How to Deal with Rejection Letters

| Posted in Writing.

RejectedThe world of writing has a dark side that no one likes to talk about. It’s vicious and twisted and can do untold damage to sensitive (and even not so sensitive) souls. What’s worse is that there is no escaping it. If you want to be a professional writer you will have to overcome the horror of The Rejection Letter.

No one likes to be rejected. It’s difficult to accept that something about you or something that you’ve done has been deemed unacceptable or unworthy in some way. It hurts. It makes you question your talent, your worth, even yourself. It’s particularly bad when you’ve poured your heart and soul into a book that you feel is as near to perfection as anything can ever be.

Most writers feel that way about their first book.

Unfortunately, publishers rarely do. And that’s where the little envelopes of pain come enter the picture.

It doesn’t matter how kindly-worded the letter, how constructive and helpful the criticism, or how encouraging the tone, rejection letters can feel like the end of the world.

They’re not.

It sounds trite, but it’s true. Rejection letters aren’t the end of the world. And, even though it is a cliché, you can learn a lot from each rejection that you get. But that doesn’t help you cope with the immediate aftermath, so here’s some advice that should.


Matt Moore makes perfect sense when he says that rejection letters kick off the natural grieving process. Grief is related to loss and you experience black holes filled with loss when your work is rejected.

As you may or may not know, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined the five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying, which was published way back in 1969. It’s not a perfect process (the model has been quite severely criticised by some) and it’s not linear, but very little that has to do with the mind is perfect or linear, so that’s ok.

The important thing to remember is that it’s ok to feel any or all of the following:

1)     Denial

How could it be rejected? It’s wonderful, a masterpiece. It can’t be true. You reread the letter a dozen times hoping that the words will be different. They’re not.

2)     Anger

How dare they reject you? You’re wonderful, a master. They’re ignoramuses who’ve not understood the brilliance of your work. They’ve not appreciated the horror/humour/irony/insight – whatever. The point is, they are idiots and they will pay.

Sometimes anger is directed internally rather than externally, especially for those sensitive souls already mentioned. If you are a sensitive soul and tend to be excessively hard on yourself, you need to find healthy coping mechanisms – and you need to do it now.

3)     Bargaining

Maybe if I change that character, maybe if I change that location, maybe if I change rework the ending, maybe if I get a new proofreader – all the maybes in the world enter your mind. Some of them may be (ahem) valid, but don’t make any rash changes to your story, yet. Get yourself through the process so that you can look at your work objectively. Besides, an acceptance letter could be on the way and then all your worry is for nothing.

4)     Depression

At this point you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are a terrible writer. You’re wasting your time and everyone else’s time. You should apply for that position as a toll booth operator immediately because being published is clearly not in your destiny.

And, even if you’re not a terrible writer, no one will ever appreciate your work. No one will ever give you a chance. The industry is all about nepotism and teenage vampires and you’re not willing to sink that low.

It’s important to note that while depression is normal, it’s not normal for it to last a long time. If you’re depressed for more than a week, think about seeing your doctor.

5)     Acceptance

You know what? It’s not that bad really. There are plenty of other publishers you can try. Your work has promise. You have promise. And if this book never gets published, well, there is always the next one.

The thing is

The thing about grief is that it’s intensely personal. Some people go through all of the stages in a straight line. Some people jump from denial to depression, back to denial and into acceptance, before going back to denial again. Some people zoom through the stages in three hours, and some people take a week.

If you’re stuck in any of the stages though, or can’t seem to find your way out of a grief cycle, then, as advised, get professional help.

Alternatively, you can build up your resilience to rejection using the following tools:

  • Meditation

Cultivate peace of mind. Make it a habit and you will be able to return to that calm state after periods of emotional upheaval. The stronger the habit, the less disruptive the upheaval and the quicker your journey through the grieving process.

It may sound happy-clappy, but it works.

  • Violence

Definitely NOT violence towards others or yourself. Repeat: definitely NOT violence towards others or yourself. Find a rough and sweaty boxing gym and pummel a punching bag. Take some lessons so that you know what you’re doing and don’t frustrate yourself further. Once again, make it a habit. Let off steam regularly and you won’t have so much emotional build up waiting to erupt at the slightest provocation.

  • Friend therapy

Build a strong social circle. A real one, not one on Facebook. You need people with whom you can physically meet to share a meal or a drink. You need to rant and you need to laugh. Good friends will help you do both. They will support you and, when you need it, they will give you a kick in the pants to get you back on your feet.

  • Hair of the dog

If you consider that the remedy involves taking a little of what ails you to cure you, then the best thing for you to do is write. It can be a strongly-worded letter refuting the rejection (don’t send it, whatever you do!) or it can be a collection of limericks. You can try something new; for example, you could write a fantasy short story if your forte lies in romantic poetry. But, only do this as a mental exercise and don’t do it if you know you’ll get frustrated and angry.

  • Take it easy

Don’t embark on any major new projects until you’ve settled down. Pamper yourself a little. Pampering doesn’t have to involve expensive spa treatments and fine dining at five-star restaurants. It could be as simple as soaking in a hot bath or watching some ducks swimming in a pond. It could be getting up early to watch the sunrise from the beach. You know what brings you joy – pamper yourself by finding it.

Remember that you are not alone. All writers get rejected, even the greats. Kenneth Atchity wrote a great article on dealing with rejection, in which he says that Elmore Leonard’s novel The Big Bounce was rejected 84 times before it was finally accepted and published.

If Leonard could cope with 84 letters of rejection, so can you.


Written by Sandy Cosser

Image credit: Sean MacEntee, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr


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