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Writers: Rejection does not build character

manuscript by Saint Andrzej Bobola, Polish Jes...

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Some say rejection is part of “paying your dues” in the writing business. That’s over-analysis. Rejection is just someone saying no. When your query is rejected, do not read too much into it. 

Rejection is not useful on its own. It doesn’t thicken your skin for when you become a “real” writer. After you are published, you will get angry with critical reviews just as you are angry with rejections now. And why not? Your book is your child and an extension of you. If you are bent toward getting pissed off, you still will be. Rejection is not part of your training. Writing is your training. Learning your craft is a different proposition from receiving a form rejection slip. 

Rejection can be useful if you get specific feedback on why your story was rejected. Standard reply forms that say “not for us” tell you nothing except you must resubmit elsewhere. A manuscript evaluation (whether done by an editor you pay–ahem, like me) or by the people you submit to, can be useful. However, even then, it may be a question of taste in some regard. Agents and editors do sometimes take the time to tell you what they found wrong with a near miss. (Even if you disagree with their feedback, send a thank you note.) 

Understand this:

1. An agent or editor may give you a critique, but after you “fix” it, they are under no obligation to accept the manuscript. Many writers report great frustration over doing what they were told (perhaps even compromising their vision for the faint hope of publication) and still find themselves on the wrong side of the gate. No with details is still no. Doing everything you are told without running it through the filter of your own sensibility is no guarantee you’re on the right track. It also leaves you spineless and soulless. 

2. Publishers, editors and agents are extremely busy people. (Sometimes they wear that like a badge that they feel makes them special. However, I don’t know anybody who is at all cool who isn’t extremely busy, do you?) The point is, no one owes you a critique unless you paid them for said critique (ahem–like me.) Agents and editors typically say yes or no (mostly no.) They aren’t in the business of teaching you the craft. If they do send you a personal rejection and not a form rejection, it does mean you’re making progress. Handwritten notes of encouragement can make your day even though it’s a rejection doused with a little sweet perfume. 

3. If you send out a bunch of manuscripts and you receive no personal rejections, it means you have to tweak your manuscript or revisit your target selection process or both. Only you can decide how many rejections you suffer before you undertake further revision. Some say don’t tweak after you’re dome with revisions because by the time you’re finsally finsihed with revisions, you should be a little sick of it and ready to send your baby off to college. Fresh enthusiasm is what the new baby is for. Even as you edit the last book, your fickle nature should be pulling you toward the next book’s greatness.  

4. The rejection might not be about you. There are many variables that go into editorial decisions. Maybe the subject matter or execution is too foreign to the publisher or too much like one of the books they already have which failed. Maybe the editor loved it but it got shot down for budgetary reasons. Don’t get hung up on each rejection. Resubmit and move on to people who get you as quickly as possible. 

5. Don’t worry about rejection. It will occur. Expect it. It’s more important to do the writing and trust that good things are coming. Optimists are the only ones who succeed in this business. Pessimists, realists and the meek have the good sense not to try. They never succeed at much, but they’re cozy. Writers aren’t cozy with their place in the world. If they were, they wouldn’t be writers. 

6. Once you are published, you’ll realize the journey was more important than the destination. It’s the writing that matters, which is good because you’ll spend much more time writing than you will receiving prizes and getting drunk on fancy publicity junkets.  


When I was a kid, seeing my name in the paper was a big deal. By the time I was seventeen I had a regular byline in my local newspaper. By the time I was twenty, there was still a small thrill to see my byline on the front page of a provincial and city newspaper. My back page column in a magazine tickles. Recognition is still cool, but it’s not the same thrill and if a byline is all you write for, that’s not enough gas for the trip.  

The thrill is in the writing. The fun was finding just the right turn of phrase. It was always really about the writing. It always should be. 

Filed under: agents, Editors, manuscript evaluation, Rant, Rejection, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

3 Responses

  1. Great advise re: rejections, but you said it best with: “The thrill is in the writing. The fun was finding just the right turn of phrase. It was always really about the writing. It always should be.” – Isn’t that why we do what we do?

  2. SandySays1 says:

    Everything you said is very true! One thing I’d like to see explored, is the “inbreeding” that currently exists in publishing. Group think creates group stink in a large portion of the biz today. (Certainly not all) I did some “stand in front book stores and get opinions” work (over 200 questionaires) regarding fiction. The results were quite different and startling. The majority of “purchasing” readers gave todays pubers a D- grade.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lorina Stephens, Robert Chute. Robert Chute said: Writers: Rejection does not build character: http://wp.me/pRG3O-et […]

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