What it Feels Like When Your Writing is Rejected – and How to Bounce Back


My collection of rejection letters.

“I’d like to know what it’s like to get rejected by a publisher or several (if that’s ever happened to you) and how you bounce back from it.”

– a request from the Aliventures survey a few weeks back

Yes, it’s happened to me – as you can see from the photo above! Those are all the rejection letters I received in 2007 – 2008, for a fantasy novel that I was shipping around to agents/publishers, and for short stories that I was sending to magazines.

Rejection is simply a fact of life in the writing business. Of course, it would be great if everything you wrote was loved and snapped up by the first editor who saw it. But agents and editors are inundated with new material on a daily basis – perhaps receiving hundreds of manuscripts every week when they might only take on one or two new authors every year.

Here’s what you need to know about rejection:

#1: Being Rejected Doesn’t Mean Your Writing is Bad

Looking at my stories from four years ago, they were far from brilliant. But they weren’t awful, either. During 2007 – 2008, as well as collecting a stash of rejection letters, I had two small competition prizes and two short-listings for my short stories. I also started freelancing for several blogs.

When you receive a rejection letter, don’t take it as a sign that your writing sucks. There are all sorts of reasons why a manuscript might be selected – perhaps the magazine had just taken an article on a very similar theme, or published a short story with the same premise. Maybe the agent you’ve written to just doesn’t click with your writing style.

All writers get rejected. Every best-selling writer you know – including J.K. Rowling and Stephen King – has received rejection letters.

#2: It’s a Numbers Game

Around January 2007, I decided to enter as many short story competitions in Writing Magazine and Writers’ News as I could. I wrote around 15 – 20 short stories that year, and while most of them didn’t place in the competitions, four did. I sent out the others to magazines, and managed to get one accepted.

The more stories or article pitches or book proposals you write, the more chances you have of success. Create a spreadsheet so you can keep track of which stories you’ve sent where, and every time a story comes back, send it out to a new publication.

If you write and send out one short story each month, you’ll have 12 at the end of a year. If you find 5 good markets that accept short stories, that gives you 60 shots at success.

#3: It Gets Easier

The first few times I got rejection letters, it hurt. I’d written the best novel I could at the time, and I’d spent ages researching agents, composing cover letters, printing the manuscript in the right format, and so on. I thought that if only I could get my novel accepted, I could quit my day job (I have a slightly more realistic idea about advances now…).

But after a few rejections, I stopped minding so much. I started sending out short stories as well as the novel. I began to understand that rejections are simply part of the writing life, and that – while they might be a little disappointing – they’re just one person’s opinion.

Your first rejection will probably hurt. Your tenth rejection might sting. But every time you recover from a rejection and send something out again, you’ll find that those rejections have a little less power over you.

Moving On From Rejection

You might have noticed above that my rejection letters are from 2007 – 2008. I’m writing this in the middle of 2012 … so what happened in the meantime?

Much as I’d love to say that I cracked the secrets of the market and now never get rejected, that’s not the case! Instead, I moved on to some different projects in the middle of 2008.

At the end of July 2008, I left my day job. In fact, today, as I write this, it’s exactly four years since I began working for myself. In September 2008, I started an MA in Creative Writing, and began to work on a new novel (instead of short stories).

My freelancing work – mostly for websites – wasn’t just a great way to make steady money as a writer, it was also a great way to build my confidence. Getting paid on a regular basis felt like a pretty strong validation of my writing!

My novel, Lycopolis, took three years to finish. I did approach one agent and one editor at a conference, but neither wanted to take the novel on. As the months went by, though, I saw more and more authors – new and established – bring their novels out themselves, as ebooks and print-on-demand works. I decided to bypass the rejection game and take that route with Lycopolis. (If you want to buy it or find out more, it’s available from Amazon as an ebook and a paperback.)

I also started blogging here on Aliventures in 2009. With my blog and the weekly newsletter, there’s no one to reject my writing – and I usually get lovely comments that help me know I’m on the right track.

