Dealing with rejection as a writer hurts, full stop. Writing is an extremely vulnerable act, and when we then submit that work for publication and have it rejected, it can feel like being karate kicked in the heart.
Whatever your ambitions for your writing, we can help you develop strategies for dealing with the inevitable writing rejection. Read on for 12 tips for dealing with rejection as a writer.
12 tips for dealing with rejection
Tip #1: Grieving period
When you receive your first (or 100th) writing rejection, allow yourself a “grieving period.” This means that you allow yourself to feel uninhibited sadness for a designated period of time. You choose how long your grieving will be; don’t let it go on forever. Many writers allow themselves 24 or 48 hours of sadness and grief to pass before they move on get over rejections from publishers.
Attend to your grieving however works for you, whether with a sad movie and a pint of ice cream or a punching bag and gloves. Once your pre-established grieving period has passed, it’s time to move on and let go.
Tip #2: Allow yourself to feel sad (outside of your grieving period)
Inevitably, your sadness will continue outside your grieving period. When you continue to feel pain, anger, or self-doubt after receiving a rejection, don’t feel guilty. Your feelings are normal!
Dealing with rejection as a writer is challenging. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling at any point. Trying to force a feeling away is unhealthy, and will also only strengthen the feeling itself. Allow yourself to feel it cleanly, without added guilt or pressure.
Tip #3: Don’t take it personally
When you initially face rejection, whether it be from a publisher or anywhere else, try not to take the rejection personally. It’s not you they’re rejecting, it’s your current project.
We need to be able to deal with rejection from publishers if we want to share our work with the world. J.K. Rowling was famously rejected by a dozen publishers on her way to sharing some of the most beloved fiction of all time. Moby-Dick was rejected by multiple publishers, To Kill a Mockingbird was rejected ten times, and Dr. Seuss was first picked up for publication on the way home to burn his manuscript. The list goes on, much longer than this.
This piece of advice is much easier said than done, but try to adopt this mindset: the publisher is not rejecting me, they are rejecting my work. When your work is rejected, and not you, then you can take steps to improve your writing.
Tip #4: Learn the difference between useful criticism and useless criticism
This is an important part of rejection. If a publisher has given you feedback on why they’ve rejected your work, then look at it, but be selective about the criticism that you take seriously.
Specifically, if the feedback you received is highly negative and targeted at you as a person, such as “you write like a child,” “you will never be a writer,” or anything brutal like that, then ignore it. It’s not useful at all, and those types of mean-spirited comments say much more about the person giving the feedback than the person they’re directed at.
On the flip side, if you receive some criticism that’s about your writing or your story, then read it to see if there’s any lesson that you can take from that feedback. If the rejection says that the plot needs some work or that the characters aren’t developed enough, then take that criticism to heart and see where you can make adjustments.
Tip #5: Edit your work
One way to handle writing rejection is to honestly look over your piece to see if there are any particular areas that need to be adjusted. Perhaps, when you edit again, you decide to change the conclusion of your story or change the tone of voice. Let the feedback you’ve received guide some of your newest edits.
If you didn’t receive any useful feedback from your rejection, then look for ways to get that feedback. You could ask your writerly friends to read through it and give their honest feedback—maybe your old classmates from that English lit course in college? Or take an online writing class for detailed feedback from fellow writers as well as a published instructor. We can help with that!
Tip #6: Remind yourself why you love writing
If you find yourself feeling unmotivated to write after receiving multiple rejections from publishers, then you may need to remind yourself why you started writing in the first place. To reconnect with your love for writing, read a passage from your favorite book, or wander a bookstore or your local library. Go to a spot where you feel inspired and people-watch. You may want to journal or write a letter to yourself about your passion for writing. This will help reignite the spark of your desire to write.
Tip #7: Take a break (meditate, walk outdoors, pet your dog, travel)
Receiving rejections from publishers is the perfect excuse to find time to relax and to take a break from your work. Go to the gym, cuddle your dog or cat, or sit down to meditate for 10 or 15 minutes.
If you haven’t been on a vacation in a while, then maybe you could book yourself a trip somewhere—this could be as simple as a small “staycation” where you explore your own home while completely disconnecting from work. Your worth is not determined by the amount of work you do, so make sure that you take a well-deserved break when you need it.
Tip #8: Learn from the rejection
Every rejection brings a lesson or lessons within it. These may be difficult to see, but at the very least, take each writing rejection as a chance to be strong and grow thicker skin.
The plain truth is that not everyone will love your story: every story in the world has people who dislike it. What matters is that you put in the effort you need to be genuinely proud of your work.
Tip #9: Work on another project
One of our favorite tips for dealing with rejection as a writer may seem counterintuitive: put down your pen and work on another project. Why give up your current project to work on another? Why work on more than one project at a time? Won’t you stretch yourself too thin?
You may not need to give up entirely on your current project, but if you take a break, you may be able to come back to it with a fresh perspective—perfect for adding some unique flavor. Give it a go and see if this technique works for you.
Tip #10: Join a community of writers
Another tip for dealing with rejection is that you should join a community of writers. There are multiple benefits to this: you can share in the pain of rejection (and the joy of publication!), get helpful feedback from fellow writers, and of course, network. Networking could mean establishing connections with editors, publishing houses, or links to self-publishing, and finding support from fellow writers who know how the worlds of publishing and self-publishing work. The benefits of joining a community of writers are endless.
Tip #11. Ask for feedback if it wasn’t given
If your rejection didn’t come with any useful feedback, then there is no harm in asking for it from publishers. Send them an email, and politely accept their rejection and ask them to provide you with feedback on the work you submitted. Don’t harass publishers, and if they don’t get back to you then respect that and look for assistance elsewhere.
Tip #12. Hire a coach for more one-to-one help
Another source of assistance can be from a writing coach who can help you perfect your project. A coach that writes within a similar genre would be most helpful.
A coach can help you in various stages of your project, so be sure to communicate your expectations from the start. Before agreeing to work with a coach, be sure to check out their credentials, published work, and reviews of previous students.
If you’re interested in going this route, you can start by looking at our private coaching options.
Rejections from publishers aren’t the end of the world
Ultimately, to live is to face rejection. Rejection by publishers, by potential employers, by friends or romantic partners: we all have to accept, learn from, and let go of these painful experiences.
To deal effectively with writing rejection, the most important things we can do are to let ourselves grieve, and learn from useful feedback while disregarding useless feedback.
We can also benefit from revising our work, working on other projects, and also simply taking time to recharge. Lastly, joining a community of writers will not only help you network and build relationships with publishers or editors, but also to share with and learn from like-minded people.
Take care of yourself, and good luck!