“For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.”
—Catherine Drinker Bowen

The Truth About Rejection Newbie Writers Won’t Admit

This guest post is by Alicia Rades. Alicia is a freelance writer, blogger, and author. She recently released The Beginner’s Guide to Writing Quality Online Content. For a limited time, you can grab a free copy from Story Cartel. Read her blog at TheWritingRealm.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@aliciarades).

Rejection is brutal. I mean, it really hurts.

When someone rejects your guest post pitch or tells you your story needs more work, your eyes well up, your chest compresses, and you have to wait for your vision to clear before you can pick your heart up from the floor. It’s painful.

Sweet Sorrow

Photo by Caro Wallis

Now that you’ve been rejected, you have a few options:

  1. You crouch in the corner, bawl your eyes out, and swear you’ll never write another word in your life. (I don’t recommend this option.)
  2. You throw your computer across the room, vent your frustration in the form of profanity, and then quickly regain your composure and head out to buy a new computer. (Please don’t do this.)
  3. You suck it up, throw the project out, and start working on something new. (This is an okay option, but still not the best.)
  4. You admit the truth and work it to your advantage. (I’ll give you 100 gold stars for doing this on your first rejection.)

What is the Truth?

The problem is, most newbie writers can’t handle rejection. (*Shyly raises hand and hangs head in shame.*) Sometimes I really do want to pitch my computer out the window, crawl up in a little ball, and cry my heart out.

But there’s a little something newbie writers are missing out on, and most of the time, we writers are too frustrated and offended to actually admit this truth.

It’s time to stop thinking of your rejections as failures and start looking at them as learning experiences.

Here’s the truth: Rejection helps you become a better writer.

How Rejection Helps You Improve

The great thing about a rejection email is that it usually comes with tons of feedback. With this, you can go with options 1, 2, or 3 and get absolutely nowhere, or you can head with option 4 and start reworking your project until it shines.

So when you’re wallowing in self-pity because they didn’t accept your piece, you could instead be studying your rejection letter and learning what parts of your writing need work.

How to Deal With Rejection

Rejection hurts most because it feels like people are rejecting you, but that’s not the case at all. Sometimes publishers or blog owners simply can’t work with your piece because it’s not right for their audience.

Remember It’s Not Personal

The first thing you have to do is remember that rejection isn’t a reflection on you as a person. The blog owner or publisher isn’t saying he or she hates you. In fact, they’re not even saying they hate your work.

What it really means is that they have a lot of submissions coming at them all at once and yours didn’t stand out. That doesn’t mean it’s bad.

Be Honest

Next, be honest with yourself. Did you really put that much work into it where it warranted acceptance? For instance, if you plan on guest posting, you could put all your time into writing the post, but if you don’t actually research the site, build a relationship, and write for the audience, they’re going to put your post in the rejection pile no matter how well-written it is. So is it really a reflection on your writing? Most likely not.

Remind Yourself You’re Not Alone

When it happens, you feel you’re the only person in the world getting rejected, but you’re not. Kathryn Stockett, author of the best-selling book The Help, got rejected for publication 60 times before her book finally got published. Come on, your situation can’t be that bad.

How You Can Use Rejection to Your Advantage

You get it. Rejection can make you a better writer. But what exactly can you do about it?

First, take a good look at the rejection letter. Consider why they rejected your project, and then get to work on making the necessary revisions.

Perhaps you need help jumpstarting those revisions. Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Have a friend look at your project. Since they can’t actually “reject” you and can only give constructive criticism (unless you have really mean friends), you’ll get a better idea of what needs reworking.
  2. Take a good look at what the website/publisher does like. Research what’s different between your project and the projects they’ve published in the past. Is your novel too short? Are your characters unlikeable? Is your writing style somehow different?
  3. Start reworking your project. You’ll never get better until you can identify your weaknesses and practice until you beat them out of yourself, so get to work on polishing your project.

But I get it. Sometimes no one gives you enough feedback to work with and you sit there racking your brain wondering where you went wrong.

Here’s my advice: send it off to someone else.

I’m guessing if they didn’t give you feedback, it’s not you. It’s them. Here’s my logic: If they don’t have time to give you feedback, they’re likely swamped with submissions and simply don’t have the capacity to accept your pitch.

But if you take the leap, someone else will either give you feedback you can use, or they’ll accept your project.

I know, rejection is tough, but if you take it as a learning experience rather than a setback, you 1) don’t have to worry about the whole wallowing in self-pity and eating your feelings thing and 2) get an awesome experience to improve your writing talents.

Be honest. How have you dealt with rejection in the past?


Now I want you to put this to practice. Take a look back at a piece that’s been rejected (whether it’s a story, blog post, etc.). Take some time to revisit the rejection letter and evaluate where you went wrong and where you can make changes to your project. Spend fifteen minutes working on one of these changes.

If you haven’t yet encountered rejection, spend fifteen minutes outlining what you’ll do when you get your first rejection letter.

Share your ideas and practice in the comment section.

