4 Things I Learned from Rejection

Nobody likes to be rejected. Not middle-school dance attenders. Not job applicants. And definitely not writers.

Unfortunately, however, rejection pretty much comes with the territory for writers—at least for writers who are brave enough to submit their work to agents or editors for publication. And it hurts. Every. Single. Time. Take it from me, I know. I’ve been rejected hundreds of times, and not only in the distant past. (I know, I know, it’s hard to believe that, at my current level of success and respect, I would continue to suffer rejection. ’Tis a puzzlement.)

But I’ve learned from rejection. Really, I have. Why are you still looking at me like that? I can even quickly list four things I’ve learned from rejection:

  1. The value of feedback

Every once in a while, I get a rejection with an actual comment from a real, live editor. Sometimes it’s a simple, “Not for us.” But, occasionally, a rejection will include a remark such as, “Your protagonist was pretty unsympathetic,” or, “We’re no longer acquiring Neanderthal romance,” or even, “This article could work for us if you’re willing to cut a few hundred words.” I receive such feedback with gratitude and pay close attention to what editors said, often thanking them (in a subsequent submission) for their kind efforts to explain or be helpful.

  1. The value of follow-through

Early in my efforts to write for magazines, I learned that planning ahead and being ready to resend a rejected idea to a new publisher or query a fresh idea to the rejecting editor softened the blow considerably. Instead of bemoaning editors’ inability to recognize the quality of my work (or, alternately, kicking myself for being such a horrible writer), sending out something on the heels of a “no, thank you” replaced the pain of rejection with renewed hope for success.

  1. The value of doing my homework

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I put together a book proposal that was rejected 107 times. That’s not a typo. 107. That’s almost as many rejections as there are books in the Left Behind series of novels. I mean, come on, there aren’t even that many publishers of Christian books out there. Which is the point. Many of those rejections (mailed—back in those days—with actual postage stamps and an SASE) came from publishers for which my submission was totally inappropriate. Somewhere around the 100th rejection, I think it dawned on me that I should do my homework, rather than sending things out to every Willy and Nilly. (I should also have learned not to use phrases like that.)

  1. The value of perseverance

In the course of those 107 rejections, I learned many other things and made some adjustments and course corrections. But one editor rejected a proposal with a note saying something like, “I really like this, Bob, but just didn’t have room for it on my list this year.” Well, that was helpful feedback. (See #1 above.) So about eleven months later, I sent a note to that editor, asking if he might have room on his list this year. And, whaddya know and saints-be-praised, he did! The book was accepted, and published, and just missed becoming a best seller (by a few million copies).

So, yeah, rejection hurts. But for a careful and patient writer, it can become a form of discipline. And sure, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Hebrews 12:11, NIV). But it can nonetheless produce a harvest for those who allow themselves to be trained by it.

 

24 Responses to 4 Things I Learned from Rejection

  1. Avatar
    Terry Whalin February 12, 2020 at 4:59 am #

    Bob,

    Thank you for these “benefits” from rejection–something that happens to all of us in the publishing business. Years ago I love the ninja trick about rejection I learned from Mark Victor Hanson about how they handled getting rejected over 140 times for Chicken Soup for the Soul (yes one of the bestselling series of books in the English language). Each time when rejected Mark and Jack Canfield would say to each other, “Next.” Which is a hopeful word and doesn’t allow them to stop but keep going. I’ve borrowed this practice and found it helpful for my own rejection.

    Terry
    Get a FREE copy of the 11th Publishing Myth

  2. Avatar
    Felicia Ferguson February 12, 2020 at 5:35 am #

    Thanks for this post, Bob. It helps to know I’ve got good company on this walk toward publication. I look forward to seeing you at Blue Lake Christian Writers Retreat!

  3. Avatar
    Shirlee Abbott February 12, 2020 at 6:44 am #

    I submitted a book proposal to an agent several years back. I got a polite rejection, loosely translated, “Good concept, but you’re not ready for prime time.” And I wasn’t. I took rejection to heart, studied the craft and the market, worked on my platform, refined my voice, prayed for God to open my mind and ears to good advice. I now have a decent notion of what prime time looks like. I am a work in progress, as is my book.

  4. Avatar
    Sara Jane Kehler February 12, 2020 at 6:56 am #

    This is realistic yet encouraging. Thanks, Bob.

    I’m learning that growing a thick skin doesn’t mean being able to receive a rejection unphased. It means learning from it, rather than being devastated by it.

  5. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 12, 2020 at 7:23 am #

    Each day brings more rejection
    from the life that once was mine,
    a forced harsh genuflection
    to a malignant Frankenstein.
    Each day there’s something taken
    that yesterday was in my grasp,
    and groans, my heart, forsaken,
    and naught is for my hand to clasp.
    But in this darkness of the soul
    without the slightest gleam of light,
    something promised keeps me whole
    above the endless clouds of night,
    and thus for all we have and are
    I follow still the Magi-star.

    • Avatar
      Linda Riggs Mayfield February 12, 2020 at 9:56 am #

      We DO still metaphorically follow the Star of the Magi, don’t we, Andrew? Their faith in what they believed that star meant sustained them through a long journey, one that probably lasted two years. Our journeys are different, but we, too, “keep our eyes on the prize.” Thank you again for making me see something familiar in a new way in your daily sonnet. And as always, reading it is a prompt to pray for you!

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 12, 2020 at 10:33 am #

        Linda, indeed, our lives, when well-lived, are a following of that Star.

        I’m so glad you enjoyed this, and so grateful for your prayers!

