Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How do you handle rejection as a writer?

by Stephanie Morrill (with some help!)

I am really excited to continue our 1 question interview series on Go Teen Writers! We debuted it in June with a question about the difficulties of the writing life and heard from some amazing authors. This month's question that we asked was:

How do you handle all the rejection involved in this business?

You have to develop a thick skin when you're a writer, or life is very, very challenging. If you can't survive critiques, you won't be able to get better. If you can't survive rejection from publishing houses, you're likely to quit before you ever really try every avenue to sell. And If you can't survive readers who don't like your work once it's out, you're likely to avoid writing another book. So keep your head on straight, eyes on your next goal, shake off the bad stuff, embrace the constructive criticism and MOVE FORWARD.

By remembering that the business is ultimately in control of my heavenly Father, who loves me and who promises to work out all things for my good. That is a simple answer. Living by is not easy. Don't confuse "simple" with "easy."

It took fourteen years for me to receive an acceptance letter. I had drawers full of rejection letters, and every time I received another one I told myself I was closer than ever to what I wanted. Very few people ever write without receiving rejection letters. What they do with those rejections is their choice. They can toss them away, or they can glean anything helpful from them and try hard to improve. 

A rejection is always difficult and disappointing. You have so much time invested in your book, as well as hopes and dreams. When I get a rejection, I sometimes shed a tear or two and mope around for a few days--eat some chocolate--but then I pick myself up and polish off the same synopsis and send it to another publisher.

I'm a Christian, and I fully believe that my career is in God's hands. That He has a time for each of my books to be published--and specific people He wants to reach with each story. If one book is rejected, I believe that it's not God's timing for that story. The main thing is, you can't let rejections get you down and make you quit writing. Rejections are a part of a writer's life. They make us want to work harder, be more creative, and to master the skill of writing better. When you get a rejection, you have a choice to wallow in your despair or to set it aside and move on. I say move on.

I'm not sure there is one way to handle it, but it's important that you have a coping mechanism in place because there will be rejection. They’re not rejecting you. You know that, right? They're rejecting something they don’t think they can sell. Take their feedback and chew on it, but don’t stew. Move on. Work on your craft, keep writing, and keep an eye open for someone who thinks they can sell what you do.

Rejections from publishing houses used to bother me, but not as much now. When a publisher sends my book back, it does not mean that my writing is bad, it just means that they do not have a place for that piece of work at that time.

Reviews can be a type of rejection, too. I usually listen to moderate reviews (3 or 4 stars) because sometimes they have good points, and I know I have things I need to work on.

Harsh critics used to upset me a whole lot, but I have found that really nasty reviews (1 stars or “I only gave this a one star because there is no zero star to choose) are one of three things. One issue can be the reviewer hates Christians. This does not bother me because they have a problem with God, not me. The second type of unfavorable review is from a wannabe writer who is frustrated because they have not been published, and so they pick on people who are. I understand that because I’ve been in that position. But scorching another’s work is not profitable to anyone. I go by the old adage if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. The third type are people who need to sound like they are authorities. Writing a negative comment in highfalutin language helps them build their own ego, but it is not really about my work.  

From R.J. Larson

With chocolate.

Seriously, rejections are part of the business because publishing IS a business. My husband and his sister are editors, so I know firsthand that editors each have specific tasks and timetables established by their particular publisher-employer. In addition, each publisher caters to specific audiences, and they publish predetermined numbers of books each year for those audiences. An editor might truly enjoy your paranormal steampunk romance, or your sci-fi take on Shakespeare, but if they've already filled those two categories in their schedules for the next three years, then they're forced to reject your manuscript. 

Your best defense, besides chocolate, is a thick skin. Rejections are part of every author's life, even after they're published. Resolve to learn from each rejection. Take advice from professionals. Polish your work. Study your craft, develop your unique voice, network with other writers, and be ready to shine when an opportunity appears.

Fortunately I haven't had to deal with much rejection. When I completed my manuscript for Commissioned -- which Marcher Lord Press acquired in 2009 and split into two novels, The Word Reclaimed and The Word Unleashed -- I sent it to several literary agents and publishers. I think the total was ten or so. All turned it down. The rejections were kind of a downer, but I did my best to leave things in God's hands and not dwell on disappointment.

Um . . . not well.

Okay, that's not entirely true! But I will say that the hurts and frustrations of the writing world are a lot harder to take than I ever imagined before taking the plunge. Every time a bad review falls under my eye (I try to avoid reading reviews as a rule, but curiosity killed the crazy-cat-lady, and I do ended up seeing them now and then), I am devastated. When a writer puts all that work and care into crafting a story, she wants to receive praise in return, or at the very least, a friendly pat on the head.

But is such a variety of readers in this world, no one book I write will please them all. It's impossible! I have had readers on one hand tell me that they hated what readers on the other hand have told me was their very favorite part of any one given story. Do I change who I am and how I write to please the first reader and, therefore, disappoint the second? Certainly not!

