Dealing With Rejection

Where writing is concerned, there is something that is always worth visiting time and again; another chance to look at every writer’s worst nightmare – rejection.

Every writer will experience this – fact.  But it’s how we deal with the fallout that matters, how we prevent ourselves from feeding on the negativity it produces (or seems to) by seemingly giving up writing altogether in a fit of pique, or whether we spend months in our caves, sulking like children.  It’s all about how writers dust themselves off and carry on.

And most writers do just that.  They absorb the news, process it, learn from it and move on. 

To deal with rejection, however, writers must first need to understand what it actually means, because receiving a rejection isn’t always a bad thing.  It’s not the end of the world, it’s not the end of a writing career before it’s begun and it is not representative of complete dismissal either.  These are the instant negatives that writers assume.

Many writers find it hard to deal with rejection, either because they are unprepared for it or because they assume it’s a personal criticism.  Firstly, let’s dispel one of many myths – it’s not personal.  Rejection is about the work, not the writer.

The second most common myth is that your work is being rejected because it is complete and utter rubbish.  This is not always the case.  Work can be rejected for a plethora of reasons, and most of the time it isn’t to do with the story being rubbish. 

The third common myth is that all rejections are negative.  Most rejections are seen as negative simply by default, but on reading them again, plenty of them are actually constructive rejections.  In other words, the work might not be up to the standard required by an editor just yet; however with some improvements, it could be. 

Of course, most writers will only see what they want to see in a rejection, and most will see a complete dismissal of months of hard work and blood, sweat and tears.  They won’t see any constructive feedback with it (not all rejections come with feedback anyway), and they certainly won’t feel any positivity.

A rejection is not all bad news – it means the writer has planned, written and completed a piece of work, whether it is an article or story or novel, and subjected it to peers (editors, agents, publishers) for approval.  To have got that far is an accomplishment, because it’s a well-known fact that most writing projects are never completed because the writers give up at the first few hurdles.

To actually send something out is a landmark moment in a writer’s career, even if a rejection comes winging back. It takes determination, hard work and tenacity to send out your work.  Sometimes it’s accepted, sometimes it’s rejected. 

For those who are new to writing and haven’t yet experienced rejection, it can be a frustrating and painful process, and you might feel a range of emotions, such as these:-

·         Anger or frustration
·         Disbelief
·         Disappointment
·         Negativity
·         Self doubt

Anger and frustration is borne out of the initial shock of the rejection and is a normal reaction.  That’s because all writers become defensive about their work whenever it is criticised, and anger is a by-product of that natural need to defend.  The frustration comes after the anger subsides – all that work for nothing...

Disbelief comes to those who, again, assume their work is so perfect that it couldn’t possibly be rejected, and when it does happen it leaves them completely shell shocked.  Writers must always remember that no matter how fantastic the work might be, it may still be rejected. 

Disappointment is inevitable.  Disappointment happens because the work didn’t make it, but some writers become disappointed with themselves – particularly those who suffer from perfectionism - and if they are not careful it can lead to a negative thought process which can be hard to break.

Negativity, in its own right, comes about through the fact that writers think the rejection is about them. They automatically think “The story is rubbish, therefore I’m rubbish”.  This thought pattern quickly overrides any objective logic, and again, once embedded, it can be hard to break.

Self-doubt happens when the negativity gets the better of them and they think that the work was rejected because it was no good, therefore what is the point of writing in the first place?  And because it has been rejected, therefore everything else I submit will be rejected.  Or the writer thinks “I’m not good enough”.

All these emotions are normal reactions, but writers must accept rejections as an inevitable, if painful, part of the writing process.  You win some, you lose some.  But you never lose forever – the losing changes to winning in time, if as a writer, you accept the rejection, learn from it, and improve.

But why is work rejected?

Work is rejected for numerous reasons; not all are bad, and practically all of them simply require the writer to edit and re-write and make the work better. 

Work can be rejected because of messy grammar errors, or it doesn’t read very well.  Maybe it doesn’t quite make sense.  They might think the story is too weak, or the story doesn’t have believable characters.  Editors could reject a story if it doesn’t have enough description perhaps. 

And sometimes a polite ‘thanks, but no thanks’ simply means that your story isn’t what the agent or editor is looking for right now.  It may be that your graphic horror story doesn’t fit their readership or their current requirements.

In the second part of dealing with rejection, we’ll look at ways writers can turn the negativity into positivity and make that rejection a valuable part of the writing process.

Next week: Part 2 – Turning rejection into a positive thing



  1. Thank for another awesome post. I have fell victim to most of the rejections types you mention and look forward to reading part 2!!

    1. Thanks MV. Hopefully Part 2 will help you overcome rejections in the future.

  2. I had one from People's Friend, and I thought I'd written something just perfect for them. I should know as I've had the magazine for the last two years and read most of the stories. I have certainly studied the market.

    1. Even when we study the market, sometimes we still get rejected. But that just means we try harder next time.

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  5. Hi AJ, I was wondering if you could give advice on how to safely submit your original story ideas to publishers and agents without needing to fear the story being stolen or "re-interpreted" and printed with no credit to you.

    1. Hi there. This is a question lots of writers ask about, and it boils down to that terribly grey area of copyright.

      Firstly, if you submit a synopsis of a story or a full story, then you are automatically covered by copyright - from the moment you wrote it, you own the rights to it, and you have the law to protect you accordingly.

      If you submit an idea, however, then you should understand that copyright does not exist on ideas and you will have no protection from publishers, agents or the law. Sometimes we have to trust them, but that is no guarantee.

      My advice in this instance is to state that on your story idea sumissions that the story is currently being worked on, that some has been written, which means that there is some protection afforded.

      The best adice is to write the story first, then submit.

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  7. My life experiences gave me some tough skin, so rejection in and of itself doesn't phase me. What annoys me are agents/publishing houses that will not accept queries if you've pitched it to another person at the same time, but also take upwards of four months to reply.

    1. Some agents/publishers can be quite picky about this and it's annoying for writers who have to wait, then submit, then wait, then submit etc., however, it's now becoming the accepted etiquette and writers are having to fall in line.

      Fours months is not unusual for a reply. Some can take up to six months. Others can take just a week or two. It depends on how many unsolicited MSS they have to process and how quick the staff get through them.


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