  6. Avatar
    Bernadette Botz February 12, 2020 at 7:26 am #

    I wrote and self-published my first book at 51. I didn’t know anything. I was researching like mad, trying to figure out social media and build a platform. I sent my manuscript to ONE person and promptly received a rejection letter. “Holds promise. Need for something like this on the market. Melodramatic writing. No thank you.”
    I was thrilled, by that point in the process, to receive a rejection letter! And since it came from Steve Laube, it gave me ONE place I could learn. I didn’t know about CWI. I purchased your courses, took Steve’s words to heart and tucked in for a year to learn. I don’t know if the end product is great, but I’m proud of my first effort. The physical book is beautiful, and that gives a sense of deep satisfaction.
    As I told Mr. Laube, I don’t know how often you hear from writers you have helped but not published. I am one of those, and I’m GRATEFUL for all you are doing to help writers across the board. I could never have finished without you. Thanks for helping me realize a lifelong dream. I am a fan girl of CWI!

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube February 12, 2020 at 6:18 pm #

      Bernadette,

      I saw the thank you. Very much appreciated. We don’t often hear back like this. It means a lot.

      Much goes on behind the scenes both in time and financial resources, to provide these training tools. My prayer has always been that they help, in even the smallest way, in building the kingdom through the power of words.

      Steve

  7. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson February 12, 2020 at 8:05 am #

    We never get used to the feelings of rejection. The anticipation of acceptance keeps us at the edge of our seats with each submission, then that dreaded email arrives…rejection…the chair is knocked out from under us. We sulk a while, bandage our wounded pride, and rise up, brush ourselves off, and try again. Try and try again. Never give up.

  8. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 12, 2020 at 8:05 am #

    Just for fun, if I may…

    The rejected leaf that falls in autumn
    brings the green shoots
    of the spring.

  9. Avatar
    Sandy Cooper February 12, 2020 at 8:59 am #

    “107. That’s almost as many rejections as there are books in the Left Behind series of novels.”

    This line alone was worth the price of admission.

  10. Avatar
    Ann L Coker February 12, 2020 at 9:20 am #

    Your sense of humor always elicits a smile. Keep it coming.
    I have also learned from acceptance. When I receive the issue in which my devotions are published, I compare their editing with my original submission. I learn their style and get better with the next assignment. That may be why they keep asking.

    • Avatar
      Karen Ingle February 13, 2020 at 6:49 am #

      Ann, I do this too! I once told my editor he was giving me a course in writing with each article. He laughed—and kept sending assignments my way.

  11. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver February 12, 2020 at 9:56 am #

    You have a way of softening the blow to those who don’t know protocol for the publishing world. Thanks!

  12. Avatar
    Sandy Lipsky February 12, 2020 at 11:44 am #

    Only a few minutes ago I received a rejection email. Your insights were timely and encouraging. Thank you for the reminder of the value a rejection offers.

  13. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield February 12, 2020 at 1:38 pm #

    Bob,
    First, my last rejection was an email much like, “This isn’t for us right now, but we encourage you to submit it to other publishers.” The signature was a branch of a division of the company, not a person. Based on your 107 rejections experience (‘Sorry about that!) and your observation about feedback, do you think major Christian publishers use automatic generic emails like that so they don’t sound mean saying no, or do you think it’s likely that someone actually read my query and thought another publisher might be interested in the book and was sending positive feedback?

    Second, (and I know I mentioned this recently in another context) I keep getting what I will now call semi-rejections with feedback: “I love your book; I’ll represent you IF you build a huge platform.” “I love your book; I’ll represent you IF you rewrite it to meet the criteria of a different genre.” “I like your approach; I’ll publish your Bible study IF you change the entire structure of it.” “I know your historical fiction series is set in that context, but I’ll only consider it IF you take out all the references to Mormonism.” What’s a writer to do??? (After reading today’s post, I have a feeling you’re going to say “Unto 107.”) ;-D Thanks!

  14. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. February 12, 2020 at 2:10 pm #

    Thank you so much for your blog posting, Bob! It was encouraging to my heart. What was that Winston Churchill said? Never, never quit….

  15. Avatar
    Lois Keffer February 12, 2020 at 3:32 pm #

    Mr. H,
    Please consider this an ACCEPTANCE letter. I freely accept the pearls of wisdom you generously cast in each post. Your self-effacing humor invariably decorates my face with grins, eye rolls, or both. (Behold! An Oxford comma rolled from fingertips to screen. Hasn’t happened in a decade. Not to honor an antiquated rule. Nevah. Merely for clarity.) See how you inspire!

    Go, Robert the Hostetler!

  16. Avatar
    Stacy Bronec February 12, 2020 at 4:26 pm #

    107 rejections? That is perseverance. As someone who has submitted essays and articles over the last few years, the strategy for myself that keeps me from taking the blows of rejection too hard is that I keep a sticky note with my top 3 choices to submit each essay to. If it’s accepted by the first publisher — great! If not, then I immediately send it out to the second on the list. Which is why I really related to #2 on your list.
    Thanks for sharing this!

  17. Avatar
    Karen Ingle February 13, 2020 at 6:52 am #

    Thanks for the wisdom and humor you bring to this painful subject. I laughed out loud. (At the humor, not the wisdom.)

  18. Avatar
    Sara February 16, 2020 at 12:27 am #

    I’ve learned that it takes courage to fail, that success is the easy part. So if we succeed lets not abandon, forget or reject God, cause you’ll need him when you fail.

  19. Avatar
    Sara February 16, 2020 at 12:30 am #

    Also, what was the name of that book? I’d like to see if it’s in stock. Cause, I mean, a book that was rejected 107 times must be a great read.

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