Dealing with Writers’ Rejection

The other day one of my friends received a rejection letter from an editor–a note that explained his reasons for turning down her novel.

She was crushed. All of us who are her writing friends were crushed with her. We grieved. We ate dark chocolate seafoam in her honor. And we imbibed coffee and pastry at our local bookstore until they closed the doors and threw us into the parking lot.

Rejection is gut-wrenching, but if we’re going to write, we all must face it. I’ve got a file folder of rejections  (my own) that I carry around to writers’ conferences to show new and/or unpublished writers that rejections are a fact of life and can sometimes tell you useful things.

For instance, the day my friend received her rejection, she also received some wonderful advice from our mutual friend Lorilee Craker, co-author of the New York Times best-selling book Through the Storm with Lynne Spears, mother of Britney. Lorilee is also the author of two highly popular baby name books–A is for Adam and the newly-released A is for Atticus. Lorilee suggested that our friend retype the editor’s response, putting his positive statements in capital letters and his “less positive” statements in lower case.

What my friend discovered when she took Lorilee’s great advice was that the editor had cited a number of strengths in her work. But he’d also identified what he felt was one area of weakness that needed to be addressed. With this simple exercise, my friend experenced a paradigm shift. Rather than seeing her rejection as a total thumbs-down experience, my friend was able to see that the editor had affirmed her writing strengths while also giving her a clear explanation of what he felt to be the manuscript’s weakness. The response was, in one respect, a gift–a reminder that she was a good writer but encouragement to address the one area that editor saw as a weakness. My friend then had the opportunity to apply the editorial critique to her work and decide how to move ahead.

Of course, not all rejections come with affirmation or explanations. Some come as form letters or long drawn-out silences. One of my not-so-favorites was a hand-scribbled note: “What the heck was this?”

There went my ego for that month.

So what are we to do with rejection? Here are just a few suggestions.

1.  Grieve. Eat chocolate or get a manicure or go fishing. Give yourself two hours or maybe two days, but put a limit on it, then get over it. Every writer out there has a rejection pile. (C’mon, Grisham, we want to see yours.) Acknowledge the pain, then move on.

2.  Get your work back out the door the day you’re rejected. Maybe the hour, even. Have a list of markets ready before you begin submitting, and send it out to the next one on the list.

3.  Be absolutely sure you’ve done everything possible to polish your manuscript. For a great article on top ten mistakes writers make, go to the Holt Uncensored website at Read it. Copy it out fifty times in longhand. Sleep with it under your pillow.

4.  If you’re lucky enough to get a rejection from an editor with advice and comments, consider those commends long and hard.

5.  Remember that an editor who rejects you today may want to publish you next year. And what one editor may not care for, another editor may be dying to get his hands on.

A final word. Don’t let rejection define you. We write because we’re writers, because something inside us longs to be told. But on those tough days when we’re told “No,” and we were hoping for a “Yes,” sometimes it helps to share rejection with a friend.

Preferably over pastry.

4 thoughts on “Dealing with Writers’ Rejection

  1. Good notes…will keep in mind…

    This is so helpful Shelly! I feel so privileged to have met you and feel as tho it was God saying to keep going in that direction! I’m so excited!

    • It was great meeting you, too, Mike. Keep up the writing! I’ll be waiting to hear from you.

  2. I popped over here from Facebook. 🙂 Whenever an editor includes comments/critique, it’s a blessing. A form letter leave the writer wondering what went wrong.

    I loved the advice to write the positive comments in capital letters. I’m re-working a short story right now as a result of an editor’s comments.

    A friend once said, “if an editor makes changes that means the piece has potential.”


    • I always consider an editor’s comments a personal investment in and a personal connection to my work. And I like your perspective about the piece having potential.

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