On Rejection

PhotobucketAs a writer, you may think you have the market cornered on this. This is one job where you can plug away for twenty years without positive reinforcement from the industry. Then one day, everything changes. Instead of an endless string of no-thank-yous, you get a yes, please. That sale or signing with your agent may change everything.

But that first breakthrough doesn’t mean you’ll never hear the word “no” again. And you may not realize it, but agents get rejected as well. Sometimes a book pleases a lot of different agents at once. They all offer representation, but the writer only needs one agent. Which means the rest get a “thanks, but no”. If they really wanted that particular project, it can be crushing. Why didn’t the writer pick me? I thought we really connected on the phone and via email. Did you know agents have these kinds of mental conversations? They totally do.

Editors, too. I know, right? It’s kind of mind-blowing. But in fact, editors don’t always get the writers they want. Sometimes the budget is such, they just can’t offer enough money to tempt that person to sign on. Sometimes there are multiple offers on a book and the editor isn’t the chosen one. If this person loves the book enough to offer for it, this is going to be a disappointing outcome. It’s a great scenario for the writer whose book has engendered such massive love (and maybe it will be you!) but on the other end of your delightful dilemma, there’s a person with his or her fingers crossed. And you can only pick one person.

So the next time you get a rejection, remember you’re not alone. Other writers have been there. They’ve felt the sadness that this angle didn’t pan out, so maybe it’s time to try X or Y or maybe even Z. More to the point, agents and editors have been there too. They’re not unable to imagine what you’re going through. Chances are, at some point, they’ve been there. And they’re sorry, but whatever you have, it isn’t a good fit at this time.

That’s the point of my post, actually. We’re all humans before our jobs. It can be tough to remember, but it’s not personal. And it’s never too early to don your professional hat, take that rejection on the chin, and then pull yourself up by your bootstraps to implement plan B. If you really want this, you have to dig in and be prepared to go that extra mile. Nothing worth having comes easy. I feel that’s true in relationships and writing.

What are your favorite strategies for dealing with rejection?

Photo courtesy Flickr’s Brandon Christopher Warren


About Ann Aguirre

Ann Aguirre is a bestselling, multi-published author with a degree in English Literature. She is a prolific writer, with nine releases planned for 2011 alone. She writes romantic science fiction and urban fantasy under her own name. As Ava Gray, she writes high-octane romances. She also writes "hot paranormal apocalyptic action" with fellow author Carrie Lofty under the pseudonymn Ellen Connor. Follow her on Twitter.


  1. says

    Great post – thank you!

    I’m a writer who has also been in Human Resources for 20 years, and submitting a MS reminds me a lot of the recruitment process. I try to view a rejection letter the same. It’s not personal, my skills/MS just weren’t a good fit for this company at this time. I keep honing my skills/MS and try for the next opportunity. Even an interview/full MS request doesn’t mean I’ll get an offer. I’ve found that this really helps me from taking the rejection as a personal one.

    And hiring managers feel rejection too. It’s horrible to find a perfect candidate, one you really click with, one you’ve been envisioning a mutually beneficial working relationship with, only to have them accept an offer elsewhere. Ouch. Did we do something wrong? Was it the company itself, or me, the manager, who was found lacking? Rejection stings both ways.

  2. says

    My strategy for dealing with rejection? I submit another query or story, or enter another contest. These activities are like push-ups. They build muscle. They thicken the skin. They keep me from feeling sorry for those who missed on my writing.

  3. says

    When my manuscript and I have been rejected, and I’m feeling that Mean Voice (the one that says things like, “Why did you EVER think this writing thing was a good idea?!?” and “They are right. The Rejectors are RIGHT!”) I let myself wallow for a few minutes, then I forward the rejection to two dear pals who remind me to laugh and not listen to one person’s clearly bogus opinion. Sometimes (I am ashamed to admit) we even say mean things about the Rejector. Things that are wildly untrue, but things that make us laugh and feel better about the fact that this person didn’t want me.

    THEN, (rejection is very time consuming) I listen to the opinion of Pixar’s blue tang fish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmyUkm2qlhA

  4. says

    Thank you for this! It’s a healthy reminder to writers that sometimes even editors and agents get rejected, too :) I never really considered it from that point of view.
    I wrote something in my blog about why writers shouldn’t hate on agents and when you say “We’re all humans before our jobs” it reminded me of this point I tried to make:

    As disappointing at that rejection email can be for writers, we need to remember that agents are people, too. They don’t hover on their keyboards just waiting to reject us. For whatever reason, they don’t think our writing works for them and that’s okay. When we get the letter telling us it’s not right for them, that does not translate to “It’s not good enough.” I think it would do all writers well to remind themselves of that from time to time.

    I think I’ll now remind myself of the points you made as well. Thanks for that!

  5. says

    Thought-provoking post that’s spot-on. As a writer, I always remember that it is not ME that is being rejected; it is a piece of writing that may or may not be sitting in front of the right audience, that may or may not need some further tweaking that I’ve overlooked, that may be out there at the wrong time. And then I keep going.

