Dealing with rejection

One of the things that crops up again and again when speaking to writers is the idea of rejection. Hand on heart, I don’t think I know a single author who has not been rejected in some shape or form, so believe me when I say it is not uncommon and you are NOT alone!

There are lots of examples of famous writers piling up their rejection letters – J.K. Rowling and Stephen King to name just two. However, we can’t all become household names (sadly!) and I think it’s also helpful to think about those who might not have gone on to stratospheric success but have overcome rejection – it’s the persistence part that truly matters.

One of the things which I think can be really tough for writers is feeling as though the rejection is personal – as though the editor or agent you submitted it to really hated your book, and/or you are therefore a terrible writer and should never touch a keyboard again. (I was going to write pick up a pen but realised times have moved on…!) However, working as an editor I can say that in reality, this is unlikely. I can probably count on one hand the number of books on submission that I have ever strongly disliked – in nine times out of ten cases, I can completely see why another editor would like the book, but it’s just not quite right for me or for our list. That isn’t a line, it’s true. Before I was an editor I was sometimes a little sceptical about that phrase, but now I know that it’s so important for the editor-author fit to be 100% right, and for me, I know it wouldn’t be fair to take on authors I am on the fence about.

Sometimes, it could be something practical too such as if the book is set in WW2 and we’ve just bought a WW2 book so that particular space for the next year has just been filled. Sometimes it could be that there’s something about the book that isn’t quite gelling but I love the writing, and in that case I will usually ask the agent if the author has anything else up their sleeve. It really is very rare that I will strongly dislike the book – so when and if your next rejection comes in, try not to take it personally and instead think about the wider picture – focus on finding the right editor-author fit. If an editor has turned down your book, he or she isn’t the right editor for you anyway, SO – you haven’t really lost out. I think the wrong editor-author partnership can be detrimental and what you want is a positive experience – someone who 100% ‘gets’ your novel.

So apart from telling yourself that, what can writers do to deal with the horror of rejection? I asked a couple of author friends about this, and have listed some of their tips and mine below:

1. Keep it in perspective. Chances are, you have other things in your life aside from writing. It may not feel like it at times, but you do. You might have another job, a family, friends – and all of those things are still there and still important even when the soul-crushing email comes through. Remind yourself of the outside world, the one that exists away from you and your laptop, and connect with another aspect of your life for a bit – ring a friend, visit a relative, buy some flowers so that your flat looks nice. Do a really good job in your other role, if you’re balancing several jobs. Don’t focus on the rejection, and remind yourself that this is one part of your life – not all of it!

2. Let go of control. It can be super hard waiting to hear from other people about the status of your book, and it can be horrible being told that your book isn’t what a publisher wants. However, by that point, there’s not much you can do about it – the book is already out, you can’t make anyone read any faster, and no matter how many times you check your emails another one isn’t going to pop up just because you were waiting. Force yourself to let go of the book you’ve sent out; chances are you have done your absolute best on it, and if this one doesn’t sell, the next one easily could.

3. Write something else. If you can try to get your head into a new project, even if that’s a short story rather than a whole book, you will find that the pain of the rejection starts to lose it’s edge, just a little bit. When I was feeling really negative about writing I started writing some short stories, just for fun, and it really helped just remind me why I enjoy doing this – they weren’t for anyone else, they were just for me.

4. Tell yourself three positive things at the end of each day. This is something I was taught by a happiness coach who came in to do a talk at my old publishing company and I think it really works! (Have even hooked my boyfriend on it who is the most practical person I know). These can be really small things (mine the other day was that I bought a new lip balm) but if you write down three every evening for a sustained period of time (even one week helps) it can counteract the negativity that writing rejection brings. It sounds silly and small but honestly I think it can be effective as the good things sort of begin to build up and you realise that there are little joys despite the fact that no-one has snapped up your book (yet…)

5. Be receptive. If you get constructive feedback from an editor or agent, take the time to really think it over. I did that and I’m so glad I did. It can be hard when someone turns down your book with a not-quite, but sometimes those not-quites can turn into deals (I bought an author’s book recently which she rewrote after feedback). Rejections come in different forms but these are the good kind, and even if you don’t immediately agree with the suggestions or criticisms, at least think them through before making a snap decision.

6. Distract yourself with something completely different. Often the publishing and writing world can be quite all-consuming, especially if you’re a social media fan like I am, so if you’ve just had a disappointing rejection, don’t torture yourself by reading about the six-figure deals in The Bookseller or admiring someone else’s cover on Twitter. Do something non-publishing related – watch a rubbish TV show (or a good one – can recommend Happy Valley as the best crime show ever written), go for a run, go shopping, go visit somebody who never reads books and will be bored to death if you start talking about them. I guarantee you will feel better for it.

7. Don’t compare yourself. This links to the point above but came from a really trusted writer friend – comparison really is the root of all madness, especially in the book world. There will ALWAYS be someone more successful than you, and there will always be someone less successful. Thousands of books are published every year, and it is really, really not worth you getting caught up in comparing sales, jackets, Amazon rankings or book deals. Your writing is your own, your deal is your own, and you never really know what someone else’s writing experience has been because a lot of the time, people talk it up. That’s just a fact of life, and I personally believe that there is room in the world for as many books as we like (as long as we start treating the planet a bit better!) and so really, there’s no need for comparison. At best, it’s pointless. At worst, it’s really damaging to your self-esteem.

I hope these tips help anyone who is currently struggling with writerly rejections. I would also recommend the Literary Rejections website which I used to read all the time as a good source of inspiration and humour.

If you enjoyed reading this article, I would love to hear from you, and if you are interested in checking out my book for only 99p, you would make me a very happy writer! Thanks for visiting my blog.

8 thoughts on “Dealing with rejection

  1. I’ve long since given up on submitting to agents. I prefer the whole self publishing process. I like to be in control of my own work. Of course the downside is you don’t have the backing but you can’t have it all ways.


    1. Hi Cheryl, that’s interesting to hear! Yes there are positives and negatives to both – I personally preferred the agent route but I know people who have had success both ways! Thank you for reading the blog! 🙂


  2. I found most of my rejections constructively helpful and many of them made admiring comments. The only repeated phrase that really irked me was “in the end I just didn’t love it enough”. I got that a few times. The ex teacher in me longer to say to the editors in question: “could do better!”


  3. Great blog Phoebe and really helpful advice for me at the moment, as I wait for agents to get back to me. It can be crushing getting rejections, and I agree that comparing yourself to others is so negative and not helpful. So much of what you’ve said makes sense.


  4. Dear Phoebe
    It took me almost an hour to download this article given the kind of internet access I have. But it was truly worth it. That line wherein you mentioned about the reply coming as ‘ it’s not for our list, unfortunately’ is true, made me smile after so many days.


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