotiate a kill fee. Publications typically pay a fee of 25 to 50 percent of your originally negotiated fee. If you don’t have a defined contract with a publication, lay out the kill fee terms via email just in case you need to make a claim in court. While the publication is processing your kill fee, you should consider if the story can be resuscitated. If so, here are the steps I’ve taken to revive a killed story:
Find a new newspeg.
Figure out a news item to which you can story idea. Make it a longer lead time so you’re able to do the additional reporting required for the new angle.
Line up potential publications
Come up with a list of publications that may take the revised story pitch. Check sites like Contently and Who Pays Writers to see which of outlet pays the most and on-time for stories. Think about who their audience is and whether your idea is a good fit for them.
Alter your pitch
Once you have a new angle and publication in mind, tweak your pitch to fit their scope of coverage. I typically don’t mention that a story I’m pitching has been killed, but you can if you’d like. In my eyes, I’ve redone my pitch and am revamping original reporting, so it’s pretty much a different piece than the one I originally reported.
Don’t be discouraged. If you really believe in the story, shop it to a couple publications—though not simultaneously unless it’s a timely story. If it is timely, disclose that you’re submitting it to multiple outlets in your pitch. Change your pitch up a bit with each submission, so that it’s clear you’ve thought about how it will fit that publication.
My stories are rarely killed, but it really sucks when they are. I’ve occasionally had success placing them elsewhere. My favorite example of this was a story about black-owned banks that underwent a long editing process before the Washington Post killed it. I placed the piece in Pacific Standard, had a great experience doing it, and thus earned a collected a kill fee from the Post and a commission Pacific Standard. This was one of my favorite stories, and I’m glad that I found a home for it.
What are your secrets for placing killed stories? Share them in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.