How to deal with rejection
Starting out as a writer is often a starry-eyed experience. You follow a dream of seeing your name in print or on the front cover of a beautifully-designed book. This goal gives you drive, focus, and the hope of creating something wonderful for the world to discover.
Then, one day, you type The End and ponder the next step.
Do you approach an agent or a publisher? Do you submit it into a writing competition? Whatever you decide, you send it off and then hope for the best.
It’s wonderful when your work is accepted or is among a list of winners but what do you do when a piece you’ve poured your heart and soul into is rejected?
Rejection is part of the writing life. The Guardian has even described it as ‘the norm for authors’. Even renowned names have faced rejection. F. Scott Fitzgerald received 122 rejection slips before he sold a story. Stephen King’s novel, Carrie, was turned down over 30 times. The list goes on.
Learning how to accept rejection is a pivotal part of your writing evolution. Rejection is not personal, although it may feel like it. There can be many reasons why a piece is turned down because the process is so subjective. It doesn’t necessarily mean your writing isn’t good and it certainly doesn’t mean you are not meant to be a writer.
Accepting rejection as part of your writing life makes it easier to move onto the next stage: reflection. It’s time to look at why your work may have been rejected and see if there is anything you can do.
Some key reasons why writing gets rejected may be:
- Your theme, genre or style isn’t suitable for the literary agent, publisher or competition. Double-check their guidelines. If this is the problem, take it as a lesson to research your targets before submitting to make sure your work meets their criteria.
- Your writing needs more polish. Sometimes in the excitement to send your work off, you’ve not completed all the edits and revisions required.
- Your story isn’t working quite right. Maybe you need to replot, restructure, reflow or make other changes to make it more compelling.
If you’ve had some time away from your work while you’ve been waiting for responses, try looking at it now with fresh eyes and see if you can identify further work that needs to be done. If you’re not sure, try sharing it with trusted writing friends or consider having a manuscript assessment from a professional organisations such as Reedsy, The Literary Consultancy or Jericho Writers. Then, edit, edit, and edit again.
Rejection can hurt. Sometimes, you’ve done everything you can and your work is still rejected. It can be incredibly frustrating. There are several ways to rebuild your confidence and move forward positively:
- Talk to a trusted and honest friend or family member. A writing group or community could also provide support. Don’t bottle up how the rejection has made you feel. Speak about it openly and allow yourself time to grieve and vent.
- Consider any feedback. If you’re lucky enough to receive constructive feedback with your rejection, consider doing the work that is suggested. If not, draw a line under it and pick up your pen again.
- Remind yourself that the rejection is not personal. The agent or publisher probably receives hundreds of submissions a day. Your work didn’t hook them but it could hook the next recipient. Make sure your work is polished and then keep submitting.
- Take up a fresh project. If you need a break, you don’t have to stop writing. Try working on something else completely different for a while. A piece of micro fiction, a poem, a new novel or journal. It could turn into something that is accepted or give you the space you need from the other project so you can come back to it objectively.
- Persevere. One of the key ingredients for all successful authors is perseverance. So, keep going. The next piece of work, the next submission, the next competition entry could be the one that makes it.
- Consider self-publishing. If you believe in your writing but publishers don’t, you could reach potential readers directly. Take your journey into your own hands!
Don’t fear rejection. It’s an integral part of being a writer. Stephen King kept all his rejection letters and used them as motivation to do better.
When you open yourself up to rejection, it means you’re taking risks and pushing your boundaries. Each ‘no’ is a badge of honour. It means you have courage, are embracing opportunities to move forward and keep growing.
Take rejection for a ride and keep writing!