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Never Give Up: The Reader’s Digest Story

It took me nearly 7 years of collecting rejection slips before I sold my first article as a freelance writer. Rejection slips can be discouraging, but make sure you read some encouraging stories from my latest book, “The Flying Nun, Oprah and Me: 40 Years Making Money as a Freelance Writer (Hey, You Can Do […]

It took me nearly 7 years of collecting rejection slips before I sold my first article as a freelance writer. Rejection slips can be discouraging, but make sure you read some encouraging stories from my latest book, “The Flying Nun, Oprah and Me: 40 Years Making Money as a Freelance Writer (Hey, You Can Do It Too!).

Never Give Up: The Reader’s Digest Story!

Way back before I sold my first full length magazine article to Delaware Today, I tried selling “fillers and pieces of trivia” to places like Reader’s Digest Magazine and other publications that needed those types of submissions. Sometime in late 1973 I must have sent something to Reader’s Digest, because I received a typewritten reply that was dated January 30, 1974.

It simply stated:

Dear Mr. Riddle:

A Xerox has been made of the enclosed material. We like your item: “Middle Age – that time in a man’s life when he returns a wink…with a blink.” Should a spot be found for it in some future issue of the magazine, you’ll hear from us again.
Meanwhile, our thanks for your interest.

Sincerely,
The Editors (It was signed in blue ink.)

Back then I used my rolltop desk as my work station, and I loved it because it had “lots of nooks and crannies” where I could just stuff pieces of paper. (And you know how writers love to store everything we receive!)

Six years later, in 1980, I must have decided to clean out my desk, and I came across the original letter from 1974. By now I figured they must have used my submission, and probably owed me $50 or more. So, I sat down and used my typewriter and sent them a reminder (and I included a photo copy, not a “Xerox,” of their response to me from January 30).

A few weeks later, I received another typewritten reply from them, dated September 23, 1980.

It read:

Dear Mr. Riddle:

Your item about “Middle Age” hasn’t been used yet, but we still have it on file. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing when, or if ever, this contribution will appear in the magazine.
Sorry we’re unable to send you a more conclusive report.

Sincerely,
The Editors (It was also signed in blue ink.)

So, I paper clipped the pieces of correspondence from them and stuffed them into one of the little slots of the rolltop desk. Fast forward from 1980 and it is now 1989. I come across the letters, and decide to write them once again (and I still send photo copies of all of our correspondence).

A few weeks later, I received another reply that was dated April 20, 1989, and by this time Reader’s Digest had graduated from using typewriters! And I “moved on up the editorial food chain” because this time I received a personal reply from Editorial Correspondent, Claire Fluri.

It read:

Dear Mr. Riddle:

Thank you for your inquiry about the status of an item you submitted to the Excerpts Department in 1973. Your contribution is still in our files and might be used in the future. Meanwhile, if you kept a copy of the story, you are free to send it elsewhere.
Many thanks for your longtime interest in Reader’s Digest.

Sincerely,
Claire Fluri (It was signed in black ink.)

Guess what I did next? Yup. I paperclipped all of the correspondence together and this time had to stuff it into a drawer in the rolltop desk (it was too fat with papers to fit into the little slots!). Fast forward from 1989 to sometime in the spring of 1994, and I come across the stack of correspondence. I decide to write them one last time, and still included all of the correspondence (by this time I needed a larger envelope and extra stamps!).

Of course, a few weeks later I received another official reply. This one was dated June 8, 1994, and I had “really moved on up the editorial food chain” because this time I received a personal reply from Elizabeth D. Ousey, “Senior Editorial Correspondent.”

It read:

Dear Mr. Riddle:

Thank you for inquiring about an item you submitted in 1974 that you were told – three times – was being held for possible use in a future issue. We wish we could award your patience, but I’m sorry to say that our Excerpts Department has advised me that your contribution is no longer under consideration.
Again, thank you for your good humor, and for your interest in Reader’s Digest.

Sincerely,
Elizabeth D. Ousey (This time it was signed in fancy green ink!)

So, with twenty years’ worth of correspondence I decided I would write an article about the whole adventure and pitch it to Writer’s Digest Magazine. They promptly rejected it, but I have been able to sell it about a half a dozen times to a variety of writing related newsletters. So far, I have made almost $500 in telling that tale.

What stories can you tell…and sell?

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