#amwriting: How to Handle Rejection

I have received my share of rejections. It hurts every time, but now that I am further down the road as a professional, I have enough scar tissue that I don’t feel the agony the way I used to.

Sometimes we receive a standard rejection that boils down to “Sorry, but no.” It’s not personal so I don’t brood over it. In my experience, those kinds of rejections are bad only because they don’t tell us why the piece wasn’t acceptable. I can only assume that the piece I sent in was not what the editor was looking for that day, or perhaps ever.

Not everything you write will resonate with everyone you submit it to.  Put two people in a room, hand them the most thrilling thing you’ve ever read, and you’ll get two different opinions and they probably won’t agree with you.

Some of us handle rejection with grace and dignity, and others go ballistic and make an uncomfortable situation worse.

The best kind of rejections, in my opinion, are when we receive a little encouragement: “Try us again.” That means exactly what it says, so the next time you have something you think will fit in that anthology or magazine, send them a submission.

I know it doesn’t make sense, but the more an editor writes in a letter about why they have rejected a piece, the more likely the author will be hurt and angry. This is because it’s a rejection and may contain detailed criticism. It’s like a bad review and feels unfair.

I once got a rejection from an anthology along with a curt note that said only that the subject had been done before.

I was a bit put off by the abruptness of the note, but I realized it was just this particular editor’s way. He’s a busy man with no time to waste on fools. Yet, he took the time to send me a note instead of a form letter.

The fact he sent me a note encourages me to believe he might be more receptive to a different story, so if I have one I think he’ll like, I’ll send it to him.

I could have embarrassed myself and responded childishly, but that would have been foolish and self-defeating. The truth was that it had been done before. I still love that story, but an editor’s bluntness is valuable, so I will someday rework that tale with a different twist.

We must have a care about the way we behave. We are judged by the manner in which we act and react in every professional interaction. If you respond to a peer’s criticism without thinking it through, you risk doing irreparable damage to your career—you will be put on that editor’s “no way in hell” list.

You need to be strong, stay calm, and understand that the editor has gone to some trouble for you. DO NOT respond to the letter with a flame-mail, and DO NOT go off hurt, bad-mouthing that editor to your homies on your favorite writers’ forums. They saw something good in your work, and you need to try this editor again.

But what if you have submitted to an anthology and, while they sent you no contract, they did send a letter of interest and a request for revisions?

That is huge. You have your foot in the door, so put on your grownup pants and make whatever changes they request. Your piece still may not make it, but give it your best shot. If the editor wants changes, they will make clear what they want you to do.

This happens most often for submissions to an anthology. You must trust that the editor knows what the intended readers expect to see, and you want those readers to like your work.

Never be less than gracious to the editor when you communicate with them. Make those revisions. Do what that editor has asked and make no complaint. Be a professional and work with them.

Negative feedback is a necessary part of growth. When an author becomes too important in their own mind to tolerate the merest whiff of criticism, they can create a situation that is intolerable for all those around them. Treat all your professional contacts with courtesy, no matter how angry you are. Allow yourself some time to cool off. Don’t have a tantrum and immediately respond with an angst-riddled rant.

I keep a file of my rejection letters/emails. Many are simple “We are not interested in this piece at this time.” Some have short notes attached “Try us again in the future.” Some contain the details of why a piece was rejected, and while those are painful, they are the ones I learn from.

Never burn your bridges, even if the magazine or anthology you were rejected from is a minor player in the publishing world. You can’t say “Well, that editor’s a nobody.” That has nothing to do with it because every famous editor/author begins as a nobody, and they all receive work that must be rejected. Your submission didn’t fit their needs, and you must move on, or if they requested changes, you should do your best to make them.

This is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. Always take the high ground—if an editor has sent you a detailed rejection, respond with a simple “thank you for your time.” If it’s a form letter rejection, don’t reply.

But either way, do keep trying to crack that nut. Keep submitting work you think they will like and eventually you might succeed.


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6 responses to “#amwriting: How to Handle Rejection

  1. Stephen Swartz

    In the days of poetry submissions, I tacked up on the wall every letter of rejection–until it was time to move out.
    In the days of book manuscripts sent by snail mail in boxes, I stacked the rejects in the corner–until they switched to rejecting by letter and “recycling” my hard-typed ream.
    It never gets easier. And then there’s love….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I applaud the use of Neil Gaiman firstly. When is he NOT relevant? And secondly I appreciate your candor about rejection. It hurts and we wanna lash out. I mean, writers bear a little piece of their soul every time they write a story so having someone say it wasn’t right or necessary at the moment…well! But you seem to have come into the acceptance of it all with grace and wisdom. I should hope we’ll all endeavor to land in a place as close to this as possible. Wonderful article.


    • I fall into the category of “bleeding secretly,” lol! The truth is I want to succeed, and if I alienate the people who can help me get my work out where potential new readers can find it, I shoot myself in the foot.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As you say, rejection is never fun, but part of what gives success value is the very real possibility of failure.

    I once attended a panel where editors discussed and advised aspiring authors, and one of the most poignant pieces of information was “Whatever they say, be grateful.” And I think that’s very true. Everyone is fighting their own personal battles, and even sending a generic “no thank you” is a kindness. You know, no uncertainty.

    Receiving negative or critical feedback can be trying, but it’s also a wonderful opportunity. Creative endeavors are incredibly competitive, and part of the writing process is the never-ending quest to improve upon ourselves. Comments of “Great job” and “I loved it” are reassuring, but they don’t help us improve, and I think there are very few stories in the world with no room for improvement.

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Adam – so true. It’s better to know than to have to guess! This is difficult for the new author to understand, because every rejection hurts so badly at that stage. But once we have continued on in this business and developed a little thickness of hide, we begin to see we are being offered wisdom that will help our work become what we imagine it is. Thank you for your thoughtful comments and for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed. But I think we can all think of times where we easily succeeded at a task, and didn’t feel nearly the same satisfaction because of it.