The salient points are this: before my wife and I embarked on our trip to Africa this time last year, my friend told her neighbor about our journey and the neighbor, an editor for the L.A. Times, got in touch with me informally to see if I’d be interested in documenting the Rwandan portion of the trip for as an article, packaged with our photos and videoclips. Thought it seemed like a slam-dunk, it’s not as if publication was guaranteed and certainly no deadlines were discussed, nor any rates of pay.
Absolutely, I said, and off we went. Upon our return, I was decidedly slow in getting the piece finished in large part because I was finding it difficult to convey in words how freakin’ transcendental it was to be 20-feet (and less) to any number of the last remaining mountain gorillas on the planet, and in smaller part because at some point the editor relayed to me that her section’s freelance budget was tapped out for the remaininder of 2005, but there was thought that it could be used in 2006.
The ensuing timeline isn’t really important other than the editor told me that instead of plans for it as a stand-alone feature there were thoughts on including it in and Africa package booked for this summer and eventually I lit enough of a fire under my butt to file a first draft, which was reviewed and returned with copious notes offering suggestions and corrections, and a couple months later I relit that fire and (by now it’s May) submitted a revised manuscript that I felt was pretty solid and incorporated a lot of the suggestions and corrections that had been requested.
The editor acknowledged receiving it and that she planned to review it and send it on up the line â€” again it was all on spec; no money was ever discussed or greenlight given.
Fast forward to about a week before Susan and I left for our roadtrip at the end of June. Having heard nothing in the interim (and thus sensing the editing on the wall), I dropped the editor an email looking for any status report she could provide and advising her that since I would be out of town for the next two-plus weeks if the article was to be included now would be a good time to figure out what photos/videos they might want to use with the piece.
It didn’t take long for her reply to get back to me and it wasn’t the news for which I’d been hoping. She told me my piece hadn’t passed muster, partially because a decision was made to go with a staffer’s article on chimpanzees in Tanzania. She said she’d sniff around to see if there was any thought to using it later, but I think she was just trying to be nice. I certainly didn’t hold out much hope for that happening. It seemed highly unlikely that a section devoted to Africa would then come back a few weeks or months later with a piece on trekking after Rwanda’s mountain gorillas.
I thanked her for her efforts and involvement and told her that in the meantime I’d be submitting the article elsewhere, which I did. I wasted no time in pulling together a package sent off to the query editor of National Geogrphic Traveler magazine, which was rejected quickly. I found my return envelope in our mail Saturday. In with the query letter and the clips was a postcard with the following:
We appreciate receiving your recent submission. It has been carefully reviewed, but we regret to inform you that it cannot be adapted for use in the magazine at this time. Please excuse this form response. The volume of submissions we receive each week makes it impossible for us to reply personally to each one, as much as we would like to. Thank you for your understanding and for your interest in Traveler.
Oh well, I figure I’ll bundle it up and send it off a couple more places and if rejections follow in those wakes I’ll look into posting it here. After all, the I know the editor. He can’t pay me nothing but he’s a really nice guy who doesn’t believe in form rejections and certainly he wouldn’t thank you for understanding them.
And it sure beats writing on spec.