Advice on dealing with Rejection Slips

Rejection slips are not a rejection of your work, they are merely the view of one editor with a limited focus, limited resources and often limited space. Publishers gravitate towards work that appeals to their own taste and it is part of the human condition that tastes vary. A rejection slip is not a condemnation of your work it is rather a vindication of your effort.

You are alive, you are writing and you are submitting. Keep doing it, if one publisher does not like your work there are hundreds more. If you have a burning desire to be published in a particular collection, magazine or to be liked by a particular editor then read what they have previously published. See if you have work that will fit that particular profile. But do not under any circumstances alter work that you have faith in just to please another’s taste. 

The only critic of real importance is yourself, the only rejection slip to fear is the one issued internally, that is the one that kills dreams.

I have stolen these quotes from cyberspace- quotes from authors who you will all have heard of, they speak about how they view the rejection slip. It seems the universal view is that rejection slips are in fact just incremental stepping stones on the path to a dream realised. 

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.” – Barbara Kingsolver  II. “I got a rejection letter from an editor at HarperCollins, who included a report from his professional reader. This report shredded my first-born novel, laughed at my phrasing, twirled my lacy pretensions around and gobbed into the seething mosh pit of my stolen clichés. As I read the report, the world became very quiet and stopped rotating. What poisoned me was the fact that the report’s criticisms were all absolutely true. The sound of my landlady digging in the garden got the world moving again. I slipped the letter into the trash…knowing I’d remember every word.” 

– David Mitchell.

“Rejections slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.”

– Isaac Asimov.

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” 

– Sylvia Plath  

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” 

– Ray Bradbury  

 “Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”

– Kurt Vonnegut   

“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.” 

– James Lee Burke.

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”  

– Neil Gaiman 

“I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you.’“ 

– Saul Bellow  

“To ward off a feeling of failure, she joked that she could wallpaper her bathroom with rejection slips, which she chose not to see as messages to stop, but rather as tickets to the game.”

– Anita Shreve   

“Often, you have to fail as a writer before you write that bestselling novel or ground-breaking memoir. If you’re failing as a writer – which it definitely feels like when you’re struggling to write regularly or can’t seem to earn a living as a freelance writer – maybe you need to take a long-term perspective.”

– J.K. Rowling   

“Rejection has value. It teaches us when our work or our skillset is not good enough and must be made better. This is a powerful revelation, like the burning UFO wheel seen by the prophet Ezekiel, or like the McRib sandwich shaped like the Virgin Mary seen by the prophet Steve Jenkins. Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?” 

– Chuck Wendig

About the contributor

Related Articles

Bikes by Melissa St. Pierre

Melissa St. Pierre describes the joy of cycling with her daughter.

The Reluctant Feminist

She had the habit of keeping a basin under the bed and a nightly ritual of wiping her vagina with a wet cloth before...

Meeting My Hero, Michael Morpurgo by Clare Morris

Clare Morris, Editor of The Write Life, recalls her recent interview with Michael Morpurgo. The full interview will appear in Issue 43.

More Like This

So Near, So Far (an introduction to Eliza Lynn Linton) -by Mike Smith

Mike Smith on Eliza Lynn Linton who was the first female salaried journalist in Britain, and the author of over 20 novels.

The Drama Of Writing Trauma: Authoring Memoir by Sophia Kouidou-Giles

Sophia Kouidou-Giles explores the difficulties in revisiting trauma when writing memoir.

Police State by Don Krieger

Don Krieger's careful interrogation of the data is unsettling in its pursuit of truth.

What’s Your Name

Aurora M Lewis on the significance of a name.

The Value of Reading

When my son was at primary school he was told he had to spend fifteen minutes every evening reading. Had to, you understand. For fifteen minutes....