How to Handle Rejection: 4 Things NOT to Do and 3 Things to Do After You’re Rejected by a Publisher
Rejection may be one of the hardest parts of writing. After pouring our lives into our manuscripts, it feels personal when someone tells our work isn’t good enough. Even if we know in our minds how to handle rejection, our hurt and disappointment can make us want to lash out.
Additionally, when we are submitting something the size of a novel, we are offering up something that represents years of our lives. To have it dismissed with a form email may make you question if you’ve been wasting your time.
When we are feeling rejected, we may be tempted to lash out, but we must make sure we do it in an appropriate way.
I’ve Been There
Confession: I have been routinely rejected by publishers.
Just last month I submitted a manuscript of a novel I’m excited about to a publisher I respect. I waited two months to hear back from them.
Because of the way their submission process was designed, I could see where I was in the submission “to be read” pile. I checked each day as the queue number counted down to my work, my excitement building.
But when I got to number seventy in line, I received the rejection notice.
I was left with a thousand questions. Was this countdown some elaborate ruse? Did they even read it? Did they look at the title and pass immediately (because the working title was terrible)?
More than questions, I was left with anger and feelings of rejection.
How to Handle Rejection Poorly: 4 Things NOT to Do
The list that follows were my instinctual responses to being rejected. When I first started writing, I may have done some of these. Thankfully, now, after years of being rejected, I’ve learned to catch myself before I actually did any of these.
Here are four things not to do when you are rejected:
1. DON’T Email the Publisher a Nasty Letter or Talk Trash About Them on Social Media
Being a writer, letter writing is always my first go-to. I want to fire off a devastating email about how wrong they were, and how they are going to regret it someday, and how I didn’t want to publish with their stupid company anyway.
While an angry letter might feel good at the moment, it will only hurt us down the road. You may not work with that company now, but the future is wide open. Don’t burn bridges you might want to march across later.
2. DON’T Trash Traditional Publishing
When we are rejected, it is easy to lash out at the system itself, and it feels good to talk about how we are victims to a powerful sinister system that is prohibiting our work from being seen.
At the same time, let’s be honest. You knew what traditional publishing was and what the odds were before you submitted your work. You just thought you’d be the exception to the rule. Don’t blame the mountain for being difficult (sometimes impossible) to climb.
3. DON’T Quit Writing
This is where I typically wallow. When I get rejected, all it becomes difficult for me to sit down at my laptop and write the next thing.
But writing the next thing is exactly what we need to do. Whenever my kids get in fights at school, I tell them, “Part of the problem is, you let the other person have power over you and your emotions.” This is the same thing I’m doing when I quit writing because I’ve been rejected. Instead, what I should do is shake it off and write the next thing.
4. DON’T Take it Personally
This one is the most difficult because writing is personal. Often, it is the most personal thing we do. When our work is rejected, it feels like we are being rejected.
But, to quote the Godfather, “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” There are a thousand reasons our work may have been rejected. When a company publishes a book, they are making a financial investment in a product they intend to sell and make money on.
They aren’t rejecting you. They are choosing not to invest in your start-up (your book). If we can keep in mind that this is a business, we can spare ourselves a lot of hurt feelings.
How to Handle Rejection Well: 3 Things to Do
If we’re not allowed to send the publisher angry letters and we shouldn’t throw in the towel and give up on our writing completely, what should we do when we face rejection? Here are three strategies to process rejection in a way that actually gives your writing a boost.
1. DO Feel Your Emotions
Should we trash talk the publisher on social media because we feel hurt? No. But those feelings of hurt, of disappointment, of anger, of loss that make us want to trash talk are real and valid.
It’s okay to feel bad when we receive rejection letters. Don’t stuff those feelings away or ignore them. Instead, acknowledge them and allow yourself to feel them so you can move forward.
Just remember, those feelings aren’t the end of your story. They’re simply a natural, normal bump along the way.
2. DO Reimagine Success
Every writer who has ever published any writing at all has faced rejection.
Stephen King famously collected all his rejection letters and hung them on his wall with a nail — until he received too many to hold.
Write Practice contributor Sarah Gribble measures her annual writing goals by the number of rejections she receives. The more rejections, the better: it means she’s writing more stories and submitting them boldly.
Treat rejection as a badge of honor. It means you’re taking your writing seriously, you believe in your stories, and you won’t give up.
3. DO Keep Writing
The most important thing you can do is this: keep writing.
Publishing is amazing. But writing is its own reward. Pick up your pen or sit down at your keyboard, imagine a new story, and keep writing.
This is the mark of a writer: that no matter how your writing is received, you keep writing.
Your Writing Is Worth It
It’s hard being rejected and when we do, we want to lash out; but if we are going to make it as authors longterm, we can’t give into our raw emotional responses. We must have self-control and avoid doing things that may have long-term consequences on our work.
Our task as writers is to keep writing, submitting, writing, submitting, and writing again. We’re following a long tradition of great authors and developing the resilience it takes to pursue this craft.
And one day, as you keep practicing, writing, and submitting, you might just receive that coveted “Yes, we’d love to publish this.”
Do you have any tips for how to handle rejection? Let us know in the comments.
Today, spend fifteen minutes writing about someone who is responding poorly to being rejected. You can use one of the four responses above, or create your own.
When you are finished, share your work in the comments below. Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers, too. Let’s encourage one another and support each other as we write and submit tenaciously, even in the face of rejection.