How to Handle Rejection Like a Pro


Rejection is a cost of doing business. This is true not only for writers and other creatives but for anyone courageous enough to live wholeheartedly.

You can minimize it by being prepared, doing the best work possible and targeting the right agents and editors and readers, but I am letting you know that despite all of that, rejection will happen.

You’ve probably seen all kinds of anecdotes about wildly successful writers who were repeatedly rejected, from J.K. Rowling to Faulkner to Nabakov (one editor said Lolita should be buried under a stone for a thousand years). Fortunately for those writers and their fans, they didn’t give up.

Think like a salesperson:

A door-to-door salesperson doesn’t expect to sell a steak or an alarm system or lawn service to every person who answers the door. In fact, they’ll have an expected conversion rate – depending on what they’re selling and to whom, they may expect to sell to one out of every two people they approach, or it may be more like one out of 100 or even more. As long as they hit that rate, they’re a success! A boardwalk vendor isn’t going to get upset about every person who walks by and doesn’t purchase his product no matter how handy-dandy that gizmo is.

I am by no means suggesting that it’s just a numbers game and you should send the same dashed-off story out there over and over until it hits. No way. I sincerely hope you aren’t going to take the random door-to-door approach or try to accost editors while they’re enjoying the beach, but nonetheless, you can benefit by cultivating a salesperson’s resilience.

Know it’s not all about you:

I know you know this, but when you send off that submission, it’s easy to forget. You’ll imagine that gatekeeper just sitting there, petting her cat and waiting for writers to email so she can shut them down. That’s ludicrous. Agents, editors, reviewers all want to find good writers. BUT, they’re busy and they’re deluged by email.

Think about your own inbox and all of the emails you get trying to sell you something. Even if you want to get back to someone because you’re very polite and conscientious, you might not, right? You might open it and decide to read it when you have more time…or read it and decide to think about it and respond later…and then you forget. And that’s if you even open it before it gets lost. I think I have an email account with like 2,000 unopened emails. Hopefully they’re all mass sent and no one is waiting to hear from me. Hopefully.

Don’t worry. Unless you were a total jerk, I guarantee they don’t hate you. Instead of assuming they’re laughing at you, try following up.

Follow Up:

If you get no response, don’t immediately assume it’s a rejection. Politely follow up twice, and then move on. I love telling this story and you'll probably see it elsewhere on this blog, so forgive the repetition: Many years ago, I pitched Coast magazine over and over. Nothing. Not even a polite no. Of course I assumed the editor hated me. Eventually, when I had more experience that same magazine hired me in-house as an associate editor. One day, the editor-in-chief called me into her office where she’d been cleaning up her piles  of paperwork. Laughing, she showed me all of my pitches, which were languishing in a long-forgotten stack of writers she’d been hoping to hire someday when she had the budget. I swear that's a true story! You never know what the recipient of your email is thinking.

Throw a little pity party:

If you do get rejected, let yourself feel bad for a little while. Trying to pretend it doesn’t suck will just make you bitter or might even make you start blaming other people. That attitude is NOT conducive to building relationships, to doing your best work, or to living a healthy and happy life. At first you may be bummed out for a couple of days, later it may only be a few minutes.

As long as you don’t let it turn you into a miserable jerk, it’s all good.

I went to school with this exceptionally talented guy who had a fantastic comic novel. He queried a few agents who didn’t immediately snap it up. Not only did he give up, he immediately quit writing and decided “F them. It’s their loss.” Guess what? It’s not only his loss, it is all of our loss. His book was good and now readers can’t enjoy it because he wasn’t willing to regroup and try again.

Never fight back.

No matter how collected you are, this can sometimes be hard. At one time or another you’ll be tempted to argue with someone and tell them why your writing really is right for them. Don’t. They may forget your story, but they won’t forget the angry person who questioned their own professionalism and taste. And for God’s sake, don’t ever post your anger online. I know a writer who instantly killed her career by getting on Facebook and publicly cussing out editors who rejected her work. I’ll don’t know if those editors saw what she wrote, but I know my entire network did. Think any of us will stick our neck out and refer her to our agents?

What to do instead.

1.     Say thank you anyway.

2.     Accept that you'll feel shitty for a little while.

3.     Go back in with your whole heart.

But that’s easier said than done!

So true. That’s why I’ve written a whole article on how to Get Your Writerly Mojo Back. It’s a lot more fun than this one!

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