Get Over Rejection in 6 Easy Steps

Hacks for Hacks (sense of humor required)Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

Stuffing your manuscript in the yellow envelope and mailing it to a magazine feels like putting your kid on the big yellow school bus for her first day of school. When your story comes back in a self-addressed, stamped envelope accompanied by a rejection letter, it’s like your kid’s being dropped off in a squad car after getting nabbed for public urination. Like one of your kids, you were once so full of hopes and dreams for your story, of how it would make you proud and earn money to support you in your declining years.

Like a punishment out of Greek mythology, writers roll their work up Publishing Hill, only to have rejection pull it back down and crush them underneath. I’m going to show you how to steel yourself against the death of a thousand paper cuts that is the rejection letter:

Plenty of people don’t like the Beatles or Shakespeare. This proves the world is overrun with morons, so it’s not unlikely the editor who rejected you is one of them.

      1. First, resist the urge to act like you’re going through the five stages of grief. That’s so cliché. Proceed directly to anger and stay there (the more rejections you collect, the easier that gets). Think of rejection like a twelve-step program that only has six steps.
      2. Remind yourself you can’t make people like what they don’t like. Plenty of people don’t like the Beatles or Shakespeare. This proves the world is overrun with morons, so it’s not unlikely the editor who rejected you is one of them.
      3. Be proactive for next time. For future submissions, remember the SASE itself is an extra chance at making a sale. Imagine a sinister editor cackling and twirling his mustache as he stuffs a Xeroxed, quarter-page, form rejection slip into your envelope. But what’s this? Waiting for him inside the envelope is a SECRET ALTERNATE ENDING that replaces your dramatic courtroom scene with a rootin’-tootin’ cowboy shoot-em-up. Only someone with your talent and skill could come up with not one, but TWO endings he doesn’t like.
      4. How do you communicate when you’re talking to a non-English speaker? You just talk louder (“I said, WHERE IS THE BATHROOM?”) It’s the same thing with editors and literary agents. Send your story to that same editor immediately, this time with all the important bits italicized for emphasis. Repeat as necessary. Modern word processors have several options for highlighting, bolding, and changing the text color, so don’t be afraid to use them all. The editor may not like your story. She may not like your tactics. She may begin to dislike you on a personal level, but deep down, she’ll admire your persistence once she sees you’re in this for the long haul.
      5. We’ve all heard stories of how famous authors accumulated dozens, if not hundreds of rejections before they got published. Become one of them! Start sending out stories to every magazine you can find. Remember, a story is merely a piece of writing that has a beginning, middle, and an end. Literary fiction has shown that nothing even needs to happen in the story. Genre fiction has taught you that you don’t need believable characters. I’m not schooled on the negative stereotypes of romance, but I’ll bet it’s taught you something equally insulting. So send out whatever you’ve got lying around–Put some of your tweets together and claim it’s an “experimental” story. Send in that email exchange between you and your girlfriend after you broke up. Hell, if you want a tale that examines the futility of human existence, send in your grocery list. Speaking of food…
      6. Order a pizza. You deserve it.

If you want a tale that examines the futility of human existence, send in your grocery list.

The open wound inflicted by that rejection letter has now healed into a badass-looking scar. You’ve come out of the experience a little wiser. A little tougher. A little better at masking your fear that you’ve wasted your life pursuing a vocation with nothing to show for it but carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s natural. Embrace it. Now send that story to another magazine! When your SASE returns home to you with nothing to show for its efforts, welcome it home like in the parable of the prodigal son, with a big celebration (seriously, order that pizza already). That story will be disappointing you for years to come, so you may as well learn to enjoy it.

Help out your fellow writers! Share your tips on coping with rejection in the comments.

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About Bill Ferris

After college, Bill Ferris left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife, Jen, and his sons, Elliott and Wyatt, and he looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.

