Why You Should Aim High When Pitching Nonfiction Essays

by Kayla Dean
published in Community

“Aim high” is probably advice you’ve heard before. I sure have: my elementary school’s motto was aim high, be respectful, care for others, all admirable things to do. But not everyone will tell you to do so when it comes to your writing.

There are the skeptics, those writers who want you to think that the world of writing is closed to outsiders, that you might as well not bother pitching prestigious magazines. Others have been burned by glossies a few too many times, and think that because they couldn’t get into a magazine no one else can either.

So what is aiming high? It’s attempting to get your foot in the door at your dream publications even if you’re worried that large submission inboxes and lack of  literary pedigrees will prevent you from being accepted.

Here’s the truth: while it’s sometimes a longshot to pitch high-end publications like the New York Times or Tin House, it’s always worth the effort to pitch and submit your work to these outlets. Here’s why.

Submitting Helps You Grow

This is practically my motto. After enough rejections, you tend to get used to hearing No. And it’s not as bad as it seems. Editors won’t judge you if your pitch or submission doesn’t land perfectly. Just because they pass doesn’t mean your pitch was the worst email on the face of the earth, despite the sinking feeling in your stomach. Sometimes editors say no because they just ran something similar, have a specific editorial vision, or they already commissioned enough pieces for the section.

Sometimes editors will give you feedback. No, they probably won’t read through line-by-line, but editors will likely give you a jist of why they passed on your submission. It’s helpful to know if an editor you respect enjoyed reading your piece even if they can’t commission it. And you’ll go forward thinking of yourself as a serious writer because you’ve sent your work to these publications. Submitting your work to prestigious outlets has a way of making you feel that you’re putting in the proper dedication to it.

There’s Always a Chance You’ll Get Accepted

Don’t believe me? It’s true! Jamison Hill writes about what it was like to write, submit, and receive an acceptance from the New York Times Modern Love editor Daniel Jones, who called his essay “lovely” even though he was rejected in the past. Since there’s a lot of talk about the Modern Love column changing writers’ lives, it’s no surprise that Hill was shocked and pleased to receive an acceptance he never saw coming.

To increase your chances of getting accepted, it’s always a good idea to have multiple people read your piece before you send it to a dream publication. While they won’t judge you negatively for a strong submission that doesn’t quite make the cut, you want to make sure that every sentence pulls its weight, your word count matches what the section requires, and you don’t have embarrassing typos that make you look lazy. For an essay of any magnitude, it can’t hurt to find a workshop group or take an online class to work with others also trying to get a stellar byline.

You May Regret Not Trying for A Dream Publication

What if you decide not to go for your dream publication and instead submit your work to a journal that you’re not proud to be a part of? You may receive an easy acceptance, but your work may not garner the readers you hoped for in another outlet. It’s likely, especially if this is a story close to your heart, that if you don’t try to submit your work to a prestigious outlet, you might wonder if it would have been accepted if you were less afraid. Don’t let this be you.

Take a chance on your writing and submit. You never know.

Kayla Dean has written for publications like Electric Literature, Ploughshares online, Darling, and Bella Grace. She has an MA and BA in English. You can find her on Twitter @kayladeanwrites.

Enjoyed this article?