Tag s | Rejection

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.


Leave a Comment

Never Burn a Bridge!

The sale of Thomas Nelson to HarperCollins and last week’s sale of Heartsong to Harlequin brought to mind a critical piece of advice:

Never Burn a Bridge!

Ours is a small industry and both editors and authors move around with regularity. If you are in a business relationship and let your frustration boil into anger and ignite into rage…and let that go at someone in the publishing company, you may end up burning the bridge. And that person who you vented on might someday become the head of an entire publishing company.

Read More

Criticism Is an Unhappy Part of the Business

I would like to tell you about a most enjoyable day. Our agency’s guidelines request that unsolicited manuscripts come via the post (I know it’s old-school but it works for us), but we still receive e-mail submissions. I spent an entire morning going through that particular in-box, having an assistant send standard e-mail rejection letters, since none were anything our agency could/would handle.

Very soon I received three separate responses:

Read More

Even the Best Get Rejected


I’ve written about rejection before and yet it is a topic that continues to fascinate.

Recently Adrienne Crezo did an article on famous authors and their worst rejection letters. I thought you might enjoy reading a couple highlights of that article and some additional stories I have collected over the years.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm was rejected by Alfred Knopf saying it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.”
Read More

That Conference Appointment

You snagged one of those valuable 15 minute appointments with an agent or an editor at the writers conference. Now what? What do you say? How do you say it? And what does that scowling person on the other side of the table want? What if you blow it?

Many excellent posts have been written on this topic (see Rachelle Gardner and Kate Schafer Testerman for example) but thought I would add my perspective as well.

What advice would you give to a beginning writer about attending a writers conference and meeting with an editor or an agent?

Go in with realistic expectations.

Read More

Why I’m Not Mysterious

I don’t believe in being mysterious, especially as an agent. Since I used to write books for publication, I know what it’s like to put your career in the hands of others. As a writer, I wouldn’t want to send off my precious work and then hear no updates or …

Read More

The Ultimate Sound Bite

Can you boil the essence of your novel or non-fiction book idea into twenty-five words or less?

This is one of the keys to creating a marketing hook that makes your idea sellable in today’s crowded market.

You have less than a minute to make that hook work.

It is also called creating the “elevator pitch” or the “Hollywood pitch.” The goal is get the marketing department to exclaim, “We can sell that without any problem!” And ultimately to get a consumer to say, “I want that” or “I need that” or “I know someone who should have that.”

Read More

Real Reasons Some Books are Rejected

Most authors and aspiring authors are open to direction and crave constructive comments to help them advance their craft and career. Hopefully, you have had a chance to be part of a good critique group which provided assistance in a manner you found energizing and helpful. When a book is …

Read More

When the Market Is Too Tight

Previously I posted about sending rejections saying the market is too tight as a reason for the decline. Let’s take a closer look. Subjective? “The market is too tight,” sounds objective, doesn’t it? As in, “There isn’t enough room for your book because no one is buying this type of …

Read More