Damo’s Guide to Embracing Rejection

Rejection phobia has to be the number one barrier to development as a writer that most people face. Taking the raw material of your soul, crafting into over long hours of sweat and toil into a unique expression of your inner being and then displaying it to the world only to get a rejection letter telling you it isn’t good enough isn’t most peoples idea of fun.

Rejection is as inevitable for writers as death. If you send work out to be published, people will say no. Mostly this no will be polite. Sometimes it will not. Occaisionaly it will be delivered with the intent of crushing your creative spark forever. Whichever, dealing with rejection is a very important part of developing as a writer.

I’m odd, because I actually enjoy getting rejection letters! Not as much as I enjoy getting acceptance letters, but its not far off. I’ve had three rejections this week, and I swear, cross my heart and hope to die, that I found something good in all of them. After some consideration I’ve arrived at the following reasons why, so here are…

Damo’s Top Tips for Making A Friend of Your Rejection Letter

1) Get something published. OK, now this might sound like I’m being sarcastic. Simply put, the early slog of sending your work out cold and getting it sent back over and over again is horrible. There is no way around this. The only answer is to get something, anything in print. Don’t worry about getting paid, or whether it is a webzine of fanzine. As long as it isn’t run by a friend or close relative, just keep sending stuff out. As soon as you get one or more publications under your belt everything will feel MUCH better.

2) Rejection is step one to acceptance. No it isn’t just a horrible platitude. Its very rare to get an acceptance the first time you submit to a market, and the bigger and more established the market the more true this is. Think of your first rejection from an editor as a step in building a relationship with them. Take note of the type of rejection. Whilst a standard form rejection isn’t the end of the world, if you have got a letter with specific feedback about your story this is a very good sign, it means the editor was at least interested and will be more likely to spend an extra few mintes looking at your work the next time you submit.

3) Never retort. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, write a snotty retort to feedback from an editor. As already discussed if an editor takes the time to give you any feedback its a good sign, but these are busy people who may not have time to sugar coat what they say. If you get a detailed response you might want to write back to and thank them but make sure you are polite and what you write can’t be misinterpreted as snottiness. Don’t break this rule even if you get an Angry Editor (see below).

4.) Don’t take it personally. Its tempting to picture an editors office having a large chart pinned to the back wall of People We Hate and Will Never Publish. Rejections can often feel like having your picture nailed to this chart, and then faxed round all the other editors for them to avoid as well. It feels like something specific about you has been rejected, like you are just the wrong kind of person. The truth is that the editor knows no more about you than what you wrote, and almost certainly forgot that instantly the moment your story was rejected.

5) Volunteer as a slushee. Even small publications get such a weight of submissions that editors need lots of volunteer readers to help whittle down the numbers. The moment you look at a pile of two hundred stories and contemplate reading them all, your understanding of what happens in a slush pile will increase ten fold. You will see how important it is to follow submission guidelines and pick up on the elements that really make a story leap out at a reader. You’ll also see that most of the people doing the rejecting are just like you, which can be a comfort.

6) Angry Editors. It does happen that editors have a bad day and make bad decisions. You might get some particularly difficult feedback from an editor if you catch them at the wrong time. Editors also have certain bugbears that if you happen to cross can produce harsh criticism. Often these are listed in the submission guidelines for a publication. Angry Editors are worse than this however. Often they are writers who have suffered rejection themselves and have set up, usually a very small fanzine, to demonstrate the validity of their perspective on writing. I once had a response to one early story from an editor than ran to three times the length of the story itself, and included a detailed dissection not only of my story but of me as an individual. Fortunately the story got published a week later with a glowing review which helped cushion that particular blow. If you feel that any feedback you receive from any editor has gone beyond constructive criticism into destructive negativity then you have to just put it aside and ignore it. Its also a good idea to know enough about an editor before you submit to make sure that you are happy for them to see your work. Its not difficult to research these things in the age of Google.

Most important of all, as soon as a rejection comes in, take the rejected story, pick a new market and send it to them.

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

2 thoughts on “Damo’s Guide to Embracing Rejection

  1. “Most important of all, as soon as a rejection comes in, take the rejected story, pick a new market and send it to them.” Worth repeating over and over… Hard as it is, the key thing is never to take rejections personally. As you say, the editor doesn’t know you, they just don’t like your story, and it’s probably nothing to do with your story either.


  2. I don’t have a problem with rejection, at least in the context in question. I’ve never had a manuscript rejected, though, admittedly, I’ve never had one accepted either, so have happily bypassed the whole problem.

    As for rejection in a personal sense, I just sort of take it for granted, figuring it’s bound to happen sooner or later, so why worry about it?

    With regard to the subject in hand, however, I can do no better than recommend ‘Stories from a Moron’ by Ed Broth, which demonstrates with unimpeachable clarity precisely how not to target publishers, and, still more vividly, how not to respond to the inevitable rejection.



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