    As an editor, I try to remember that writers need to know what’s working as well as what’s not and to tailor my responses accordingly. I always hope the authors don’t take it personally if I comment on something because it’s about the work. Not the person. The work. The words. They are a malleable thing.

  6. says

    never really thought about it like that, but yes, I’m sure Agents, Editors, and dare i say, Publishers get that aching NO from time to time

    Hmmmmm, interesting

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  7. Tristi Mullett says

    I haven’t actually started submitting yet, but I know how I want to view the rejections I will get: validation that I’m making that step. I want to celebrate every rejection I get because it means that I’m putting my work out there, and if that agent or editor isn’t the right one for that piece, I’m still sending it out to be seen by the pros. That I’m still getting valuable feedback from those members of the industry that are the first goal to where I want to be, a published author.

    I’ve been writing primarily for myself for over 20 years. It’s time I get my words out in the world for others to see, and rejections are the invaluable steps to doing this. So I look forward to the form letters, the personal crafted emails, the professional comments that I will be getting as I move forward on my journey. They’ll be going in a special binder where I will laud the milestones I cross, because this journey is one I’ve wanted to make, and have been afraid of, for 20 years. It’s going to be one hell of a ride. ^_^

    Thanks for the view of the other side!

  8. says

    It’s not personal. It’s business. Repeat as needed.

    I think writers (like other creative types) struggle with that truism because rejection feels personal. I.e. it’s not a straight up, hard numbers decision making process in our business.

    The silver lining is that where rejection is so subjective (as in writing), it means a big, loud NO! from one avenue won’t necessarily mean no from others.

  9. says

    I think it’s important to remember that even if you do get signed with an agent, THEY could get rejected, too. They don’t sell everything they take on. Sometimes editors aren’t interested. Getting an agent does not mean “making it”–yet.

    I haven’t started submitting queries, so I haven’t dealt with writing rejection too much yet, but my strategy for dealing with rejection in general is to go do something else for the night. It helps if you can get a friend or loved on to distract you, too. In the morning, things will seem better, or at least you’ll be able to form a better plan to move forward, whether it’s by contacting the next person on your list or working on a new project.

  10. says

    I love the approach you took here. I’ll admit that I’ve dealt with plenty of rejection (with only a few acceptances), and I almost thought I’d mastered the art. What I never thought about is the fact that editors/agents have to deal with rejection as well. I love the new perspective.

    To deal with rejection, I collect all my rejection slips, and keep them in a folder. I keep my acceptance slips in a separate folder. It sounds odd, but somehow organizing them in this way reminds me that the majority of writers get rejected dozens of times before they start to get accepted.

    Also, I re-submit my work elsewhere immediately after I get rejected. I try not to allow myself to grieve over the rejection, or to think that I’m not good enough. More then likely, my work just didn’t suit the editors needs at the time. I try not to think too hard about the rejection and move on.

  11. says

    Favorite strategies for dealing with rejection? Well, there’s always this strategy to take the initial sting out of rejection so that you can act like the true professional you are: apply generous doses of chocolate and/or red wine as needed. Works for me.

  12. says

    I look at every rejection as somebody telling me that they are not the person who can help me sell my book.

    That just saves me time, and lets me get back to looking for somebody who can.

  13. says

    Alcohol…followed by a good sulk for 24 hours.

    After that, it’s pick myself up, have a look at any comments in the rejection and see if there’s something that I can take on board. If it’s just a standard form, then file it away and move on to the next house/editor/agent.

    If the ms is getting persistent rejections it is probably a good idea to put it away, work on something new and pull it out again in a couple of months and review it with cold, fresh eyes.

    I’ve learned not to view it as personal. It’s not ME they are rejecting, it’s the book and there may be any number of reasons.

    Onwards and upwards!

    Alison S.

  14. Joelle Wilson says

    Great post with good reminders. I never thought about rejection from the viewpoint of the agents until read your post. Interesting to think about it though.

    Not at the query point on my journey so I’m not sure how I’ll handle rejection. I’d like to think that it won’t bother me, but I’ll wait for the first one and see what happens. I’m thinking maybe a hot fudge sundae and a good movie.

  15. says

    Rejection happens to everyone, and I think that where you’re faced with a situation where rejection is a possible outcome, you should give it your all but expect the worst, that way you’re not disappointed when it happens, and you can be ecstatic when it turns good. But as for rejection, it happens, don’t take it personally, give yourself some chocolate ice cream and bad chick flick movie therapy and then move on and try again.

  16. says

    First I think, “Lucky for me, I have a day job that I like,” and continue working on my new project. Second, I think of Johnathan Lethem, whose third manuscript was the first one to be published.


  17. says

    Joyce and Tolstoy didn’t start publishing their serious works until in their thirties; I can take rejection with the comfort of having ten years to go before feeling bad about the comparison.