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Rejection and how you're in the best company

Rejection is both terrifying and unavoidable. It's a constant and a necessary evil in a journey to improve and reach your dreams.

This post deals with something that happens to ALL writers.

Every single one of us.

All artists actually. You will not find one creative in the history of humankind who hasn’t been rejected. From an Egyptian mural painter to an illuminating monk to a modern fantasy storyteller.

Rejection is part of this journey throughout. Whether being accepted into a critique group, getting an agent, a publisher, reviewers agreeing to feature you, bloggers to post, bookstores to stock and regular readers to well, read, rejection accompanies us every step of the way. It's attached to us and is as inescapable as our shadow. For writers, who are famous for both our sensitivity and our need of reassurance, it's our tailor-made curse. But while I don’t presume to have th cure for it, or have made friends with it, rejection can serve a purpose. And we can all find ways to deal with it and work around it.


Here are the 3 things that have helped me whenever I get a rejection.

1) It is personal, but it isn’t about you. As a writer, our work is our baby, so it feels like a rejection of it is a rejection of us. I read somewhere that trauma comes from non-belonging. As humans, we are wired for acceptance and connection within our tribe, so it is no wonder rejection feels catastrophic. It doesn't have to be. First, separate the work from your own worth, which is inalienable. Then consider the product. The first reaction is to think our work isn’t good enough. Sometimes that might be the case, but other factors might be at play as well. We have to accept the things outside of our control, like editor lists, their preferences, their utter dislike for a book with a cat or people named Paul. Or certain styles of writing. Or a bad day. A bottom line. Market trends. Many factors we will never know played a role.

2) Filter any feedback: If there is feedback, even if negative or non-constructive, try to objectively assess it. Often people pick on a problem and provide either the wrong explanation or suggest the wrong solution. But their assessment that an issue exists is more than likely right. Not always though. Here is a check, if the comment hit on something that you were doubting about, fix it. If you can see their perspective, fix it. If it doesn’t resonate at all, feel free to ignore it.

Rejection is so unavoidable, it must become a tool in our arsenal.

3) Check with your gut. And trust it. Give yourself permission to override or dismiss an opinion. Even if it is something as devastating as “there is no market for this book.” At the end of the day, and regardless of what everyone else says, if you believe in your story and feel the need to have your message out there, you can’t give up. Many stories that were rejected went on to become successful. Agents and editors and reviewers are human. They do not know everything. We are all trying the best we can. Our job as writers is to keep getting better and to push for new things, break boundaries and rules, even when that makes our journey harder.

4) Turn your disappointment into action: For every rejection, read at least one chapter of a writing book.Or a book in your genre. Or in another genre that will help you gain perspective. Or write a bit. Whatever works for you as long as it is a positive step to further your journey. After all rejection can be a positive force pointing to a change for the better. In this capacity it forces us to figure out what doesn't work and improve it. So action is key. You can allow yourself to mourn, cry and be sad, but give yourself a maximum time to do it. After that, commit to one single step that will get you back on track. You will feel like you are doing something actionable and will get distance from the feeling of inadequacy.

5) Aim for rejections. This is a suggestion that I have seen several time and I know it works for others. I don't personally find it inspiring, but we are all different people so it is worth mentioning. The idea is the rejoice in the number of rejections. JK Rowling said in an interview that she cherished her first rejection because it made her feel like she was a part of the club. Like stated above, all writers have received them, so looking at a rejection pile as a rite of passage or the proof that you're on your way is powerful. Some people aim for a certain number of rejections. The thought is that the statistics will be on your side eventually and say 50 rejections prove that you're putting in the work. I've seen several friends succeed with this strategy because takes the negative connotation out of the process.

Rejection will walk side by side throughout your career as a writer, so give it a sideways glance, scream at it when you must but keep getting better at your craft and trying again.

Whatever strategy you use to deal with it, do not ever let rejection stop you. Try again. Because that has to be the only message left from a rejection. Rejection isn't there to tell you to give up. It's there to get your creative problem-solving going. It tells you: "Not quite. Not there yet. Review, assess, rinse and repeat."

Rejection will walk side by side throughout your career as a writer, so give it a sideways glance, scream at it when you must but keep getting better at our craft and trying again.


Here is a list of great books that were rejected many times, just in case you need the additional pick me up.

Famous books that were rejected, a growing list in no particular order

  • Dick Wimmer, Irish Wine: 162 rejections.Chicken Soup for the Soul: 144 rejections.

  • Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: 121 rejections.

  • James Lee Burke, The Lost Get-Back Boogie: 111 rejections.

  • Lisa Genova, Still Alice: about 100 rejections (or non-replies) from agents.

  • Sergio de la Pava, A Naked Singularity: 88 rejections from agents.

  • Elmore Leonard, The Big Bounce: 84 rejections by publishers and producers.

  • William Kowalski, Eddie’s Bastard: 79 rejections.

  • Marlon James, John Crow’s Devil: 78 rejections from publishers.

  • Steven Goldberg, The Inevitability of Patriarchy: 69 rejections.

  • Kathryn Stockett, The Help: 60 rejections from agents.

  • David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress: 54 rejections from publishers.

  • Heidi Durrow, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky: 48 rejections from publishers

  • Donal Ryan, Spinning Heart: 47 rejections from publishers.

  • John Spurling, The Ten Thousand Things: 44 rejections from publishers.

  • Esmé Weijun Wang, The Border of Paradise: 41 rejections from publishers.

  • Samuel Beckett, Murphy: 40 rejections from publishers.

  • Daniel Handler, The Basic Eight: 37 rejections from publishers.

  • Sam Lipsyte, Homeland: 35 rejections from publishers.

  • James Patterson, The Thomas Berryman Number: 31 rejections from publishers.

  • Stephen King, Carrie: 30 rejections from publishers.

  • John Grisham, A Time to Kill: 28 rejections.

  • Dr. Seuss, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street: 27 publisher rejections.

  • Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time: 26 rejections from publishers.

  • Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife: 25 rejections from agents.

  • Frank Herbert, Dune: 23 rejections from publishers.

  • Joseph Heller, Catch-22: 22 rejections.

  • William Golding, Lord of the Flies: 21 rejections.

  • Richard Hooker, MASH: 21 rejections.

  • James Joyce, Dubliners: 18 rejections from publishers.

  • Paul Beatty, The Sellout: 18 rejections from publishers.

  • Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank: 15 rejections.

  • John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times.

  • Sanctuary by William Faulkner was called "unpublishable."

  • Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before having one published.

  • Beatrix Potter had to publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit herself.

  • Louisa May Alcott was told to stick to teaching.

  • Marcel Proust had to pay for his own publication.

  • E. E. Cummings named the 14 publishers who rejected him in No Thanks.

  • Rudyard Kipling was told he didn't know how to use the English language.

  • George Orwell, Animal Farm. "There is no market for animal stories in the USA."

  • Agatha Christie had to wait four years before getting published.

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was rejected 12 times.

  • Alice Walker’s The Color Purple

  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

  • Auntie Mame was rejected by 15 publishers.

  • Richard Hornberger’s M*A*S*H: A Novel. Rejected by17 publishers.

  • L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Rejected so often he wrote "A Record of failure" to track them.

  • Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree, multiple rejections.

  • Moby Dick, Herman Melville, many, many rejections.

  • Charles dickens A Christmas Carol. Had to pay for his own publication.

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