Today, writers have a wealth of different options. You aren’t reliant on agents and publishers to get your stories, articles, or poetry out there.

Yes, having an agent or publisher still has many benefits. I’ve just finished up a book for Wiley’s Dummies series, called Publishing E-Books For Dummies, and I certainly appreciated the advance! 😉 (As well as the attention to detail from my editors, and the opportunity to be associated with a major book brand.)

But … you don’t have to be entirely at the mercies of the publishing industry. Right now, if you wanted, you could:

  • Start your own blog: WordPress.com is completely free, and easy to get going with
  • Publish a collection of your short stories or poetry through Smashwords or Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing
  • Create an email newsletter to share your writing on a regular basis – I use Aweber for this, though MailChimp is free if you’re just getting started

I’m not suggesting that you need to stop (or avoid) submitting your work to agents and publishers. Collect up those rejection slips and be proud: you’ve survived them! The more rejections you get, the closer you are to an acceptance.

At the same time, find a way to bypass the agents and publishers, so you can get at least some of your writing out there to the world. Having an audience – even if that’s just a handful of friends and family – is hugely rewarding, and can help to take away any lingering pain of rejection.

Whatever stage you’re at with your writing, good luck. If you’ve had any personal experience of rejection – or acceptance! – that you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thanks for commenting! I read all comments, and reply to as many as I can. Please keep the discussion constructive and friendly. Thank you!

28 thoughts on “What it Feels Like When Your Writing is Rejected – and How to Bounce Back

  1. Good read Ali!

    I’m sure each rejection letter in that picture above has served as a stepping to stone to success for you. While I haven’t had any rejection (or acceptance for that matter), I can assure you that rejection is NOT a bad thing.

    It’s just the way it works. No successful author has had a perfect start. In fact, rejections are necessary to know where you’re going wrong so that you can fix your mistakes and move ahead. If you don’t believe that with your heart and soul, you’ll have a hard time gulping down any rejections that come your way.

    I respect you for sharing your story Ali. I wish more writers do so.
    Mustafa Khundmiri’s last blog post ..Idea Blogging: Your Roadmap to Creating Killer Blog Post Ideas

    • Thanks, Mustafa! And I completely agree … rejection isn’t a bad thing, it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. You’re completely right — without those rejections, I’m sure I wouldn’t have got to where I am today, because I’d probably be too scared to ever put my writing out into the world!

      It’s easy to see other writers succeed, without realising that they collected plenty of rejections along the way … so I wanted to do my bit to show that we *all* get rejected and it’s not as terrifying as new writers might think!

    • Thanks Brit! Glad it was encouraging (I was a bit worried I might put people off with the photo of all those rejection letters…!)

  2. Here in the Philippines, publishers/employers are kind of skeptic on applications coming from individuals without journalism or creative writing degrees or backgrounds. Unfortunately, for me, landing on a writing gig had been quite difficult given my profession as a nurse. Sure, I experienced a number of rejections. Not to mention, a lot of discriminating remarks. It was, indeed, a painful experience for me. But then, I thought, I have so much to offer given my background in health care. Finally, I landed on a company who’s very willing to take in medical and health professionals to write for them. I even had the opportunity to be offered with writing jobs – paid with substantial honorarium fees – for a local health publication and magazine.

    For me, rejection prepares you for a greater good. 🙂

    • Tina, congratulations on your persistence! I think writers with an expertise in a particular area — like health and medicine — have so much to offer, and I’m really glad you found a good writing job. 🙂

  3. As I have mentioned on a few occasions here, I specialize in writing fanfiction. Therefore, I haven’t attempted to send my writing out to competitions or otherwise (at least, not since I submitted three different short stories when I was about 13).

    However, I do still understand the importance of your closing paragraph.

    “Having an audience – even if that’s just a handful of friends and family – is hugely rewarding…”

    Yes, yes it is. I have about four die-hard readers who routinely comment on my stories, blog, and facebook page. I love them dearly and knowing they are THAT faithful really drives me to keep writing regardless of anyone else’s opinions. ^_^
    LycoRogue’s last blog post ..Happy Birthday to Me!

