How to Handle Rejections as a Writer: Vanquishing Another Angry Monster of Writing

If you've been a writer for very long you'll have noticed that it is difficult. There are monsters hiding behind your computer chair, sneaking up behind you when you've fallen asleep on the couch after a [very brief] writing session.

If you're not careful and if these monsters are left unchecked they will get in the way of you becoming the great writer that you are supposed to be.

So Let's Start Vanquishing!

Rejections & The 'Author Life'

You don't have to have been in the 'writing/book' business for very long to understand that you are going to get numerous rejections as a writer.

When you are just starting out this can be very difficult. I mean, just think about it, you've just successfully completed the major achievement of writing an entire novel. You believe that it is polished and ready to go. You spend hours researching literary agents and publishers that are taking submissions directly from publishers and another 1000 hours preparing your proposal package. This is a gruelling amount of work, just to wait months and months for a rejection.

No one ever said that being a writer would be easy. And it doesn't pay that well either, especially not at the beginning.

Receiving rejection after rejection can be tragic for a new writer, who has essentially no fan base, no time to write, and not enough courage to gather a more varied reader response.

But something that you need to realize, and which we'll touch on later in this blog post, is that every single writer encounters rejections. Those rejections are not necessarily a reflection of your writing ability. If you are not careful you can allow yourself to get caught up in the rejection notices that you receive and fall into 'rejection depression,' which is an even worse affliction than writer's block.

Rejection Depression is a phrase that I've coined and it describes a writer's habit of feeling less confident in their writing abilities and less motivated to continue to write after receiving one or more rejections from industry professionals. For some, rejection depression can even be triggered by rejections from family and friends.

every single writer encounters rejections. Those rejections are not necessarily a reflection of your writing ability.

What we are going to cover in this post:

1) The Truth About Rejections

2) Reasons why you may be receiving rejections and what to do about it.

3) Signs that you may be experiencing Rejection Depression

4) Three Ways to Avoid Feeling Rejection Depression

5) Helpful Resources for Continued Reading.

The Truth About Rejections

Most Best-Sellers were Rejected at Some Point

When I first started out I would often remind myself that some of the greatest and highest-selling authors of our time were rejected too. We have all heard that J.K Rowling’s book (the Harry Potter series) was rejected by five publishers before it was accepted.

Famous English author, After the Funeral & The Pale Horse, Agatha Christie had to wait four years for her first book to be published. Before being published, Frank Herbert’s Dune was rejected by twenty publishers.

So just because you receive rejections does not mean you are a terrible writer.

If you are going to continue as an author you need to figure out how to move past the rejections that you are inevitably going to receive.

Check Out: Three Ways to Avoid feeling Rejection-Depression

Not all Rejection Notices are Negative

This might seem like something really strange to say. How can a rejection notice not be negative? Well, I'll tell you. As I discussed in our podcast episode on How to Handle Rejections, not all rejection notices sent to you by publishers, editors or literary agents are full-on rejections of your work or your abilities. Some notices contain hope in them. In some notices you'll find an invitation to send other pieces of work to them in the future. In other notices you'll see compliments like, they can see that your work has promise, but that it is not a good fit for them at this time.

Both of these rejections contain encouraging comments about your ability as a writer, and even about your work.

Publishers & Literary Agents Are Specific About what they want.

There are times when your work will be rejected for the simple reason that the publisher does not publish your type of genre or story. If you were to do a google search for traditional publishers and take a look at each individual website, you'd be amazed at how specific some of their 'wish lists are.' This is even more true of literary agents. So, at times you might receive a rejection that has nothing to do with the quality of your work.

Three Reasons Why You're Receiving Rejections & What to Do About it

As a professional editor, I interact with a lot of authors. Most of the authors that I know go back and forth between being confident in their abilities as a writer and being hopelessly depressed and embarrassed by the content that they've created.

But when it comes down to it, writers don't willingly submit 'crap' to publishers and literary agents, meaning, if you submitted it you probably think it has some value and at least a shot at getting published. So why was it rejected?

You are querying the wrong agents and publishers.

Make sure that the publishers/agents that you have queried are good matches for your book. Maybe the problem is not your book but whom you have queried. You have to make sure that who you are querying is well matched to your exact book type. For instance, if a publisher says that they will accept all fiction genres- you are opening yourself up for rejection. But if they say they want romance novels set in 1700s Scotland [and that’s what you wrote] you have a very high chance that that publisher will like your book.

What to do about it? If you haven't already, create a structured spreadsheet with publishers' names, contact information, website, submission guidelines and details of their wishlist. Only submit to publishers with a wishlist that matches your book. Do not cast such a wide net when submitting proposals. You are bound to be rejected if you do.

Your book isn’t as polished as you think it is

There is a chance that your book contains far too many proofreading mistakes and content-related mistakes. Perhaps your characters aren't as believable or likeable as you thought they are. Perhaps there isn't enough action. There could be any number of things wrong with the manuscript and it will be very difficult for you, the writer, to know what those mistakes are.

What to do about it? You need a fresh pair of eyes. I would recommend that you pay a hundred dollars to a beta reader at a minimum and get some feedback on your book. Create a job listing on any number of freelance websites requesting the services of a professional developmental editor to help you with content issues. You can expect to pay a developmental editor about $.020 per word. If you think that there are only minor issues with the book, or if you just don't know, create a job listing for a Beta Reader. There is no real industry standard rate for Beta Readers. I've paid from $15.00 to $50.00 for their services.

Recommended Freelance Websites:


Your query letter and supplemental material are not convincing enough.

Sometimes a rejection is not about the writing sample but about your lack of fanbase or understanding of how to promote your book, or your inability to properly place your book within the market (in terms of the competitive analysis piece).

What to do about it? There are many services available on the internet offered by best-selling authors, editors, or publishers to review your query letter and give you feedback on how you can improve it. Take advantage of those services.



More on Authors & Rejection-Depression

Signs You Might be Experiencing Rejection Depression

Have you been receiving rejections lately? Feeling a little down after reading those emails? Maybe you're falling into rejection-depression. Catch yourself! Here are some signs that you'll want to look out for:

1) You no longer want to write anything