A reply to an unsolicited article or essay submission can take a number of forms: maddening silence, an unsigned boilerplate response, a standard-issue rejection that nevertheless has a name attached, or a personal reply (with its own range, from no to qualified yes to revision suggestions to acceptance).
But know this: A response from an actual human being is—especially for beginning writers and freelancers—an opportunity. It is an entry point.
If you receive a rejection, particularly an encouraging one, from a real live person with decision-making power, send something else to her, preferably as soon as possible before she forgets your name.
This is how relationships with editors begin. From relationships can come assignments, work, and—however you may define it—success.
People sometimes ask me how to edit. Being naturally detail-oriented helps. Reading good articles (online and in print) and books—really paying attention to how paragraphs move and build on each other—can teach as much about editing as it does about writing. But when it comes to tightening your work sentence by sentence—because tightening almost always improves drafts—an exercise can help.
Give yourself an assignment to write about 500 words. In a class I taught, it was a review of a book or movie, but it could be a profile or an account of a meaningful experience. (A review works well because you don’t have to do much research for the exercise—just pick something you read or watched recently!) As long as it’s not free writing or a journal entry. It should be something with a beginning, middle, and end. If it’s a bit more or less than 500 words, no big deal.
My students didn’t know what was coming next as they wrote the review, but it can still work. What comes next; Write a new version of the piece that’s no more--not a word more—than 250 words. It should have as much shape and intent as the original.
This is a forced march in making every word count, figuring out how else to say it without losing your voice, and, yes, fulfilling the assignment. Which in life can mean getting the job.