Rejection is unfortunately a big part of being a writer, and so is coping with that. What makes it even harder is that we tend to be sensitive people. We’re emotionally attached to our work, pouring months or even years into it. When you spend so long on a book and put so much work and energy into a story and characters you love, it’s only natural that it will sting when it’s turned down.
It gets even harder when you’re rejected across multiple books or stories. How can you cope with that rejection?
A personal anecdote of coping with writer rejection
I first started sending a book to literary agents in 2016. It was a YA fantasy called REALM OF RUIN that I spent two years writing. I sent it to over fifty agents in the UK and the US (in hindsight I probably should have given up after thirty, but I was quite stubborn). Some of those agents expressed interest in it during pitch contents and asked to see my material.
I got a couple of requests for the full manuscript and one promising request for revisions. I spent several months reworking it based on that request, sent it back to the agent… and waited. I never heard back about those revisions, even though I nudged the agent after three, then six, months. It was crushing and my first taste of how hard the industry could be.
A year or two later, I queried a new project, this time a YA contemporary novel inspired by some of my own life experiences. It got a lot more interest than the fantasy. An exciting amount of interest. I was getting lots of full requests and progressed in a querying contest called Sun vs Snow. After some back-and-forth emailing saying she was loving it and wanted to meet me, an agent called me! I’d heard online this was a sign the agent wanted to offer you representation. But it was just to reject the book. That hurt.
My YA ultimately did lead to more full requests, and signing with a different agent – but guess what?
The book that got me my agent didn’t sell. It died at an acquisitions meeting.
My lovely agent stuck with me and believed in me. I wrote another book, this time MG.
That gained a slew of other rejections, and no book deal. Now I’m working on an adult novel and moving away from children’s books for now.
My point in telling you all this isn’t to gain sympathy, but to make a point.
A writer’s career is paved with rejections
Publishing is never easy, no matter what route you take. Forging a career in traditional publishing can feel like pulling teeth. Even if you self-publish, you’ll experience rejection in some way: one-star reviews from readers, rejection from self-publishing awards or contests, bookshops who won’t stock your book because there’s still such a stigma around self-publishing.
How can rejection make you feel?
There’s a whole host of feelings that come with rejection. The desire to quit. Sadness, upset – sometimes so crushing it can feel like heartbreak. Grief. If you’re shelving something, you have to mourn a project you spent years creating. Anger. You might feel cheated, let down. You might feel like a failure. You could lose your self-confidence. If you have existing mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, it’s likely the rejection will make you spiral into a bad place, and you’ll need to take extra care of yourself and possibly get professional help.
Coping with the pain of rejection
Let’s break down the most common emotions you might experience after a rejection, and how to cope with each one.
The desire to quit
This is perfectly natural. Quitting comes up because it allows us to be free of the pain of putting our work out there. I’ve felt this one regularly over the years. If you feel like quitting, take a break for now, and take stock when the rejection stings less. Reassess your goals, and why you’re aiming for what you’re striving for. Do you want to stick with traditional publishing, knowing it could take many more years of pain and rejection, and that it might never happen? (I know, this is painful to consider too.) Would you prefer a hybrid approach, self-publishing some projects and querying others? Or would you rather go straight to self-publishing and be in control of your own work?
Each path comes with its pros and cons, so dig deep and look at what you really want from your writing career. I want to stress that “quitting” writing or choosing another path for yourself is a perfectly valid, available choice if you need to do that for the sake of your mental health.
Sadness and grief
Cry if you need to. Don’t feel bad. The emotions need to come out somehow. Share your feelings with someone and express what you’re going through, or write them down in a journal. If you need time to grieve a project, take it; sadness and grief can take a long while to fade and you’ll be bruised for a while. Eating ice-cream is allowed.
I’d advise against making angry social media posts about rejection. You’re allowed to talk about it, but knee-jerk reactions when you’re angry may mean you end up bashing the person who rejected you on a public forum. Don’t go on social media and express your frustrations and anger. Message or call a trusted friend instead. Sometimes other writer friends are the best people to talk to – they’ll understand your pain more than someone who isn’t in touch with the industry.
Punch a pillow. Do an intense workout or kill some enemies on a video game.
Whatever you do, do not send the agent or whoever rejected you an angry email. That won’t do anything positive for your reputation; no one wants to work with someone who lashes out. It isn’t professional.
Lack of confidence
This one is, in my view, a matter of time. You might feel bruised initially, like you’re an awful writer or don’t know what you’re doing. Give it time. The sting of rejection will wear off. You can channel that energy into becoming a better writer instead – even the best of writers can still improve. Read some books on writing craft. Experiment. Allow yourself to play around and write just for you. Take a break if you need to. Make friends with other writers – they can encourage you when you’re feeling low and cheerlead you and your work.
I’d like to say coping with rejection gets easier, but for me that hasn’t been the case. In fact, the further you get in the process, the harder it becomes, because you’re often so close. It’s about learning to handle the different emotions that come up.
I like to joke that traditional publishing is like entering the different circles of hell. You’re rejected when you query agents. When your agent submits your book to publishers, they reject it. If someone at the publisher likes it, they’ll take it to an acquisitions meeting, and then the team as a whole could reject it. Your book could come out and tank, rejected by readers and critics. There’s no getting away from it, sadly. All we can do is learn to handle it as best we can, and not let it sap our hopes.
Here’s a popular tweet on rejection from bestselling author Karen M. McManus – hopefully it’ll encourage you (and give you a bit of a laugh)!
So your book has been rejected. Maybe you’ve decided to shelve it. Maybe you’ll come back to it in the future. You might decide to self-publish.
My advice would be that if you love writing, keep writing. Start the next project. Keep learning your craft and growing. Build yourself a supportive community. Don’t be afraid to be flexible, to try new things. It might be that your skills lie in another genre, or a different age category. And remember that so much of publishing is subjective, or down to market trends and perceived sales figures. The only thing you can control is coping with the rejection, your craft and the next book you write.
What are your favourite inspiring rejection stories? Are you carrying on in spite of rejection? I’d love to hear your stories.