Comments

  1. says

    I love this hacks for hacks series! Never thought that I could highlight the important parts for editors to make them understand my genius. Even better, one could include annotations to help interpret the more enigmatic, artsy sequences–YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO FEEL DEEPLY MOVED IN THIS PARAGRAPH. HERE IS SOME CRUCIAL CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. :)

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  2. says

    I’m not crazy about the solution of just upping the volume and submitting to every literary magazine out there. That just increases the mass of slush for underpaid (or not paid) sub-editors to wade through, puts people in a bad mood and forces tiny rejection slips to deal with the barrage of inappropriate submissions. There MIGHT be a reason the piece was rejected. It pays to look for that reason and fix it. Also, there are plenty of good, appropriate literary magazines for each finished (really finished) story. To do multiple submissions but have a reason to submit to each magazine (like you’ve read their website carefully and know what they’re looking for) really increases the odds.
    I heard a writing group with a great strategy: to get a shared 100 rejections in a year. That took the sting out of each one. But also, they set themselves the task of submitting to venues appropriate to their work. Yes, they got a lot of rejections, but they also got a 20% acceptance rate, which is fabulous.

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  3. Morgyn says

    That “badass-looking scar?” Can I get that on my face so NO ONE messes with me anymore?

    Absolutely, laughing out loud, Bill!

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  4. says

    Thanks for this post. I needed this today! Love the humor.

    I’ve just gotta laugh or I’ll ruin my mascara, is my go-to phrase when yet another rejection darkens my inbox.

    Pam, I do like the idea of idea of making a contest out of collecting rejections. Might be a way to motivate my finger to push the send button. :)

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  5. Andrea van der Wilt says

    I just pity the poor souls for not recognizing true genius and move on.

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  6. says

    I like #6. I’ve never known a slice of pizza (or bowl of ice cream) to fail to soothe a rejection.

    All writing has to be well written and polished if an editor is going to choose it for publication. That means submitting your very best finished product or you’ll be getting far more rejections than you’d want.

    I actually don’t even like calling them “rejections.” That word inflicts more pain because it suggests “bad.” I prefer to say, “they declined my offer.” Do I know why they declined? Most times I don’t have a clue. “Declined” makes it easier for me to get back in the saddle and work again and that’s what every writer needs to do. One time I got a comment from an editor that said, “Sorry, we have to pass on this story but do submit to us again as we’d like to see more of your writing.” I’ve got that one pinned on my wall.

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  7. Sarah Brentyn says

    I would share my tips but I’m too busy laughing. I kept thinking #2 is my favorite… Ha! No, #3 is my favorite… And so on. Great post! Thanks for the AM guffaw.

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  8. says

    Still chuckling! I reject the notion of rejection itself. It’s merely a lost opportunity for selection and possibly the reason chocolate was invented.

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  9. Denise Willson says

    Love it! My cure involves wine, chocolate, and voodoo dolls. :)

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth, and (coming soon) GOT

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  10. says

    I feel like getting a rejection from a publisher is secretly a good thing… like when your boyfriend hits you – it means you know it’s time to leave.

    After all, self-publishing will always love you. Self-publishing will never hurt you or tell you lies like “there’s a glut of new adult romance novels out there and that’s why we can’t take yours” and OH GOD, the memories of all those rejections! Make them stop! Make them stop!

    Self-publishing, tell me about the rabbits…

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  11. says

    This post is too funny and so true! I love how you say to
    not go through it like it’s the five stages of grief. Too true that
    it’s cliche. And yes, every writer does deserve to order themselves
    a pizza for being brave enough to send their stuff out there in the
    first place ;).

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  12. Marcia Coffey Turnquist says

    I’m about to self-publish my first novel and contacted a
    MAJOR local book club to inquire about a reading. The response I
    got–We have more events that we can book.–felt as indifferent as
    a rejection letter. Forget the pizza, what I’m thinking is, “You’ll
    be changing that attitude when you see the book sell! Eat that!”
    Anyway, one can hope… marciacoffeyturnquist.com

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    • says

      Marcia, have you tried the public library? When I went to a panel of writer’s at the local library, the lady in charge of the meetings and I got into a chat. I mentioned that I was working on my debut novel, and she offered to set me up with a book signing and possibly a panel when it was published. I’ve also heard of being able to rent a room in a community center, and do your own book signings..I’m not sure how effective that would be, but I do like the idea of the library. Good luck! :)

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  13. says

    A good post, Bill. I’m no stranger to rejection and have learned all the ways not to submit a manuscript as a result.
    (For those who have read Donald Maass’ The Breakout Novelist, I think I’ve in past I’ve scored 20 or so drinks in the drinking game.)

