Dare to write, and people will criticise
I have always learnt more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success. [Henry Rollins]
As a writer, you will be rejected.
Sooner or later, as sure as you wake up in the morning and put your socks on, one foot at a time, someone, at some point in your career is going to turn you down.
It could just be a word from a partner or friend who isn’t quite sure about the direction of your book. Perhaps not even a comment, more of an inauthentic tone to the,
I like it!
Right through to that
Thanks, but we don’t think you’re work is a fit for us right now,
from an agent or publisher.
To a bad review on Amazon (those will definitely happen so steel yourself now!)
You’ll hear it once, or you’ll hear it a thousand times because it’s something that happens to every single writer who has ever written.
But like plenty of things that “happen to everyone”, knowing you will face rejection doesn’t make it easier to deal with when it’s your turn.
When the inevitable happens, and the rejection email or phone call comes in (or worse, doesn’t come at all), you have no choice but to get back up, brush off the dirt and keep on going.
It isn’t easy, and it will hurt, but we want to share five of our best techniques for how to deal with rejection as a writer. We want to help you manage how you feel about rejection, and to become a better writer because of it (even if not immediately!).
1. Don’t take it personally
You’ve just poured your heart, soul, creativity, vision, experience, and months of your life into your manuscript. And all you got was an automated rejection email. Or a
Thanks, we’ll be in touch if we want to discuss this further.
But don’t take it personally.
View it like a personal relationship that is going through a bad patch.
It’s not the fault of either person. You didn’t write a bad book, they aren’t idiots for not seeing your promise.
It’s simply that you just don’t click with each other at the moment. You’re not right for them, and they are looking for something different to what you have to offer. Eventually you’ll both find the perfect fit in a different place or at a different time.
And, remember, if you’re writing to an agent or publisher, the numbers are against you.
Literary agents and publishers receive tens, sometimes hundreds of manuscripts a day. They truly don’t have time to be swept away, or to even look at, each manuscript that hits their desk. But eventually, someone will.
It takes just one ‘yes’ to make it. And it’s best to prepare for dozens of ‘nos’ first.
2. Talk about it
When you face a rejection of any kind, all you want to do is hide under a rock and pretend it didn’t happen.
Licking your wounds might make you feel better eventually, but it won’t give you that immediate release you need.
Keeping it under wraps can give make the rejection seem more important than it really is. It blows it out of perspective and you need to get that perspective back.
Negative feelings can build and build over time, and they will inevitably spill out when you least expect it, only to be misdirected at those close to you.
Instead, talk to people about it.
Tell your mentor, your colleagues, or mastermind group members, your family or friends. Not everyone, but pick someone you know will understand, and you hope will empathise.
Once you open up, you’ll be surprised that the people around you have had a similar experience, and will be willing to share their stories, and their experience at moving past it.
We don’t always broadcast the bad stuff that has happened to us, but I believe that everyone has it under the surface. Be open yourself, and you’ll find someone willing to open up back.
In a guest column for Writer’s Digest, Beck McDowell, author of bestselling YA novel This is Not a Drill, talks about how she dealt with rejection from publishers by setting up an area in her backyard that was dedicated to smashing china plates every time she got turned down for something. Soon her friends heard about it, and joined in when they got rejected for jobs, turned down for opportunities, or broke up with partners.
A little unusual perhaps but why not!
The cathartic feeling of smashing her feelings of rejection, and knowing her friends were smashing the exact same thing alongside her gave McDowell the perspective she needed to keep writing.
3. Fail better
The world doesn’t owe you anything.
Tough but true.
When you get a knock-back, or a rejection, accept it gracefully. Take a deep breath and know that more creative, more hardworking, and more naturally talented people than you have tried, and have also failed.
It would be nice to think that effort in equates to success achieved. But it doesn’t.
There is often no rhyme or reason for why some people succeed and others don’t. Or why some of your work is lauded, and other pieces ignored.
No-one deserves that speaking spot, it isn’t your right to sell thousands of books, or fill all your training courses. You are always testing, you are always creating and waiting to see if your customers reject it.
Let rejection be the norm, forget what you might be ‘owed’, and let success be the statistical anomaly that it is.
Just know consistency will pay off in the long-term. Find the joy in what you do, and take one day at a time.
4. Celebrate it
It’s a good idea to treat rejection as a chance for celebration. What???
Acknowledging and being grateful for rejection will help you find the strength you need to succeed in the long-term. It’s a sign — to yourself and to the outside world — that you’re not accepting the status quo. You recognise what it is, and you’re not giving up. This is not your norm.
Just like when you have that internal chatter telling you you aren’t good enough, you want to learn how to say “thank you,” and then move on.
Writing for Fortune, on dealing with rejection in the work place, Donna Wiederkehr advises that you celebrate your attempt at trying to do something differently. Use the failure or rejection to grow, instead of seeing it as a negative thing.
If you always succeed, you aren’t innovating and pushing the envelope.
If you don’t try something new, how will you expand and grow? How will your work improve?
And the ‘trying’ is a common lesson from people who have achieved success — they got comfortable with failure, they got up and they did it again, or did it differently. But they did it.
Take this lesson on board. Celebrate the fact that you tried, and see everything as one small step along the path to your next success.
5. Learn from it
It’s easy to look at someone else and only see their success.
I’ve heard Seth Godin in an interview, talk about his early days of publishing and how writing to publishers, and getting rejection letters became a game. He wanted to see how many rejections he could collect before he got a “Yes!”
My recollection is that it was somewhere around 90.
And, when you’re feeling particularly down, reflect on the long-list of authors who’ve persevered in the face of rejection, and ended up with a bestseller on the shelf despite those rejections.
It doesn’t matter whether or not these books resonate with you; their success is undeniable.
The story of success is often one of how rejection and criticism shaped great books. And how perseverance was the piece that made the difference between between making it, and remaining forever unknown.
Pick yourself up
When the inevitable happens and your manuscript is rejected, or a critic doesn’t like your work, you do need to take a moment to experience what you’re feeling.
And then you need to decide what your next move will be.
Assuming you choose to continue, not to give up, you have two options: you can take the critique into account and adjust your manuscript accordingly before trying again. Or, you can stand by your book and try other ways to get it published, to find other readers who will like your work.
Often, the best way to deal with rejection is to do both: understand that your work is not perfect; but also that it is a reflection of you and it is never going to be for everyone.
At Author Unlimited, we like to say that you don’t need to wait for permission; you don’t need anyone to give you a “yes“, you can create your own success.
We will all experience rejection — and no doubt many times. It hurts, of course, but you can use it to make you a stronger person and, ultimately, a better writer.
What have you learned from the rejection you’ve experienced along the way? I’d love you to let us know on social media.