Dealing with Rejection

I’ll never make it.
I should just quit.
I am a total loser.

Bleak words, aren’t they? Still, a familiar echo to anyone receiving the soul-consuming rejection letter.

A perfectly good day can go sour at seeing, ‘Dear Author’. Our breath cuts off, our chest tightens, the shoulders sag and despair slams us down. We ask ourselves why we put ourselves through this, why we can’t just catch a break.

Unfortunately being rejected (or e-jected) is just another part of the writing gig, like metaphors and modifiers. Rejection is out there, it will come for us at some point. Some letters hurt, others can devastate. All of them challenge our self belief.

Staying positive in the face of rejection is tough. Each time our confidence is scraped, the rejection a message that our writing isn’t good enough to take on, which we translate into meaning WE are not good enough.

Sometimes moving past rejection is as simple as firing out a few more queries, tightening a synopsis or revising that first chapter for the 900th time. Other times, rejection can cause our foundation of determination and self-belief to quake. We feel like we’re letting everyone around us down, including ourselves. Maybe we should face facts and pack it in.

During these black moments, it’s important to find a way to shift our thoughts out of the self-critical mode. This is difficult, but it can be done if we look at the rejection in a different light: as opportunity.

I know what you’re thinking—rejections are closed doors. What opportunity could their possibly be from a ‘sorry, not for me’ type rejection?

There are always things to learn, even from form rejections to queries. The trick is shifting the way you think from the negative to the positive. When a rejection pulls you down, consider these questions:

What does the agent/editor need?
What is my responsibility to them?
What can I learn from this?
How can I see this rejection differently?

Let’s look at each one of these for a sec.

What does the agent/editor need?

The sarcastic answer to this is, ‘Not my work, obviously.’ But if you can set aside the hurt and place yourself in their shoes, there’s insight to be had on their side of the desk. Pretend you are the agent or editor opening this query—what do they need from you? What will make them successful?

They need to see a compelling query, well written with a character and voice that calls to them. They want to find something different, something that peaks their interest & makes it a no-brainer to scribble a note telling you to please forward the book. At the end of the day, this person wants to sign great writers, and they’d like nothing better for this query to make them tingle in anticipation! They need a strong story and polished writing. They want to see a query from someone who has targeted them specifically because of who they represent/publish.

What is my responsibility to them?

It is the writer’s responsibility to write a strong, inviting query that offers enough information to make the agent/editor NEED to know what happens next–not too little, not too much. Give them the shape of it, a strong sense of the character, voice and style. Your best work shows them you are dedicated to this story being published. You do this by slaving over the query, polishing it until it shines as brightly as your belief in the book itself. You also show that you chose them specifically because they are a great fit, not that you spammed them with your query, hoping for the best.

What can I learn from this?

Once again, turn an honest eye to the query. Evaluate whether you satisfied the editor/agent’s needs and fulfilled your responsibilities. Is there something you can do better, or did this query simply hit your ‘good enough’ meter at the time you sent it out? Have you done all the research on the market that you can, do you feel a niggle of guilt over a corner you may have cut somewhere? Did you edit enough, critique enough, tweak enough? Have you done all you can to make this query a success, as well as any materials you sent with it (synopsis, bio, first chapter, etc?)

How can I see this rejection differently?

Of all the questions above, this one is the most important. When depression hits over a rejection, asking yourself this will lead you to a balanced perspective again. Because a rejection is in essence a negative, this question challenges you to find the positive.

Think of the positive things this rejection symbolizes for you, or write them down if you like. First, it shows you had the courage to send out your work. It proves you believed in your story enough to get it published. This leads you to think about how far your writing has come, how your talent has grown, how many stories you’ve written or how long you’ve worked to perfect this one.

Seeing the rejection differently sets you on a path that allows you to re-appreciate your own growth as a writer and your determination to reach your publication goal. How many writers have you helped along the way? How many writers believe in you, cheer you on and know you can succeed? Focus on your strengths and your accomplishments.

Finding the positive in any circumstance can revive confidence, lighten mood and bolster determination. Too, your body responds to positive thinking, helping to slough off despair and doubt. Breathing is easier, tension leaks from the muscles. Posture straightens as thoughts return to moving forward, and what can be done to ensure success. Suddenly the rejection is put back into perspective–one person’s opinion, not a career-ender.

Try this for yourself the next time a rejection hits you hard–it really does work!


