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On Rejection As A Writer


I recently got turned down for a contributing writer position on a popular book website. To be honest, I was surprised. I’ve worked with them before, and even though they received hundreds of applications, I thought I had a pretty good chance.

So when I got the “You Suck” email (which, in actuality, was kindly worded), I had a moment of “You’re Kidding Me? How could you turn me down?” It was an ego check, if I’m honest with you.

But, really, life as a writer is just a series of mountaintop moments and rejections and ego checks. You have a run of bad luck, maybe several rejection letters from magazines, you question what you’re doing with your life, then a publisher/magazine/website finally bites! And they pay you for your work. Imagine that! How exciting!

Then you start to have a little success. One article turns into another article. Your self-published book that had moderate success lands you a deal with a publisher.  And, maybe, just maybe, that success starts to go to your head a little.

That’s when you’ve set yourself up. The pedestal is shaky, my friend.

You begin to think that everything you touch is gold. I can write a 1,500 word feature article in my sleep, you think. This is SO easy, you think.

Don’t be stupid. Because when the next rejection comes in–and it will, oh it will–your ego will feel the size of the tip of your editor’s ballpoint pen.

As a writer, rejection is part of the job. Any published piece will go through editing–which, at its core, is just someone telling you that “you messed up HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE, too. And, oh, by the way, this part right HERE really sucks. Rewrite it.”

That’s just the nature of this particular beast we call writing and getting published. If you want to be a good writer, you’ve got to develop a thick skin. Truthfully, I’m not there yet.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m much, much, much better at taking criticism than I was 10 years ago. But I’m still not there, and I don’t know if I ever will be. The rejection email helped me realize that.

In reality, a publisher/magazine might turn you down for 8 million different reasons–and many of them have nothing to do with your quality as a writer. More than that, this is about building off your victories, not lingering on your self-perceived defeats.

Maybe a teacher way back in the day said you had a way with words.  Maybe your husband says you should really think about starting a blog. Maybe your friend thinks you have a story worthy of putting into article or book form.

Build off that. Don’t rest in the compliment and think everyone will love you, but build off that.

And those rejections? They’re nothing but a motivation from now on. Not in a petty “I’ll show you!” kind of way, but maybe in a petty “I’ll show you!” kind of way. Whatever works.

The tricky part about being a writer is knowing the difference between checking your ego at the door (or your editor will do it for you), and maintaining the confidence that allows you to grow as a writer. Follow me?

Though my ego got dinged a little, I’m cool with getting rejected by that website because I’m confident enough, finally, in myself as a writer to know that I’ll fight another day. I’ll continue to write this blog, write at my day job, write guest posts for other blogs and websites, and I’ll continue working on my book.

That’s why Kathryn Stockett’s story is just incredible. She got rejected 60 times before one publisher took a chance on a little book called The Help. How much resilience and self-confidence must Kathryn Stockett have to continue believing in herself and her work despite that many rejections?

You can’t really call yourself a writer until you’ve received a rejection letter. I’m not in a writer’s club. But if I created one, I’d make receiving a rejection letter a prerequisite for joining my club. You’d need one to get in the door.

So, yeah, if you’ve had your work rejected, welcome aboard. Wear the t-shirt, get the tattoo, and pat yourself on the back.

You’re a writer now!

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41 Comments Post a comment
  1. Name a writer without critics. Writing is an art form you cannot measure, thank heavens!

    March 1, 2013
    • So true. Even unsophisticated people like me think Virginia Woolf’s writing is tedious!

      March 1, 2013
      • Writing should stir people, but not all people are stirred by the same things.

        March 1, 2013
  2. Rejection is the small downside of “putting yourself out there” not just reserved for writers. Every job/industry/effort requires letting the world know what you can do and that you are available.

    Try and imagine how boring life would be if one never took the risk of getting rejected. No thank you.

    March 1, 2013
    • Preach it, Greg. We’d never leave our house.

      March 1, 2013
      • Ha! Clearly this is an issue close to my heart. Probably due to my counseling teenagers. That and The Parable of the Five Talents…love that one.

        March 1, 2013
  3. Ha ha the rejection letter as the ticket to joining… you really should start that club. I’d be in of course. You say you are better at taking criticism, but the anger and desire to show “them” is part of getting published isn’t it? The only problem is that ebooks remove that element of criticism, so now you get published but no one reads your work (and possibly with v good reasons). I enjoyed this post though, Good luck for next time. Nicola

    March 1, 2013
    • Yeah, it’s hard not to take the approach of “I’ll show you!” after getting rejected. It’s just natural, I guess. It feels a little petty, like I said, but I guess I just embrace pettiness!

