Matador Goods editor and freelancer Lola Akinmade shares the results of her last four years of submissions and what she’s learned from the process.

GETTING PUBLISHED AS A FREELANCE WRITER or photographer doesn’t require natural-born talent, expensive equipment, a large down payment, nor a high alcohol tolerance.

What is required is persistence and patience. Whether you’re a famous freelancer or fresh out of high school, the need for persistence never ceases when your livelihood is based on saying to people, “Hey, I’ve got an idea, wanna pay me for it?” The fact is, no matter how great your idea really is, it’s not your choice as to whether it ‘fits’ for an editor.

One of Matador’s most prolific editors, Lola Akinmade, recently shared her entire submission history since 2008 on her blog. Here are the results:

Lola didn’t start keeping track of her submissions until 2008, and as is evident from the graph, the six she did keep track of didn’t see much success.

Although 141 pitches seem pretty astronomical (especially in comparison to the previous year’s incomplete number), “most of them were re-pitching the same idea almost verbatim to another publication if I got a rejection or didn’t hear from an editor for weeks.” Pitching a single photo also counted.

After seeing the results, Lola’s goal for 2010 was to assess her errors and, obviously, improve her number of assigned pieces. This is going to differ incredibly from person to person; whereas one person might need to start aiming the bar lower, another might need to focus on different types of publications altogether. Others might examine their pitch style, and start there.

She eventually reduced the number of rejections the following year by “focusing and targeting [her] pitches around timely events and more news-worthy items.”

After looking at almost two years of submission history, Lola decided she needed to do three things: send fewer, but better pitches; maintain and take advantage of existing connections; work on well-crafted, targeted pitches with a higher possibility of approval.

As you can see, through 2011, her rejection percentage has plummeted and she’s now nearly evenly splitting her submissions between non-responses and possible or approved pitches.

The thing to take away from all of this is that, as Lola writes on her own blog, “There is no right or wrong way, but rather various paths to various goals that keep each of us fulfilled.” This means that there’s no single solution or even a person or book or authority who can help you craft “the perfect pitch.”

This is a good thing. That means we’re all unique, with different ideas and different ways of understanding them. The day someone can invent a fool-proof formula for getting approved is the day we’ve standardized imagination.

Feature photo by Orin Zebest