    • Out of interest, are there any fanfic competitions around? It’s years since I’ve been involved as a reader — and I’ve never been a writer — but I definitely came across fandoms where fans gave awards to particular stories. And I know some fandoms have challenges or whatnot, to encourage authors to write.

      Treasure those die-hard readers! I think only writers can know how much it means to have that sort of support. 🙂

  4. Getting published is a numbers game like selling. Every no is closer to a yes. I have also found that there are positive rejections. Any rejection that comes with a few words of encouragement or asking to see more of your work I take as a positive. I was submitting one short story and got three rejections, but was asked to submit other work. When I was scouting for an agent last summer for my YA novel, several agents gave me encouragement and compliments on the nature of my story and to not give up. I realized soon after that my YA needed at least another 10K words to be in the middle of that reading age group. So, back to more writing and revising. Our writer’s group self published a series of short stories and that was rewarding too. So keep writing.

    • That’s a really good point, Allison … and I have been lucky enough to get a few positive rejections in my time. Even a few scrawled words on the bottom of a form letter really make a difference!

      Good luck with all your writing and revision — and congratulations on the agent interest. That sounds like an incredibly good sign that you’re heading in the right direction. 🙂

  5. Bless your heart, Ali, for contributing this fab post: this is just what the doctor ordered and I really needed to read your post. The timing was just right, to be sure.

    As a writer, getting rejected is a fact of life, so you just wrote about the story of my work-life.

    I have been rejected so many times that I could write a book about it or a novel.

    I have been rejected more times than I have been published.

    That’s why whenever and wherever my work is published, I take that as a bonus and move on with my life. It is like a shot in the arm when you finally succeed. All that painstaking labour finally leads to a reward and you get a chance to eat your grapes.

    Many times, I have also come across editors who were never on the same page–no pun intended there. We did not see eye to eye on any issue and my work was rejected due to personal dislikes and a certain angle on writing.
    People in positions of power and influence are also not infallible: they have their strengths and limitations just like the rest of us do.

    But then, when one of my creative pieces was rejected, I would send it out to another publisher–and it would be accepted at times. Moral of the story: you never know the outcome of your creative writing efforts. There is always some editor or publisher out there who will like your work and others who will dump it in their trash can.

    Most of them, in my case, never even bothered to respond. They did not care and they had other plans, but I did not take it personally. Just keep on plugging away like Stephen King and sooner or later you will taste the bitter-sweet of success. And when it rains, it pours. At least that has been my experience as a writer. Cheers.

    • Thanks, Archan, glad this came at a good time for you.

      I’ve been rejected *far* more times than I’ve been published … I think that’s the norm! And I agree with you, publication then becomes something to see as a real bonus.

      Editors and publishers — and, like you say, everyone in positions of power and influence — are just human beings like the rest of us. (Really!) They’re certainly not infallible; they also have different likes, dislikes, interests, moods…

      You’ve definitely got the right attitude. Continuing to send work out, and not taking rejection personally, are so crucial.

  6. Hi Ali
    I”m just a beginner in my mid 50’s of actually working on my writing dream of years and years.
    I’m sure that there is a good book in each one of us.
    Your article has given me the courage to submit my first short article on “my favourite camping spot for New Zealand Motorhomes Caravans and Destinations. Fingers crossed. Now I know how to handle it if I get a rejection.
    You are so encouraging to read, Carron

    • Wonderful! And congratulations on getting up the courage to submit … very best of luck. 🙂 (Also, congratulations on going after your dream — I’m sure you’ve got a wonderful journey ahead.)

  7. that reminds me of myself
    when i attempted to publish my first book it was rejected by more than one publisher
    i ended up selling my books online and i made more profit than the amount i would have had if i published my book through that publisher who rejected my work 🙂

    • Farouk, you’re a constant inspiration! It always seems like 2KnowMyself is going from strength to strength, and I can only imagine the amount of work you must’ve put into building the site and your online career.

