Be Smart: Don’t Get Rejected

by Erik Cummins on October 19, 2011

Today, a Los Angeles marketing professional told me a horror story. A few weeks ago, a partner walked into her office and exclaimed that he had just spent 15 billable hours writing a client alert about a particularly arcane change in California law. The partner then insisted that she get the article placed in the Wall Street Journal .

She took a look at the client alert and immediately realized that this six-page, single-spaced legal treatise was not only inappropriate for the Journal but was perhaps not even fit for a trade publication. First of the all, the article was heavy on legalese, terms of art and acronyms, and it was chock full of footnotes, block quotes and bullet point lists. Second, it read like a law review instead of something a general business publication would use. Third, the subject was so esoteric that even the most specialized legal publication would probably balk at running it.

My friend gently explained to the author that the Journal would almost certainly reject the piece. But he persisted and she sent a note to the editor there. A rejection letter came back and the partner couldn’t believe his eyes. “Why wouldn’t they want to publish my article? I spent a lot of billable hours on it!”

That leads me back to a presentation I gave yesterday for the with writer and fellow Daily Journal alum Leslie Gordon. To begin our discussion on “Persuasive & Effective Business Writing,” I suggested that prospective authors take a step back before they do any writing and ask themselves a few key questions.

First, why are they writing and what do they want to accomplish by doing so? Second, who is their audience and how will they be communicating with that audience? In other words, will they be writing a client alert, an e-blast, an attorney-authored column for publication, a white paper or a blog post? If it’s for publication, what are the publication’s specifications, such as article length, prohibitions against such things like footnotes or endnotes and the publication’s readership, tone and style. And, of course, before any writing commences, prospective authors should check with the editor at their target publication to see if they would want a story along these lines. That simple step will save the would-be writer a lot of heartache and any number of billable hours.

“But I spent 15 hours on this!!!”

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