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.