We face a lot of rejection in life. As people pursuing creative fields, we face even more. We writers can expect dozens, if not hundreds, of rejections over the course of our careers, from agent rejections to editor rejections to bad reviews. But just because we know to expect them doesn’t mean they don’t hurt, and learning to deal with all those “no”s in a healthy way is very important in order to move forward with a writing career.
For me, at least, the first step in dealing with rejections is to allow myself to be sad about it. Rejection sucks. It’s not “weird” or “unprofessional” to let yourself be as bummed out as you need to be. Sometimes, kind, personal rejections can lead eventually to great ideas for revisions or new stories, but at the time, the sense of “almost” in them can be pretty devastating, much more so than form rejections. Do what you need to do to process that and move on. Spend a little time crying. Hug your pet. Watch your favorite cheer-up movie or TV show, listen to your favorite song on repeat, make yourself your favorite comfort beverage. (Although I would suggest not getting drunk every time you get rejected, since, as I mentioned, it’ll happen a lot.) It’s also really helpful if you have friends who are also writers or creative-types, friends who will understand when you say “hey, I got rejected today, I’m pretty crushed,” who won’t brush off how much this can sting and will instead send you gifs of adorable baby animals.
What is unprofessional and weird, though, is writing back to the person who rejected you to argue with them, or to say “whatever, I didn’t want you anyway.” I can understand the impulse, but this will hurt you so much more than those ten minutes of feeling superior will help you. Agents remember these things, and they share them with their publishing friends. You don’t have to respond at all, and in most cases I would suggest that you don’t, especially because publishing really is as subjective as they say it is. I’ve been inside the slushpile inboxes, and I’ve seen it for myself: rejections are very frequently a case of literary “it’s not you, it’s me.” If someone turns you down, it’s because they think you’ll have better success with someone else. If they don’t 110% connect with and love your story, it’s better for the both of you if they turn you down. People often cite famous writers who have been rejected, and I think it’s important to remind yourself that you’re in great company. However, if you can, stop short of saying “wow, how dumb must they feel to be the publisher who turned down J.K. Rowling?” Maybe they do regret it, but if someone who hadn’t believed fully in Harry Potter had published it… would she be J.K. Rowling as we know her today? Probably not.
So, once you have stopped yourself from impulsive replies and let yourself be sad however you want to be sad… what then?
Well… then it’s time to get back to work. Whether that means new revisions, or doing more research on a new batch of agents to query, or setting one book aside entirely in favor of focusing on the next project, you’ve got to “just keep swimming.” Use the rejections, especially the personal and specific ones, to fuel super cool revisions you might not have thought of otherwise, or to decide to try something new you’ve never tried before. All writing is practice, and so time spent writing is never really wasted, even if those words never see the light of day. Keep writing just for the love of writing, even on the hard days, and prepare the chocolate stash for the next rejection on the horizon.
Because someday, if you keep at it and the timing is right, someone is going to say “I love this. Yes.” And all the rejections in the world won’t matter at all.
Caitlin O’Connell is a part-time proofreader for Marvel Comics, as well a writer and freelance editor. She has a BA in creative writing from Ithaca College and specializes in YA and children’s literature, but has a great love of all stories that are well told and inviting. When not writing or reading, Caitlin can usually be found drinking tea under a pile of cats. You can follow her on Twitter @Caitlin_Renata or, to learn more about her writing and editing, visit caitlinroconnell.com.