Experiencing rejection from literary agents and publishers? Yep, we’ve all been there. Unfortunately, dealing with rejection is part of becoming successful as a published author but this blog post will give you the tips for gaining strength from rejection.
Agatha Christie, J.D. Salinger, Alice Walker, Kathryn Stockett, to name a few, were authors who experienced rejections and Kathryn Stockett’s bestseller The Help was even rejected 60 times.
Tell yourself as often as you need that you’re not the first writer and won’t be the last to have had a book turned down.
Here’s how to handle rejection, censure your self-doubt and keep going.
Why should rejection affect writers?
In our bids to ‘hack’ everything we can easily minimalize all that goes into a creative experience, including how hard it is just to write through fear. And fear can be amplified if it’s compounded by rejection.
Authors like Isaac Asimov and David Mitchell have shared how devastating rejection can feel. Writing, or the best of writing, can often cut to the heart of who we are.
Rejection can feel like a sucker punch to the stomach. After all, when we share our writing, we are sharing very personal parts of ourselves with complete strangers so it is no surprise that it stings when we are told it might not be good enough.
To make matters worse, it often feels like your book must be published in order for you to be a successful writer. However, determining what is ‘good’ writing remains to a point subjective to readers, to agents, to publishers so the last thing to do is crawl into the bottom drawer and hide there with your manuscript forever.
We’re a writers’ community at Jericho Writers and so we understand that.
Here’s how to take stock and keep on writing.
1) You wrote a book
Just remember- first- that the world that you created in your mind is now staring back at you as a full-fledged book. You wrote that book. You wrote an entire book.
That. Is. Amazing.
Writing a book is something most literary agents and publishers never do. Something most people never do. A manuscript for its own sake should be valued, really, but that gets forgotten when the aim is just to get the thing into print.
A first tip, then, is to send a little kindness to yourself before you set your action plan for next steps.
Resilience is key to getting by, but it’s just as key to keep up writing for the joy of it. Because if you’re not trusting in your creativity, writing what you really love, publishing a book is going to feel harder.
Take a moment to congratulate yourself on that incredible achievement– then positive steps forward.
2) You’re stronger than rejection
You really are.
Everyone will have an opinion, always. One individual’s negative feedback is certainly not representative of all who have read your book.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s also suggested it’s “self-forgiveness” that keeps a writer going – deciding deliberately (especially if anyone finds themselves hating their own work), “alright, I’m not Hemingway. Just going to do what I can”.
And classic novelists get judged, still.
One day, if you are ever catapulted to stratospheric heights of fame as an author like J.K. Rowling, you’ll still meet your naysayers and haters.
There’s always going to be rejection, even after you make it into bookshops, and if you’re thinking of bypassing agents and looking to self-publish, you’ll need to face feedback from buyers if you don’t look for it in editors and beta readings first.
If you’re feeling hurt by rejections – tough as it sounds, absorb it all, telling yourself as often as you need you’re stronger than this.
You’ve got this!
3) You’re showing up
Turn rejection into a story in itself – a greater story that shows where you’ve been, where you’re going as a writer, how you’ve persevered.
Sylvia Plath was an author who collected rejection slips. “I love my rejection slips,” she said. “They show me I try.”
And our very own Sarah Ann Juckes (who you hear from in our Jericho Newsletter), collected her rejection. She is now publishing with Penguin Random House Children’s.
‘When I first started sending out to agents aged sixteen, I marched down to the shop and bought an A4 notepad. On the first page, I wrote: “How I made it as a professional writer”. Then, over the next twelve years, I filled the pages with over fifty rejections. Although every one of them hurt, the act of printing them off and sticking them in that book made me feel like I was working towards something positive. Like those rejections were levels I needed to pass, to get to the end.’
To chat to Sarah and read more of her messages, sign up for emails (or become a member to see what she’s been discussing in the forum).
4) If they did it, so can you
Author David Mitchell has tellingly used words like ‘shredded’, ‘poison’, to describe being rejected as a writer. There is still no way around it – and remember if other rejected writers can get published, so can you. Let that be your mantra.
Getting one or many rejection letters certainly does not mean a writer’s work is irreversibly bad. If this were true – the rejected writers whose books we read wouldn’t be names that we know and love. They just kept going.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, though. Charlotte Bronte’s debut, The Professor, wasn’t published until after she’d sent in and published Jane Eyre, her second novel, whereas some debuts are never published at all.
It might be your second or third novel that makes it, or your debut novel just mightn’t have found its right home yet.
5) Keep going and improve with feedback
At the end of the day, rejection is feedback. Feedback that will tell you something isn’t working and by fixing that, you will be one step closer to success.
The team here at Jericho Writers know better than anyone how publishing can feel like an impossible feat but we also know that it is dedication that will get you there. We’ve seen it happen time and time again.
This is why we champion our manuscript assessment service as it gives our writers the feedback and the confidence to face rejection head on. One option is feedback from an editor who has the best interest of your story at heart. There’s also the chance your agent submission pack could need a check.
On a practical note, we suggest at Jericho Writers you approach up to twelve agents to gauge a response and if these agents say no, look again at your writing. Is there anything, being very honest with yourself, you can do to make it stronger?
If there is, follow your feeling and act on it – dealing with rejection as a writer is never easy, but whatever else, don’t give up. If only because you’ll never be satisfied doing anything less.
If you’re a member and have more tips on dealing with rejection, do share in the forum – there could be writers who could use your help – and happy writing!