      Self-publishing is become a very realistic option for many of us now (particularly in the online world) — I think you’re an example of just how powerful a force it can be. Congratulations to you on your success, and best of luck for the future too. 🙂

  8. Thanks for the post Ali. It takes courage to broadcast your rejection letters to the world. I haven’t sent any works for publication but I agree that all good writers get rejected and we learn and grow from them. It also help the writer build a stronger backbone for the hard world out there.

    Thanks again 🙂
    Shaquanda Dalton’s last blog post ..Me and My Journal

    • Thanks, Shaquandra! Yeah, I wasn’t too sure that I wanted to show the world just how many times I’d been rejected … but I figured that if it encourages just one person to face their fear of rejection and submit their work anyway, it was worth it. 🙂

      Building a backbone is — sadly! — a pretty important task for any writer. The writing life has so many rewards, but I don’t think anyone’s ever claimed it’s easy…

  9. Phew! Gave up the day job a year ago and spent my redundancy money retraining as a journalist. Love it and have been published (but not making any money). This post is inspiring as I’ve had huge doubts about my work (and focus). I started a blog but it’s in it’s infancy as I have spent more time deleting/editing than feeling confident about failing…
    Feeling inspired to try again, so thanks. Anyone out there wanting to offer recriprocal feedback (a bit confined to low/no cost options right now) and finding it much easier to offer constructive criticism/ support to other writers than I am about knowing if I’m hitting the right note with readers. Love your posts and really enjoyed the self-publish blogs.

    • Congratulations on the publication, Mary — money can be pretty slow to come in the writing business, but I’m sure you will get there.

      Do keep going with the blogging — I’ve left a couple of “failed” blogs behind over the past four years, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without them. We can’t learn without making at least a few mistakes along the way. And I’m sure your posts are better than you realise!

  10. Rejection at first is truly hurting. I’m someone who really like writing poems. My first submission to a newspaper was abruptly rejected. But now this same newspaper is chasing me for my poems.

    • It is painful to be rejected — and newspapers can be especially abrupt, because their staff tend to be so busy. How great to have your poems in demand, though — congratulations!

  11. Hello Ali,

    I think this is a great lesson not only for writer, but for everyone. I’m happy to know that you continued your work after getting rejected many times. This is true that we’ll feel proud and improvement in our work after being rejected many times. This is a part of life.

    Thanks Ali,

    Ehsan U.
    Ehsan Ullah’s last blog post ..Why Do I Blog?

    • I’m glad I continued too! I think it’s the same in many areas of life — we sometimes have to keep on going, even after a failure. That’s how we eventually succeed. 🙂

  12. Thank you Ali for this practical yet encouraging post on the realities of the writing life! I love how supportive the writing community is. I’m “pocketing” his post to pull out when I feel low. And congrats on your big announcement! I hope you continue to feel well!
    Julia Tomiak’s last blog post ..Offer a Magazine to a Reluctant Reader

    • Thanks Julia! And do keep this one bookmarked somewhere safe … though, of course, it’d be lovely if you never need it. 😉 Best of luck with your writing and submitting.

      I’m doing well still — I have a little less energy than I’m used to, but I’m learning to take things that bit slower. 🙂

  13. Hello, Ali!

    What an inspiring post. Just loved the rejections photo! In fact, I thought about doing the same thing when my novel will be published. I never count my rejection letters (at least, until today), but the projects of my first book of short stories was rejected for 2 years (that’s why I decided to make a blog, in first place, to publish the tales of “Distant Thunders”, that is the name of my blog, in English). After I finished my first novel, I sent to publishers (I didn’t count, but I guess was around 10) and 2 contests, but it remains rejected until today. I’m waiting for another contest and a publisher to answer me back about that novel, and the project of the novel that I’m working now was rejected for 5 times, for a government scholarship to write a novel (even that wasn’t the same project, neither the same text).

    But no, I wont’ give up.

    Thank you very much for this post. It gave me strenght, hope and faith.

    All the best,

    From your Brazilian friend,

    Daniel Rocha’s last blog post ..Escrever é um ato de fé – Segunda Parte

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