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

26 Nov 2018 | Writing

Note: This post was first published in July 2012 and updated in November 2018.

One reader asked me: “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.”

It has indeed 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. I’ve had plenty of rejections since then, too: competition entries that didn’t even get placed, guest posts pitches that were turned down, reviews of my novels that were less than stellar.

Rejection is simply part of the business of writing. 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 back at those stories I wrote in 2007 – 2008, they were far from brilliant. But they weren’t awful, either. During the same time period, 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: Getting a Piece Accepted is a Numbers Game

One of the reasons that I had so many rejection letters in 2007-08 was because that I’d 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.

Over the past month or so (as I write this in 2018), I’ve been sending out freelancing proposals to potential/former clients for the first time in quite a long while … my youngest has started nursery school, so I’ve suddenly got some extra working hours. Some of those pitches have been rejected; others met with no response. But some were enthusiastically 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.

#3: Facing Rejection 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 first wrote this post in 2012, and I updated it in 2018 … so what’s happened since?

At the end of July 2008, I left my day job. 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 the self-publishing route with Lycopolis (2011) and the next two novels in the trilogy: Oblivion (2015) and Dominion (2016). You can find out about all three on my author website.

(If you’re wondering about the big gap between novels, that’s because my daughter and son were born in early 2013 and late 2014 respectively!)

I also started blogging here on Aliventures back 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. When I first wrote this post, back in 2012, I’d just finished a book in Wiley’s Dummies series, 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. If you wanted, you could do any of these pretty much immediately:

I’m definitely not suggesting that you should 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.

About

I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.

Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.

My Novels

My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.

You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.

31 Comments

  1. Mustafa Khundmiri

    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

    Reply
    • Ali

      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!

      Reply
  2. Brit McGinnis

    What a lovely post! Very encouraging for young writers like me who are just starting out and looking to make books someday. 🙂

    Reply
    • Ali

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

      Reply
  3. Tina Siuagan

    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. 🙂

    Reply
    • Ali

      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. 🙂

      Reply
  4. LycoRogue

    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!

    Reply
    • Ali

      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. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Allison

    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.

    Reply
    • Ali

      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. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Archan Mehta

    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.

    Reply
    • Ali

      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.

      Reply
  7. Carron Stevenson

    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

    Reply
    • Ali

      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.)

      Reply
  8. farouk

    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 🙂

    Reply
    • Ali

      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. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Shaquanda Dalton

    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

    Reply
    • Ali

      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…

      Reply
  10. Bridges Stevenson

    thanks

    Reply
  11. Mary

    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.

    Reply
    • Ali

      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!

      Reply
  12. cudjoe

    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.

    Reply
    • Ali

      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!

      Reply
  13. Ehsan Ullah

    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?

    Reply
    • Ali

      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. 🙂

      Reply
  14. Julia Tomiak

    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

    Reply
    • Ali

      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. 🙂

      Reply
  15. Daniel Rocha

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

    Reply
  16. Eva

    Fantastic post! Very uplifting and full of good advice, thank you;)

    Reply
  17. Steph Cooke

    Reminds me of a quote I saw somewhere… ‘show me a writer who has never had a rejection and I’ll show you a writer who’s never submitted anything!’

    So true…

    Reply
  18. danial kh

    Awesome post! It inspire me a lot.

    Reply

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