On Rejection and Beyond

Photo by Alex E. Proimos
photo by Alex E. Proimos

Somebody will tell you no.

It’s going to happen. It has probably happened already. It might happen today, or tomorrow, or every day next week and then some. Maybe it happened five minutes ago and the pain is still searingly fresh, or maybe it’s on its way, looming dark and ugly on the horizon, five minutes from now.

Somebody will tell you no.

It could be any one of a thousand people, for any one of a thousand reasons. The magazine editor doesn’t give you the assignment. The journal doesn’t accept your short story. Your beta reader breaks the news to you, gently, that your work-in-progress isn’t compelling in the way it needs to be. The agent doesn’t think your edits have made the book better, only different. The editor can’t convince the publisher to make an offer. The famous author doesn’t give your book a blurb. The papers don’t review you. The sales just aren’t where they should be. The award committee chooses someone else. The agent says no. The publisher says no. Barnes & Noble says no. The readers say no. The little voice in the back of your head says no, as much as you wish it didn’t, as much as you try to drown it out with your confident internal yes.

Somebody will tell you no.

Some days it feels like the world is wallpapered with nothing but no. Like there will never be anything but rejection. The worst of it is, no is a renewable resource. There are always more nos out there.

And what do you do with that? It’s up to you.

Some writers will counsel you to turn every no into a yes, but that isn’t really how it works. Some nos are temporary, but others are permanent. Not every story will find a home. Your dream agent may remain always and forever a dream. Not every writer gets published. Not every book finds its readers or earns out its advance. Not every writer who sells a first book sells a second one. Even a yes can be followed up by no, surrounded by no, overwhelmed by no.

Depressing? It doesn’t have to be.

Because as many nos as there are in the world, that isn’t all that’s out there. No isn’t the answer to every question.

The only way that no ends your journey is if you let it. If you stop at no. So don’t stop. Keep going. Keep learning. Keep writing. Hone your craft. Expand your reach. Get better and do better, and keep asking. There are other stories. Other agents. Other publishers. Other readers. Other books. If you’re smart and motivated, you’re already headed toward it. There’s no telling which direction it’ll come from, who will say it, what question it’ll be answering, but it is most certainly out there, maybe just over the horizon.

Somebody will tell you yes.


About Jael McHenry

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.


  1. says

    I was at a science fiction convention, and one of the panelists was a well-published SF author. He been in the big magazines and had won the Nebula. He also had racked up 500 rejections and had just gotten another one. It doesn’t stop once you get published.

  2. says

    Here’s where the day job helps for me — which is sales. It takes many NOs to get to that YES. But you have to be confident in your product, believe in it — and then others will believe in it too. If you doubt yourself; others will too. They can sense it.

    A certain amount of “rejection amnesia” helps too. Forget how many you sent out. Focus on how many you are going to send out today. Listen to some music — and start drafting some queries!

    Kill that nagging voice of doubt before it grows! Like a weed.

    • says

      Yes! (See, there’s that yes.) You can pause and acknowledge the no, but if you start wallowing and let it take over, you risk stalling out.

  3. says

    This post is so timely! Had four no’s recently. Racked up 25 on a previous manuscript, which made me put it down for the current WiP. I’m sticking with the current manuscript, because it has more potential than the other. But the no’s caused me to rewrite the first three chapters and cut to make the book tighter.

  4. says

    Thanks for this, Jael. It reminds me of the importance of our community. Seems every few weeks or so a member of the WU fb group shares their despair over rejection. Empathy and commiseration can be quite a healing balm.

    • says

      We’re all in this together, both the despair and the joy! Even on the days where it seems there’s way more of the former.

  5. CG Blake says

    Thanks for this post. Perseverance is a trait writers must develop. Rejection is the writer’s friend because it pushes the writer to improve. A writer is going to get many more no’s than yes’s. This makes success all the more sweet. Thanks again.

  6. says

    Yes, there are so many nos. It’s the litmus test, whether you’re in it for the long haul or not. A no makes you innovative and pushes you farther and farther into improvement and innovation, that’s what I’ve found. My query letter is forever morphing, ever challenging me into closer expressing the kernel of the story more concisely.

    Personally, I can’t change the themes of my WIP to fit the cookie-cutter stories most agents and editors are searching for, those that don’t challenge the reader as my story does, or tackle some uncomfortable topics, but I know that it is what will make my WIP ultimately sell. It’s different. One agent, or perhaps it will be self-publishing or a small press, will find that “difference” just the right thing.

    I will persevere through the sea of nos until I find the yes – in what ever form it may arrive.

    Thanks for the encouragement, Jael.

  7. says

    If you don’t ask the answer is always no. I know people who have kept every rejection letter. I’ve only kept the yes votes. It’s a small folder.

  8. says

    Last month, an agent sent a release for me to sign and asked me to send my full MS, in response to my query letter.

    Three weeks later I opened up my email to a “…sorry, not for me…” type of statement.

    I felt like the girl asked out by her crush, looked forward to the big date, and then received the text “sorry…it’s not you, it’s me…”

    Your post came at a good time for me. I know I’ll find my match soon.

    • says

      Definitely crushing to get that no back after the encouragement of a full request. But it seems like you’ve got the right attitude about it, Mona! That sort of request is a great sign that you’re getting closer to the goal.

  9. says

    Such a timely post … I just realized today that I should’ve said “no” to someone (what was I thinking when I said “yes,” to a commitment i have no time for?), yet here I am worrying about all the No’s I’m sure to receive myself.

    Funny how we are encouraged to say No, so as not to short change ourselves of being able to do things we want to do … but when someone replies No to us, we so often accept that word as the end of the line.

    I’m not sure where I heard this, but it’s the way I like to think of the No’s I hear: No is the first two letters of Not Yet.

    All No really means is, Make It So Good They Have To Say Yes.

  10. says

    Wonderful post and so encouraging. I’ve gotten hundreds of rejections over the years from publishers, editors, and agents for my short stories and novels. At the moment, I’ve sold all my short stories except for one and finally getting some reviews and sales for my novels. It seems to take more than perfecting your craft, writing regularly, and persistence. It also takes knowing the markets you need to sell to and knowing what the editors want, knowing what readers want. So, learning about the readership that is right for your work is also part of the strategy/pitch. I find this to be very challenging!

  11. says

    So very true! I allow a day or so for a “regrouping day” (read pity palooza) then, it’s shake it off and keep going. Thanks for the encouragement!

  12. says

    Thanks for this Jael. Sometimes it is so hard to stay motivated, even if writing is the one thing I know I want/need to do. All those nos (and non-answers) can pile up – it’s exhausting!

  13. says

    I totally could have written this post. Right up my alley and so, so true. Never give up. Move on, learn, get over it, do whatever you have to do, but never give up. Great post!

  14. says

    Great post Jael! :-)

    I like to think that NO stands for Next Opportunity.

    As many here have already said, it’s about persistence, the long haul. If we commit to the journey, a NO merely leads us to the next step of being a published writer.