If you’re a writer trying to get your work published, you’re likely all too familiar with the feeling of rejection—from literary agents, editors, contest hosts, or literary magazines. If your work is published, then you may be used to receiving rejection in the form of bad reviews from readers. Regardless of your publishing status, all writers receive rejections at some point.
But how can we cope with rejection? Like anything else in life, it’s important to shift our mindset.
1. Understand not everyone is going to like your writing, and that’s okay.
Not everyone is going to like your writing, as it’s a form of art and not everyone connects with every piece of art. On the flip side, there will also be people who are over-the-moon about your writing. Be prepared for strong reactions in either direction and remind yourself it’s completely normal. In short, if you’ve made art that’s impactful enough to inspire love, that also means some people will passionately dislike it.
2. Write for yourself.
Writers begin their journey out of a love or need to tell stories. Over time, that love may turn from a love of writing to a love of having written, but the need remains all the same. Remind yourself this is something you do for you and you alone—not for recognition or for anyone else. This way, if/when you receive rejection from agents, editors, or readers, it won’t matter quite as much because you weren’t writing for them anyway.
3. Take a break if you need to.
Got a rejection from a literary agent who had your full manuscript and you thought was “the one”? Allow yourself to wallow if you must, but don’t stay there indefinitely. Take a break until you feel recovered enough, and then get back to writing. Sometimes, it may help to spend time with your loved ones or doing another activity you enjoy (besides writing) to get your creative juices flowing again.
4. Find your tribe.
Writing might seem like a solitary endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. More than that, it shouldn’t be. As writers, we feel everything deeply. Because of this, your fellow writers can often relate to what you’re going through more than your spouse, parent, non-writing friend, or loved one might. Find your tribe, and share your hardships with them (and not on social media).
By sharing your hurt or negative reaction publicly (especially if it’s an angry reaction), there’s always the chance an industry professional might come across your unprofessional conduct and think twice about offering representation/purchasing your book/etc. Therefore, allow yourselves to feel all the feelings, but vent with your friends in a private, safe space.
5. Toughen your skin.
Rejection is par for the course as a writer. To some extent, we do need to be emotionally prepared for this to happen regularly. We also need to remember that rejections are (almost always) not personal. It’s often a matter of timing and personal preference. For example, a literary agent may not offer representation to you not because they think your writing or book is bad but because they already represent a writer who writes on similar topics or in a similar age group and genre (such as YA fantasy).
6. Learn from rejections.
Did you receive a personalized rejection? Take note of what the agent, editor, or industry professional said. Not enough voice? Are the stakes too small? Is the pacing slow? Did the story start in the wrong place? Consider their feedback carefully. If you implemented changes to these things, would it improve your story?
If you didn’t receive a personalized rejection from an agent, for example, take a second look at your query letter or word count and tighten those up.
7. Start a new manuscript or project.
Rejections hurt a lot more when it’s your one and only book baby. Countless writers (myself included) have found when you write a new manuscript, rejections somehow hurt a little less. Your heart is now invested in a new story, which is also creating new opportunities for yourself and writing career.