    I’m now in the position where I am looking at submission again, but this time I’m learning from those mistakes. Here are some of the things I have learned and intend to follow this time.

    Number one: spend lots and lots of time making sure the manuscript is as strong as it can be (I’m even hiring an editor to go the extra mile).

    Number two: spend lots and lots of time researching agents, and perfecting queries and synopses (plural because its good to write several versions and be as creative with this as with your story itself). I write epic fantasy and want to make sure I’m with an agent who will find me the right home for the story I’ve spent hundreds of hours on (it will be a little over a thousand when I am done the extra revisions I’m now in the middle of).

    Number three: don’t compromise. As much as getting an agent and a publishing contract seems to be a holy grail, one can also land an agent who will get you no where, or worse, with the wrong publisher. I will be building a careful list of my preferred agents, based on careful research, and if I hear nothing, then, well, it’s back to the drawing board.

    Manuscripts, like wine, can be put away, and will only get better with time. I have my fingers crossed that I’ll get an agent for this story I’ve worked so hard on, but if not, then I’ll use what I’ve learned and move on to another, and continue to make this one better.

    And, I’ll order a pizza.

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  14. says

    Great post, I had a good laugh, I feel MUCH better now, thanks! Yes, like a couple of other commenters before me, I’m immune to rejection too, but I prefer a good glass of red wine to a pizza, like, say, Chianti or Nero d’Avola (I live in Italy) !

    My advice: go for the Chianti or Nero d’Avola and wait a week before you resubmit – also a reread of this post is a must, print it and pin it above your desk or in your bathroom!

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  15. says

    “That story will be disappointing you for years to come, so you may as well learn to enjoy it.”

    Snerk. The mantra of masochists everywhere. I wonder what percentage of Panago-consumers are writers.

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  16. says

    I just about fell out of my chair at the “SECRET ALTERNATE ENDING”. Too funny.

    I deal with rejection by just getting back to writing and sending the story out again. There’s all kinds of reasons for rejections and it may just be a case of not the right market or not the right time. So, keep on keeping on, more or less.

    Also, booze always helps. ;)

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  17. says

    Morons, secret endings, italics all had me laughing … seriously though, persistence pays off. One editor’s “slight” is another’s “we would love to publish …”

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  18. says

    Bill, I always get excited when I see your avatar next to a post title, and you never disappoint! There’s so much drama in the world of writing/publishing, sometimes just we need to step back and laugh at ourselves.

    Some equally unproductive ways to handle rejection:

    1) Get drunk and sob all night to your friend/parent/lover that nobody appreciates your genius. Force them to read your manuscript and tell you how good it is and how stupid that editor was. Your relationship will be stronger for it.

    2) Retype a piece of classic literature and submit it under your own name to see if the slush-pile readers even notice. If they do, claim it was a social experiment. If they don’t, take the check and run.

    3) Track down the editor’s/agent’s home address and deliver your manuscript there, along with gifts like a box of chocolates, a bouquet of flowers, and the corpses of small furry animals. Repeat with increasingly threatening query letters until the police arrest you. Damn gatekeepers.

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  19. says

    I read this and couldn’t understand it, at first. I got about halfway down and realized my mistake, so I went back to the top and re-read it. I nearly fell out of my chair this was so funny! Where can I find more?

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  20. says

    Next time I get a rejection? I’m going to pretend I am Shakespeare and history will judge them…lol. Love this list. I’ve filed it away for when I get my next rejection letter!

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  21. says

    Great post. I nod in agreement to the comment about considering rejections as vaccinations – how wonderful if that could be a truism. And I agree with adding wine to the pizza. That I know to be true.

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  22. says

    I know my fragile ego can’t withstand criticism, so I sidestepped the whole rejection slip collecting thing by self-publishing. The result was that, instead of the possibility of Oz-like people holding power over me, I began hearing from real people telling me how much they enjoyed my first novel and when was the second (now third) one coming out.

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  23. says

    I’m going to start querying soon, so this is timely advice.
    A lot of agents and editors use email now, though. Do you think I
    could use a bright pink background and purple font like a teenage
    girl from the 90’s? Hmm…I bet GIFs would help, too. :-D

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