How to Get Over Rejection: A Writer’s Guide
Learning how to get over rejection isn’t easy, especially if you’ve poured your heart and soul into your writing. You’ve written an incredible story, a brilliant poem, or the next great novel. Finally, it’s finished, and you’re ready to share it with the world. You find the perfect journal, publisher, or agent you just know will publish or represent your work and send your submission out into the electronic ether. Then, you wait.
The Waiting Game
When (and if) that response finally comes, titled “Your X Submission” or simply “Re: Your Piece,” your stomach knots with nerves. You can’t tell what’s inside yet, so you suck in your breath, your fingers tingling, and click it open. Everyone hopes to see the words “Congratulations!” emblazoned at the top, along with a message telling you how much they loved your writing and that they can’t wait to print your piece or represent you, but sadly, that’s not always the reality.
Sometimes we do get acceptance messages—that’s what every writer dreams of after all—at which point we can rightly celebrate. But the reality is, only a small percentage of submissions are accepted, so most often, what you’ll receive in your inbox, is a rejection.
What does a rejection look like?
Rejections come in many forms, but most of them are formulaic and will look something like this:
Dear Mx. Writer,
Thank you for sharing your work with us. We have decided not to publish this particular submission. Unfortunately, we receive many fine works that are not quite right for this journal. We appreciate your interest in Our Publication.
The message will usually include a little cushion to reduce the sting. The agent, publisher, or publication will mention the staggering number of submissions they received and point out that they can only accept a few. They’ll thank you for submitting and wish you all the best in your future endeavours.
Occasionally, you may get a little more. They may let you know that your piece was a strong contender, but that ultimately, it didn’t make the cut. Feedback like this is great, especially if they tell you they enjoyed your writing style and that, despite not accepting this particular submission, they hope you’ll send other work to them in the future.
A kind rejection can feel like a victory when written well, but the real benefit is that it provides valuable feedback on what resonates with agents and publishers that you can use in future submissions.
But let’s be honest, rejection hurts.
Practicing how to get over rejection
Unless you have skin as thick as an overpass, none of us receives rejections and steps away completely unaffected. Nor should we aspire to. Writers feel deeply; it’s why we’re so good a weaving our emotions into our work.
So, this is how to get over rejection: Go ahead and feel whatever you feel. Cry, eat some comfort food, go for a run. Breathe in, breathe out, and then? Get back to work. Whatever you do, do not give up.
We’ve all heard anecdotes about famous authors who got rejections before being published. They never gave up but kept going, eventually publishing to great acclaim. Stephen King, Samuel Beckett, and Madeleine L’Engle are just a few well-known examples of writers who received multiple rejections before a publisher finally took a chance on them. When it comes to acceptance, all you need is one.
I once took a class with poet Megan Falley who encouraged her students to amass one hundred rejections – an awe-inspiring number. It seems insurmountable, but somehow, the immensity of that number is freeing. To get to that number, we must keep going. Keep writing, keep revising, keep submitting.
How to use rejection to your advantage
The art of rejection is using it to grow, improve, and continually become a better writer. If you think someone is wrong to have rejected your piece, use that energy to show them what they missed out on by writing the most beautiful, creative piece you can. Build on your rejections to produce more – the most important thing is to make sure your writing never stagnates.
So, how can you get over rejection, and what steps can you take afterwards to increase the chance of being published in future?
- Ask for feedback. Kindly respond to the email declining your piece and ask if they would be willing to share what swayed their decision. Ask if they have any suggestions on how you can improve your work to improve your chances at acceptance in the future. Publishers, publications, and agents won’t always say yes to the request (or respond at all), but if you ask nicely, some editors or reviewers will be willing to share their thoughts. If you don’t ask, you won’t get, so it’s worth taking a chance. (Also, worth noting that if you don’t like their feedback, or disagree with it, don’t respond to tell them why they’re wrong. We’re becoming better writers, not burning bridges here. This goes for reviews post-publication as well. Sometimes it’s best to just take these things on the chin.)
- Make sure you’re submitting to the right places. Don’t submit blindly to all publications or agents. Pay attention to what type of work they’re looking for. Read sample pieces or browse through editors’ wish lists. Don’t send poetry to a journal that only publishes short fiction hoping that they will make an exception for you. Give your work a fighting chance and submit to outlets that want to publish work like yours.
- Is your piece as strong as it can be? Editors and agents can tell if you submit your first draft and if this is the case, it’s unlikely you’ll get anything but a rejection. Wait to submit until you know your piece is excellent. It’s always worth getting feedback from an unbiased reader in advance of submission to get a more impartial view of the quality of your work. If you’re getting multiple rejections, take another look at what you’ve written. Could it be improved?
- And finally, persevere. It takes time to find the right fit and you want whoever represents you to be excited to publish your work. Research more publications and agents and keep submitting. Keep writing new pieces, polish them, and submit those too.
You won’t regret trying to get published. But you will regret giving up. Rejection is just one step on your way to achieving your goals, so if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.