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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19 Responses to Dealing with Rejection

  1. Katya says:

    I read that on average, a writer can expect at least 100 rejections for the first few manuscripts.

    That much rejection takes nerves to endure. I applaud everyone who makes it through this stage!

  2. Angela says:

    Kanee, welcome and thanks for visiting!

  3. Kahnee says:

    i just discovered your site. I can’t beleive your dishing out this info for free. there should atleast be a couple of adds on your site. ::wink:: Thanks for your hard work.

  4. Angela says:

    Thanks Tabitha!

    Ghost Girl, thank you for adding your inspiration to this post! It’s always good to hear from those who ‘made it!!’

    Thanks Miz Courtney–it’s good to hear from you!

  5. courtney says:

    Well said, Angela. Another must-read post. You guys have a way of writing a lot of them. 🙂

  6. Ghost Girl says:

    Well done! Ah…I can breath. I know that feeling all too well. And I am living proof both that rejection can turn into something positive and that persistence pays off.

    It’s hard not to take it personally. It reminds me of that moment in “You’ve Got Mail” when Meg Ryan tells Tom Hanks, “It’s business…it’s not personal. All that means is that it’s not personal to you!” (I paraphrased a little).

    Publishing is a business, but the essential cornerstone of this business is art, which is a very personal pursuit—at least if it’s to be any good.

    Persevere, my friends! Believe in yourselves. But keep an ear open for words of wisdom and inspiration.

  7. Tabitha says:

    Great post! Very inspiring. 🙂

  8. Angela says:

    Beth, I try to see the bright side too, but there are just some days where a rejection makes me question everything. Rejections suck, I know it’s part of the process, yadda, yadda…but still, talk about ugh some days.

    CJ, thanks for the kind words. I am a firm believer that even in the bad moments, there are opportunities to learn.

    Aes, I used to do theatre in high school and keenly recall the pain of working hard on a role only to discover another had been chosen. It is hard, so good on your for keeping your eye on the goal–it’s a hard task some days, isn’t it?

    Yuna, bookmark away! I hope everyone keeps this post in mind the next time they feel low from a rejection. I’ll be back here quite a bit, I suspect.

    Bish, this is one reason why I love it when authors share their journeys. It helps to know they dealt with the same pain and doubt but stuck it out and succeeded.

    Thanks everyone for their great comments. I think it also helps to know we all struggle through the same feelings, doesn’t it?

  9. Bish Denham says:

    Wonderful words to help inspire.

    Even Jane Yolen gets rejections. I heard this from her own lips. It helps me keep things in perspective.

  10. Yunaleska says:

    I’ll bookmark this for when I need it 🙂 Thank you for the tips.

  11. AES says:

    Great post! My hobby aside from writing is theater, so I get to deal with double the chance of rejection (woo hoo… not). It’s always tough to deal with, but there’s some value in every attempt and every rejection.

  12. CJ Raymer says:

    Fantastic post! You’re always so insightful and encouraging. Thanks, Angela.

    Rejection just plain rots! But, knowing that there’s something good that we can pull from the experience… well, that’s what builds character, stick-to-itiveness, and gives us clarity. You’re awesome!


  13. beth says:

    An excellent positive spin on a very negative thing. I try to look on the bright side with this sort of thing, too, but…argh. Rejections just suck!

  14. Angela says:

    Kim, Pj, Gutsy, Merc & Becca, thanks. I’ve recently been in the pit of depression over a lack of interest to my query 🙁 so I employed this technique, and it really works!

    I think another question that helps switch our mindset is, “What more can I do to see a positive outcome?”

  15. Becca says:

    Awesome job, Angela. After reading this, I can see that the query I’ve been getting ready still isnt ready. *grumble* Thanks for the honesty!

  16. Merc says:

    Great post! I like the questions on self-examining your work… lots of stuff to think about, for sure.

  17. GutsyWriter says:

    Loved your post. Especially the last sentence, “One person’s opinion, not a career ender.” Also just think about a critique group. There are always going to be those who love your work, and one or two who just don’t get it. Isn’t that true?

  18. PJ Hoover says:

    Great words! Lemons into Lemonade. And do the mental tricks required to push through rejection. Very nice and very encouraging!

  19. Kim says:

    Great post! They always sting a little at first, but you are right. If we can just step back and ask ourselves those questions and look at the rejection as an opportunity, we will have grown as a writer for it.

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