      March 1, 2013
  4. I can guess what site it was. That’s too bad! Oh well, more time to blog, right?

    I submitted my first piece to an anthology last year, and it was rejected. So I guess I’m a member :)

    March 1, 2013
    • Welcome to the club! And you’re right about more time. I was actually worried about managing the small demand that having that position would require. Between work, my blog, reading, family, I could have pulled it off, but it would have been a challenge.

      March 1, 2013
  5. Couldn’t agree more to this! Lovely article.

    March 1, 2013
  6. Excellent article. I still find it challenging to not view critiques and edits as value judgments on my writing.

    March 1, 2013
  7. Nice article once again. Thank you. I think it’s even worse to be ignored than rejected. Sometimes I begged and prayed to get nasty rejection-letters instead of that spooky silence that I filled up with the most destructive ciritque possible …

    March 1, 2013
    • I agree 100%. I think it’s ridiculously unprofessional to not even send back a form letter. I always view someone like that as a person I probably wouldn’t want to work with anyway. If they don’t care about common courtesy, then their process is probably flawed from the beginning.

      March 1, 2013
  8. It is like a game of Dominoes. You really do have an effect on other people. I love this blog and have had so much fun sharing your story. Hope that helps a bit Robert.

    March 1, 2013
    • Very encouraging words! Thanks so much for reading the blog every day.

      March 1, 2013
  9. I once got a rejection letter from Steve Taylor (for a demo of my songs), and in it he advised collecting all your rejection letters in a binder, so one day when you get your big break, you can peruse your binder and gloat. Craft project for your writers’ club: binders full of rejection!

    –One of your affectionate editors :)

    March 1, 2013
    • Love it!

      March 1, 2013
  10. And this is why I’m not a writer. I am scared to death of the rejection letter and have skin as thin as tissue paper. I have a lot of respect for people who keep at it.

    March 1, 2013
    • Oh, but you are a writer! You’re a power blogger!

      March 1, 2013
  11. Robert- DId you know that Dr. Seuss was turned down from over 25 publishers, before he got the go ahead! We all know how that turned out:)

    March 1, 2013
  12. Keep trying.You will succeed somehow one fine day.

    March 1, 2013
  13. I love you for writing this post. I recently got a rejection from what I’m guessing is the very same publication. Mine didn’t sting quite as much, because I’m totally still a nobody… On the bright side, though, now I can join your club. Silver lining? I think so!

    March 2, 2013
  14. I even joined a rejection challenge once, I saw it as a positive sign that I was sending things out, because in order to meet the target rejections, we have to send work out – and when it comes back, it’s not necessarily a sign that the work sucks, but like a matchmaking service, it just hasn’t found it’s rightful place yet. So not just one is required, but a target, regularly!

    Bonne Courage!

    March 2, 2013
  15. Jen #

    I bet you I got the same email! Granted, I’m not really an “established” book blogger, but come on now, I think I’m pretty funny. More time to build our own sites I guess :)

    March 2, 2013
  16. It’s funny. It hurts so much to be rejected or to hear criticism, but as readers, we do it all the time. “I hate that book.” “This was weakly worded.” “The plot went nowhere.” And yet we are surprised that everyone doesn’t love our work!

    March 2, 2013
  17. If you don’t ask, you’ll never find the one that says “yes”!

    March 3, 2013
  18. Thank you for the reality check! But seriously no-one said writing was going to be easy. Keep going :-)

    March 3, 2013
  19. Reblogged this on OurAchievementsCount and commented:
    The truth

    March 3, 2013
  20. properlybright #

    as a student just maybe starting to realize that I’m interested in writing, this comforted me a lot. My writing has been put down in the past and it’s also been complimented and I’ve never known what to do with either. I’ve always known what to do with my drawing and my photography but I’ve always been insecure when it comes to writing. What you’re saying makes sense and it’s going to help me with my writing in the future.

    March 3, 2013
    • Keep at it. You’ll only get better as you continue to write.

      March 4, 2013
  21. A beautifully written article.

    March 4, 2013
  22. Bonivasios Dwi #

    Reblogged this on melompatlompat. and commented: :D

    March 7, 2013

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