Rejection for writers: A guide to coping with “no”

Photo by flickr user "Sean MacEntee."

Photo by flickr user “Sean MacEntee.”

My skin isn’t just getting sunburned this spring; it’s getting thicker. No, it’s not evolutionary; it’s because I’m being told no―a lot.

In January, I set a goal for myself—get two short stories published in 2014. For those of you who aren’t writers, there’s a lot more to it than simply slaving in front of a computer screen each day. There’s research involved―research to determine whether literary journals or magazines might be the right fit for your work. For example, there are a few publications that won’t publish profanity, and if I hadn’t read that in their guidelines while researching and I had sent my latest story to them—yeah, that would be embarrassing since it’s riddled with “asshole” and “fuck.” (This is what happens when your two central characters are jerks.)

But I think my biggest learning curve lately has been blatant rejection. Like I said, I’ve been told no quite a bit.

Editors are picky and I don’t blame them; publishing everything they receive would be professional suicide. In such an expansive industry, you want the best of the best. You want your publication to be the publication. And Holy Moses, I can only imagine how many submissions editors receive daily. I’m sure they kiss a lot of frogs to find the good stuff. 

On the flip side, writing is intensely personal. For authors, their pieces are extensions of themselves. And even though we know that art is subjective, when someone says, “Eh, didn’t work for me,” it hurts. Right in the gonads, man.


But in the wise words (lyrics) of Frou Frou, “There’s beauty in the breakdown.” Let’s face it, rejection bites the big one…but it’s also rather essential in the grand scheme of things.

Dealing with rejection is a choice. In its purest form, rejection is energy. How will you let it affect you?

Here are my personal tips for dealing with rejection―through the lens of a (sometimes) struggling writer. Take ‘em or leave ‘em; apply ‘em to what you will.

1. Read your rejection at least five times. Oh yeah, we’re starting with the big guns. No one said this wouldn’t be painful. Our natural inclination anymore is to skim emails and other communications for overall meaning. Rarely do we digest the details, but the details are what’s important. If you reread something negative, it will usually take the sting out of it and you’ll start to understand the tone, the intent. I haven’t received a rejection email that’s been outright dickish (although the year is still young). Most of the time, it’s a form email, and most of the time, it’s not that bad. Once I get past the initial no, the rejection is pretty manageable.

2. Respect the no. It’s being said for a reason, even if you don’t agree with said reason. Don’t get delusional and try to justify it in your head. It’s black and white here. No means no, and you may never entirely know why. Then, move on. Dwelling isn’t going to change anyone’s mind.  

3. Redirect the energy. When I receive a rejection letter, I send the rejected story out to five new publishers that day―yes, that day. If anything, rejection is helping me expand my reach. And more importantly, I’m taking a negative situation and turning it into opportunity. When I go to bed, I think of new editors reading my work, not the one who turned it down.

4. Drink whiskey.

5. Understand that it isn’t personal―even though it feels like it is. The fact of the matter is your writing will never be as intensely personal for anyone else but you. No one can get inside your brain and your emotional self by opening a Word document. You can share your work and hope to ignites some passion or understanding in someone else, but sometimes, you just won’t. And it’s not necessarily a reflection of the writing (or of you).

6. Gracefully accept constructive criticism. The more people who read your writing and tell you what’s wrong with it, the better your writing will become. Take everything with a grain of salt, but it’s also important to let folks who aren’t personally invested in your work tell you what didn’t work for them. Take the ego down a notch and continue to listen and learn. It’s called progress.

7. Trust in your talent. No one else is going to believe in your work if you don’t. I may very well be told no 100 times this year; in fact, I’m ready for that to happen. But in the end–even if I don’t publish anything–I can appreciate the hustle, the fact that I’m putting my work out there, that I believe my work is good enough for mass consumption, and that I’m trusting that at my very core I’m a writer and this is what I’m meant to do. I believe in me. I believe in my work. And you should, too.  

Photo by Sean MacEntee


2 thoughts on “Rejection for writers: A guide to coping with “no”

  1. I’m very fond of number four. And don’t forget crying. Sobbing. Meltdowns.

    I’m sorry for your “no.” I love your work and look forward to seeing it published this year. I struggle with this constantly. I admit, though, I am my biggest rejector. I am my meanie. The spurns from lit mags aren’t as bad as the lashes I give myself.

    I really need to work on that … As artists, we all do. You have such an inner strength. Keep working. I know you will succeed 🙂

    • I’m also very fond of #4. 🙂

      Lady, I look forward to seeing you published quite a bit this year, too. You are my biggest inspiration. Let’s band together, believe in the “yes,” and make it happen!

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