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Thanks But No Thanks: Surviving and Learning From Rejection 
Jenna Petersen

I want to start off this article by stating an undeniable and unavoidable truth: 

Rejection sucks. 

Ok, anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar, liar pants on fire!  No one likes being rejected.  No one likes working so hard on a manuscript for so long, editing it until their eyes are crossed and sending it out into the world with all their hopes and dreams only to get a slim letter back that says thanks, but no thanks.  No matter how kindly and wonderfully that letter may be written, it hurts. 

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can talk about the real meat of the issue of rejection.  What do you do about it and what can you learn from it? 

What Do You Do When Rejected: 

1.      Cry.  Yes, it’s ok to feel emotional about being rejected.  Recently I got an email from an online friend telling me she’d received her first rejection and was feeling blue.  But she went on say she knew it was silly and that it didn’t really matter, etc.  I responded back by telling her not to short change herself.  The rejection DID matter.  Her feelings mattered.

      Whether you’re writing full-time every day or only able to dedicate ten minutes here and there to your story, writing is an emotional profession.  Writers pour their heart and soul onto the page when they’re telling a story they’re passionate about.  It’s a draining experience with many highs and lows.  Often family and friends don’t understand that pressure or belittle it, adding to the feelings that are wrapped up in the writing process and the book itself.  

So is it any wonder that you feel emotional when the story you believed in is sent back?   When an editor says they didn’t feel connected to something that took you months, even years to perfect to the best of your abilities?  Allow yourself to feel badly.  Don’t minimize the disappointment. 

2.      Celebrate.  Ok, now you’re confused, right?  I just said to mourn the loss and now I’m telling you to celebrate it, too??  No, I haven’t gone completely mad.  Receiving a rejection puts you firmly in the club of “real writers”.  There are hundred, thousands… maybe hundreds of thousands… of people who want to write.  They claim to have a book in their head, but they just haven’t written it yet.  YOU DID.  You sat down and wrote that book. 

      Not only did you write it, but you put it out there.  You sent it to someone for review, whether it be an editor who could buy it or an agent who could put the work in front of the right people.  Either way, you’ve made it much, much farther than a huge percentage of the “wanna-be” writers on this planet.  Congratulate yourself.  You’ve entered a whole new world.

3.  Don’t stop writing.  One of the most common mistakes writers make when they get rejection is that they quit.  The rejection hurts, and it even taps into those voices of self-doubt that we all have in our heads.  The ones that tell us we’re never going to succeed at this.  That we’re kidding ourselves that we’re good enough or special enough to be published.

      The easiest way to deal with that is to just stop writing.  I urge you not to do that if you’re really serious about your work.  There are only a handful of writers out there who have never been rejected.  There are thousands who have been rejected over and over only to eventually find the right editor to connect with the right story at the right moment.  There are books on the shelves right now that were rejected 5, 10, 30 times before they were accepted for publication.  There are successful authors who wrote for years and years before their “call” came.  So don’t give up. 

What We Can Learn From Rejection: 

  1. Evaluate Your Rejection(s).  Let me start this off by saying, don’t evaluate your rejection the day you get it.  Even the week you get it.  Wait for a while. Write on your WIP (work in progress), talk to friends, get through the powerful emotions first.  But then, sit down and look at what the editor or agent said about your work.  If it’s a form rejection, you probably won’t get much out of it.  I’d suggest recording it somehow for your records, then filing it or destroying it.

But if it is personal, note the comments.  About a year ago, I did an in-depth evaluation of all my rejections.  I took the comments, positive and negative and compared them by book, by house and by editor.  This was a very important exercise for me, because it helped me see the common problems in a book, or the kind of work a certain house might be looking for.  It also helped me see which editors liked my style.  If you have multiple personal rejections, you might think of evaluating them in bulk, as well just to see if there are common trends that reflect something in your writing or in the industry at large. 

2.  Take Comments Seriously.  I am always flabbergasted when I hear writers saying that an editor commented positively on their manuscript, but they claim they only ‘said that to be nice’.  Editors and agents don’t have time to heap false praise on someone that is not in their stable of writers.  If an editor has taken time to give you detailed feedback of any kind, it means something about your story or your writing touched them.  

Another thing to pay attention to is if the editor asks to see more of your work.  If they say they’d like to see your manuscript again if you make some changes, drop everything, make them and send it back.  Same thing if they ask to see something else from you.  Do it.  Send it.  Send it as quickly as possible.  They don’t ask for more work lightly.

Like I said, rejection sucks, but you’ll find, as your skin gets thicker, that it’s a valuable resource to evaluating and improving your writing.  

But only if you never surrender.

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