About Alicia Rades

Alicia Rades is a freelance writer, blogger, and author. She recently released her first eBook, The Beginner's Guide to Writing Quality Online Content. For a limited time, you can grab a free copy from Story Cartel. When she's not writing for clients, you can find her at TheWritingRealm.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@aliciarades).

  • Thanks so much for having me, Joe! I recently got a rejection letter for a guest posting idea. The blogger said that my idea was good, but it was so particular that it wouldn’t fit the needs of her wide audience. I spent my practice coming up with 15 title ideas on how I could spin the same basic idea into a post better suited for that audience.

    • Of course, Alicia. Thanks for joining us today! Sorry to hear about the rejection. Great idea for the practice though!

      Joe Bunting

  • William Teague

    Hi there thank you for the article. I have a question you may be able to help me with. I received a rejection letter from an agent to whom I submitted a novel sample to. She explained that she really enjoyed the story and the characters and thought it was a great idea but isn’t the type of work that she represents. She felt that she could not do the story justice by representing me and wished me and the main character Tommy good luck. Since she gave me no constructive criticism I’m not really sure how I should take this. Is she just being polite or does she in fact believe the story has potential for another agency.
    Thanks for listening,

    • Hi Bill. It sounds to me like she really did like your story and thought you could go places with it. However, if she doesn’t represent your genre, it just means that you’ve submitted your story to the wrong person.

      It would be like I if I submitted a guest posting idea to The Write Practice about how to start your small business. While the article might be great, and even be able to relate to writing, it’s not what Joe is looking for, and I would have success elsewhere. I would suggest researching farther into agents who accept your genre and age category and see what they have to say about it.

      She also might not have given feedback because she’s not knowledgeable about your genre. However, the way I look at it, she DID give you feedback. She said that she could not represent you, which means that you fell short in pitching your story. To fix this, pitch to someone else who works with your type of story. You might get another rejection, but that will keep you learning until your story is ready to go.

  • ruth

    When you submit writing to an audience, it’s like standing in your front yard in your underwear. Your ideas, your characters are out there for scrutiny. I personally find critique is easier to accept than no response at all. On this blog, response normally comes quickly and from all parts of the globe, I believe I’ve learned more from it in the past year than from anything else.
    Thanks for a great post and reminder not to give up.

    • Thanks for the reply. I agree; sometimes a reply, even if rejection, is better than no reply at all. If there’s no reply, you’re not sure what you did wrong and can’t fix anything!

  • Excellent post, Alicia! My oldest blog about freelance is soone to be 4 years old and I just now realize i never ever talked about rejection there, Funny thing – my readers ask a LOT of questions and no one has ever asked me about it either – thanks for he reminder and the great post idea! 🙂

    On the topic – you say if you don’t get feedback, submit your work elsewhere. I would add to that – ask for feedback first!

    Sure, whoever rejected your work can be busy, swamped with other submissions and tons other reasons – but they might as well be afraid of hurting your feelings (or something!) – so better ask for their feedback. If you don’t get it even then – well, by all means, submit it elsewhere.

    Great post – sending you some social media love 🙂

    • You make a really good point, Diana. Perhaps there’s not always time to send feedback to everyone, but it can’t hurt to ask.

  • Joemass

    In a long life I’ve had work rejected hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of times. It hurt at first (and still does) but I’ve learned that the solution is in a song from my earlier years: “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again”. Somewhere out there is someone just waiting for your work.

    • Such great words of wisdom! If you don’t pick yourself up, it’s too easy to give up.

  • Traci Kenworth

    Great advice!! The first couple rejections did make me cry, but it gets easier. I won’t say it doesn’t still hurt, but it pushes me to keep trying, learning my craft, and giving it my all.

  • Ann Stanley

    This seems very smart. I haven’t yet submitted anything, but do regularly interact with other writers through critique groups. At first, I found this terrifying and upsetting, because it did seem like they were attacking me. However, with experience this fear has subsided greatly. Lately, I feel grateful for the time my critique partners are willing to give me, and see them more as partners in my writing. I am lucky to know people who are so gracious and talented.

    I hope that, by the time I have material ready to submit, I can approach publishers with the same attitude. That doesn’t mean that I will ever reach the point where I don’t feel a little fear before opening a critique, but I hope my prevailing attitude will be: time to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

    • That’s a great attitude to have.

    • Ann, I’m very glad to have you as a critiquing partner. I’m looking forward to helping you by being a beta reader. 🙂

  • Lou Pare-Lobinske

    I did get one rejection letter. I was disappointed, but knew from what I had read about rejection that I was probably going to get rejected the first time I submitted, so I wasn’t surprised. And the letter said something about “not suited for us at this time” so I didn’t take it personally. I kept working on the story until eventually I burned it. I took this drastic step because I honestly believed the project suffered because I’d started it in high school and was too immature as a person at that time to craft something adult, which is what I was trying for. If I hadn’t burned it, I’d have had to start from scratch anyway. The problem with burning manuscripts is that it isn’t something you can go back and undo. Best case, I’d have shoved it in a drawer for some future generation to perhaps realize exactly why it was crap.
    So how would I handle rejection now? Keep working on it, don’t take it personally, and keep submitting.

