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Some tips on how to deal with rejection


Rejections hurt—and every editor knows this. They all try to be tactful, but with their workloads increasing every year they no longer have time to help a writer whose manuscript would take up months of their time to get right. So these days the chances are that, instead of a personal letter, you’ll receive a photocopied rejection that isn’t dated and doesn’t address you by name or mention the title of the rejected manuscript, let alone have a proper signature at the end of it. I’m not sure whether this will increase your hurt or lessen it. I had been receiving rejections for years before I started receiving this type of thing.


First, don’t take it personally. I know I’m wasting my time here. Of course you are going to take it personally! But it might help to remember the editor isn’t rejecting you, isn’t telling you your manuscript stinks and she doesn’t want to hear from you again. It’s simply that your story didn’t happen to be what she wanted. Maybe she (most editors, particularly for children’s books, are women, so I’ll stick with “she”) already has a title too similar to yours. There are many reasons why an editor might reject a book, including the fact she just didn’t happen to be feeling all that well when your book landed on her desk. It happens!

It might help to remember:

  • Watership Down went through about 26 rejections before the late (and much lamented) Kaye Webb saw its potential.
  • The first Harry Potter book is reported to have been rejected by 14 publishers. When doing research in 1994 for suitable publishers to whom to send my own work, I didn’t find many more than this who actually accepted fantasy! Considering the number of publishers of fiction for young people, I thought this both strange and short-sighted.
  • Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time received over 30 rejections and took 10 years to get published, and then went on to win a Newbery Award.
  • Stephen King had over 30 rejections for Carrie. Imagine how the editors who rejected this must have felt when Stephen King went on to become possibly the best-selling writer in the world, with many of his books becoming blockbuster movies. However, I understand Joanne Rowling may now be the world’s best-selling author. Does it give me pleasure that a writer of fantasy for young people is selling more books than any other writer? It sure does! I want to repeat here what I’ve written on another page in this web site: A publisher of books for young people that doesn’t publish fantasy titles is like a butcher who doesn’t sell sausages in his shop; a hot bread shop without French loaves; a sweet shop with no toffees.
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull had over 140 rejections. (Obviously there was no editor like Kaye Webb around then.)
  • Veterinary surgeon James Herriott threw his manuscript into a bottom drawer, telling his wife he was obviously no good at writing so he supposed he’d better stick to something at which he was good. But for his wife’s stubborn belief in him, the world would have been robbed of some of the most enjoyable best-sellers ever written, not to mention the television spin-offs.
  • Best-selling author James Patterson’s debut novel The Thomas Berryman Number won the Edgar Award for the best first mystery novel and was published by Little, Brown in 1976 after being turned down by more than two dozen other publishers.
There really is only one way to overcome the hurt of rejection: send out more submissions. Submit! Submit! Submit! The more you send out the quicker you will come to the stage when rejections don’t hurt any more—and that’s one reason why writing short stories rather than novels is a better idea. It doesn’t need to take years for rejections not to hurt, as it did with me. Honestly!

I know you’re probably shaking your head in disagreement (and that you most likely wanted an easier, magical answer) but trust me: as long as you keep on submitting there will come a time when all you’ll do on opening a rejection is give a sniff and a shrug and file it away with all the others. And that’s another thing: never ever throw away a rejection letter. I even print out and file email rejections—without fixing any typographic errors, I might add!

There are many things you can do to help turn rejection into submission. First, you should ensure your work is the best you can make it. If you are “grammatically challenged” or have poor spelling, and don’t bother to do anything about it, you will continue to receive rejections. If the first thing an editor sees on looking at your manuscript is an incorrectly used word or other examples of bad grammar, you will definitely receive a rejection! But help is at hand. If you have trouble working out the difference between its and it’s, draft and draught, for instance, take a look at my Words That Are Often Confused page, where you will find over 120 pairs/groups of such words, together with their correct meanings and, in many cases, some sample sentences. Also, see my Site Map for links to other articles that I hope you will find useful.

Other things you can do to turn rejection into acceptance:

  • Read as many books about writing as you can.
  • Take a course on writing if you can find a suitable one and can afford the fee. I found the biggest problem with writing courses is that they are usually conducted by writers rather than teachers. Just because you can write well, it doesn’t follow that you can teach. If such was the case, teachers wouldn’t need to go through training and earn a diploma in order to teach. So the most desirable course is likely to be one conducted by a writer who is also a teacher.
  • Join a writers’ critique group. The biggest problem with writers’ groups is that jealousy can rear its ugly head, leading to criticism that’s calculated not to help you but to tear you apart. You can usually recognise such critiques fairly easily. For a start, you are likely to find little or no mention of anything you have done right, and a good critique writer is supposed to point out particularly good points in the manuscript as well as weaknesses.

    The critique is likely to contain many unjustified comments that something is confusing. (If it is confusing you should be able to see straight away why the critique writer finds it so and wonder how come you didn’t notice the confusion yourself!) Chances are you will find more than one of the following criticisms:
    • you need to have dialogue between your characters in a scene that contains only one character;
    • you need to have dialogue between your protagonist and another character who doesn’t exist;
    • you need to turn a piece of narrated action into dialogue which, if you took the advice, would read very strangely, perhaps even sound stilted;
    • you need to have dialogue between characters who are fleeing for their lives and therefore have no breath for speech;
    • you need to have dialogue between characters who are in no position to speak (perhaps because they are gagged);
    • you need to have dialogue to spice up a scene in which there is no really exciting action (and this is a scene in which someone is trying to kill your characters, or your characters are in some other type of danger!)

    If you’re finding it hard to believe writers can make themselves look idiots by writing such nonsense simply because they are jealous, you’d better start believing it. I have had several writer friends complain about receiving this type of critique. I’ve even received one myself. Since I recognised it for what it was, it gave my ego a real boost. The critique was for the beginning of Silvranja of the Silver Forest, which had already been short-listed for a major award.

    You should probably look for a group whose members are on a similar writing level to yourself, preferably with one or two who are more advanced. For help in choosing a group, you might like to download Holly Lisle's free e-book Mugging the Muse from her web site. The link is to Holly’s site map. Just search the page for "mugging”. Holly‘s web site is full of good things for writers so look around while you are there.

Whoops! Did you notice my Freudian slip? “Turn rejection into submission” should, of course, read “turn rejection into acceptance”. And now I have an image in my mind of myself battering editors into submission with a flood of heavy manuscripts. *G* (Return to above.)

All the best of luck with your submissions. In the meantime you might like to visit Rejection Collection, where you can read other writers’ rejection letters and post your own. It’s therapeutic. Cathy (Catherine Wald, owner of the site, and herself a much-rejected and much-published writer) actually invites you to “let off steam”! Even better, though: it’s great fun.

© L A Barker Enterprises
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For further writing tips, see other links on my Site Map.

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Well, I do hope I’ve been able to help you. You can send any comments or questions by emailing me.