No, thank you: Dealing with writing rejection


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Everyone remembers their first time. The sound of the mail hitting the mat, heavier than usual and full of promise. You rush into the hall and scoop up your baby, the work you have spent a year of your life on, and tear open the envelope in eager anticipation of the letter of awe and ten book publishing deal that surely lies within. But wait, there must be some mistake, you think as you read the dreaded words ‘we are sorry’ at the start of the paragraph…

Alas, rejection is all part and parcel of the professional writing experience. Whilst it is all very well for me to roll off all the usual platitudes about how *insert name of now famous author* was rejected *insert very high number of times* before landing their big break, I know that is of scant comfort as you sit stroking your manuscript and wondering if you’ve wasted the last year of your life and possibly even if you are cut out for this writing game anyway and whether you should ever write anything again.

Let me deal with the last point first. Yes. The answer is yes. If you got this far you are a writer and should definitely write again. In getting the rejection letter you have already got further than most people ever do because it means you have finished something. That alone is more than the majority of people who call themselves ‘aspiring writers’ ever manage. On a side note, please don’t ever call yourself an ‘aspiring’ writer. If you write things (and by that I mean finish them) you are a writer. If you don’t, you are not. There is, in my view, no grey area. (Whether you are a professional writer or not is a whole different story). So take that as the first positive in the rejection. It means you are a step closer to your ultimate goal because you actually finished a book.

I believe there are two main ways of making rejection hurt less. And believe me, it took me more years than I care to admit before I realised this. If I could have known this sooner I could have saved myself a lot of writing-based anguish. So here they are.

Remember it’s not personal.

It really isn’t. I know it feels personal when they are tearing apart your darling, but they don’t know you and have probably never met you. They are rejecting your current piece of work at that current time. That is all. They are not rejecting ‘you’ or your chances of becoming a professional writer in future. Remember also that there is no great cabal desperate to keep out great new writers at all costs. Quite the opposite is true. The industry is desperate for great writing and great stories. When you are good enough, you will get the right sort of attention. This simple mind-set shift from the personal to the objective made every rejection letter much less hurtful. No longer was it an attack on my very soul but merely an evaluation of a piece of work as viable product in the current market. I know that sounds awfully cold and we writers like to think of ourselves as creatives above all that, but that’s the reality. You are pitching a product to the industry and if they think it will sell, they will commission it.

Write something else

This is vitally important. Lots of writers I speak to suffer from ‘one-itis’. That is, they finish a book / script / film or whatever and send it to every agent or producer they can think of. Once it has been rejected they find more people to send it to, so convinced are they that it is this specific thing that they must be recognised for.

If you put all your hope into a single project and that is rejected it is much harder to find the motivation to carry on with new things. Being blind to a project’s negatives will only lead to more frustration later on. Take feedback where it is given, be gracious about it, and by all means re-draft and improve the piece based on it, but don’t only do that. When you send off a finished piece of work you should start the next one straight away. Remember, you are a writer, so write. That way if your work is rejected you are already on with the next one and can use the feedback not only to improve the old one but to increase your chances of success in future. Once you reduce your emotional attachment to a single piece any rejection of that piece becomes easier to take. They didn’t want this one? No matter, I’m already halfway through the next.

I hope that considering those two simple points offers a crumb of comfort next time the dreaded ‘thanks, but no thanks’ hits your mat. And remember, it doesn’t matter how often they say no, they need only to say yes once.

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