    • I’m sorry to hear that. I think when people say “not suited for us at this time,” it has to do a lot with the fact that they get so many submissions that they can’t possibly accept them all. I hope you deal with it a little better next time. Thanks for sharing!

  • Robyn LaRue

    Most rejections don’t come with feedback for me, but I knew about the rejection game before I started submitting, and I know my personality, so I set myself a task. My goal was to get X number of rejections by the end of 2013 Might sound odd, but it helped me focus on the fact that I was putting my work out rather than it not getting accepted. It helped a lot. 🙂

  • George McNeese

    I admit. I am afraid to submit any work because of the fear of rejection. I tell myself that it’s okay if someone criticizes my work. That’s true to a certain degree. I can handle criticisms from fellow writers because they are coming from the same place and they can be honest. I can even trust a select number of friends because I’ve known them for some time and they know what I do. Publishers are a different beast altogether. But, perhaps I’m looking at them through the wrong lens. Publishers are people, too. And they have deadlines to meet just as much as us. I have MRI remember those things when I work up the nerve to submit something. Besides, I don ‘t always have the money to buy a new laptop.

    • Rejection is scary, but you’ll never see your works published if you don’t look that fear in the face. Even when self-publishing, someone is going to come along and say your book sucks.

      • George McNeese

        That is true. And, you won’t get feedback from another voice, if they have the courtesy to respond.

    • catmorrell

      Yes, you need to caress that laptop and tell it your woes. Might make for another good story. Rejection gets easier as you get older. You realize it is not always about you and you do start looking at your work to see how you can improve it. Don’t ever let the critics destroy your passion.

    • It’s all about the words

      George, try to find someone who isn’t a friend to read your work. Call the English Department at a local university and see if there is a grad student who wants to earn a little money. If I have learned anything from rejections, it is that one objective trained opinion is worth 100 accolades from friends and family. Good luck and don’t let the fear of rejection keep you from putting your work out there. Check out http://www.literaryrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/ and find some encouragement there. They say that every time Joseph Heller submitted “Catch 22” he changed the number. That his best selling novel is entitled Catch “22” means that it was accepted the twenty-second time he submitted it. Churchill said “Never, never, never give up.” So, don’t.

  • Dan Erickson

    Years ago, as a songwriter I dealt with much rejection. It didn’t really bother me. I just kept plugging. Now as a writer I’ve decided to avoid rejection. Not because I fear it, but because I learned through songwriting that the whole system of submitting and being rejected takes an enormous amount of one’s time, creative energy, and money. In today’s world we have the option of self-publishing, blogging, self-promoting, etc. This way I can focus on my craft and eliminate writing hundreds of query letters. It’s slower, but in the end but it’s accepted from the start.

    • Self-publishing is great, but there is still going to be someone who comes along who says your writing sucks. To many, that’s still a form of rejection from the reader.

      • Dan Erickson

        True. I just don’t let criticism get to me much.

  • I’ve had more rejects than acceptances, but, early on, I realized I had to accept the rejects as part of writing. After 27 years of writing fiction rejects still are not pleasant, but so is much of what life throws at us. Swim through the disappointments or drown.

    • Nice words of wisdom!

    • catmorrell

      One of the joys of having lived a few years is that we develop thicker skins and realize it is not always about us and yes it is a learning experience.

  • Nora

    Rejection doesn’t bother me like that. I mean, yeah, it’s disappointing. It’s another little hope quenched. But it’s what I always knew was part of this. The big issue for me is that all of my rejections are form ones. I’m not even good enough yet to warrant a real rejection. Sigh. Back to work!

    • Ah, I hate those ones because you don’t know what you did wrong!

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  • Kayla E Morgan

    I love writing also. Check out my blog if you like. 🙂 http://www.tha-web.com/kayla

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  • catmorrell

    Nice article. I sent a short story to our local newspaper. It was full of lovely description of the Redwoods and would have been perfect for one of their guest columns. It came back with a rejection notice that said. “Not what we are looking for.” What the heck did that mean. Fast forward 35 years and now I can see how juvenile the story truly was despite all the emotion it conveyed. One day, I may rewrite it. The other thing I learned from this was not to describe the beauty in California to Oregon readers. Thanks for your article.

  • MishaBurnett

    I just my second rejection from a publisher. The first one said that they don’t accept previously published books, the second said that it just wasn’t for them. So don’t count on getting any feedback. It’s nice when it happens, but it’s hardly common.

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  • A W

    I received a rejection from a literary magazine for a short story I submitted. I was kind of preparing myself for the rejection though because I know it’s part of the process for every writer. Every well-known writer that I know of has had work rejected at some point. I do wish however, that I would have gotten some feedback so that I know where I can improve. But then again, I wonder if they didn’t offer feedback does that mean that maybe it just wasn’t a good fit with the magazine and its style?