Ultimately, all I can do is keep in mind why I am in this business. I want to glorify God with my work; I want to be used by Him to bless and encourage others. I do this by telling the most entertaining story I can, filling it with the most real characters who spring straight from my heart. If those characters charm some but frustrate others, well . . . that's people for you, be they real or imagined!

When rejections come (as they always do in this field), my recommendation is to have a little cry, perhaps find a friendly soul to mourn with you over a cup of tea, grab a fluffy cat and give it a squeeze . . . then wipe your eyes and say a thankful prayer knowing that God has a better plan in mind. At first, it might be hard to say that prayer with sincerity. But given enough time, God's will becomes evident, and it is always better than my own.

What about you, Go Teen Writers readers? How do you handle negative feedback about your writing. Or if you haven't received much feedback yet, how do you think you will?


  1. I whine to my best friend, let her tell me that the editors are obviously off their rockers, indulge in something unhealthy to eat, then lift my chin and keep plugging away. I've found that in some cases, moving quickly after a rejection can lead to an acceptance--like when an editor says "I don't have a place for this, but do you have any . . . ?" Taking them seriously and getting them something that they WERE looking for, promptly, is what led to both of my big sales.

    1. Great insight, Roseanna. Wallowing and griping need to be kept on a short leash or you might lose the next opportunity being handed to you!

  2. I'm storing all these pieces of information up for when it comes... I do love these interview posts! Little snippets from people who do so get it.

    1. Me too, Emii! I love getting a peek at such a variety of authors.

  3. I'm keeping all this advice close to heart! I haven't sent in a manuscript yet, but I know I don't deal well with rejection on a whole. But....for some reason, I'm looking forward to rejection slips. I used to be mortally afraid of someday getting one, but something I read by Gail Carson Levine changed my mind, "Don't think of Rejection slips as a failure, but a trophy that you are trying" (Paraphrased). And it really encouraged me. Each slip I get shows I am being persistent, and I plan on framing each one on my wall. Trophies should be showcased. And plus, it would make for some pretty cool looking room decor to the untrained (non-writer's) eye.

    1. Great perspective, Ashley! I love that (paraphrased) quote.

      I admire writers who hang onto their rejections. I always threw mine away because otherwise they bogged me down :(

  4. I have a strong faith in God, and very encouraging parents. I know God has a plan for my life, and that keeps me strong. My blog was simply about my life, and I wrote about this odd experience that I had a Dunkin' Donuts. A person commented and told me a was a jerk for writing about something so stupid. My dad says, "They were probably some Jr. High guy being a jerk. They should've read your subtitle."

    With a big family and a love for competing in art competitions, I have had much thicker skin than I ever did. But, I agree. Chocolate and coffee do help : )

    1. I don't understand people who leave nasty comments like that. Someone who clearly has too much time on their hands! I'm with your dad on that one - just shake it off!

  5. I've never submitted anything yet, so I've never officially got rejected, but whenever I get negative feedback, it kind of ...not really makes me mad, but makes me determined to do better and prove them wrong.

    1. Same here, MaddieJ. When "friends" would tell me I was wasting my time trying to get published, it only made me more determined.

      When you're asking someone for feedback on your work (like critique partners or something) I think you have to trust their heart in the matter. Roseanna White is mine, and when she points out flaws in my stories it doesn't bother me because I know she loves me and my writing and just wants to make it better.

    2. yeah, for me it totally depends on who says it. Some people I know read and write alot, and I've seen their stuff so I trust them, but some people I just want to say 'you dont have the slightest clue, so back off!' *smiles sheepishly*

  6. I needed to hear how others deal with rejection. Nice to know that I'm not alone :)

  7. I haven't sent in any manuscripts or anything, but I have gotten my share of negative feedback on my writing in general. I learned something though, when I had 5 different takes on one of the writing prompts, but I liked them all the same, and I couldn't decide, so I got feedback from about a dozen people I'm close with. The result was a complete mess of "No, that one's horrible, pick the other one"s. It made me realize that everyone has different tastes. If I get bad feedback, it just means that either it just wasn't their style, or their opinion holds weight, and my writing just might suck. So I take their criticism, use it to make my work better, and apply chocolate, Oreos with pb, music, and a few rants with friends, and move on with life.

    1. GREAT point, Lydia. Even books that are huge successes like Twilight have quite a few 1-star reviews!

      (And how great is it that Oreos with PB are a great celebration food AND a great wallowing food???)

    2. They're heaven-sent - it shouldn't surprise us if they eventually fuel rockets, they're just. that. good. People should serve them at weddings :P
      Still haven't gotten around to reading Twilight... and.... (nobody shun me or tar and feather me or anything here, ok?) I haven't read the Hunger Games yet either.... lol

  8. My first rejection came at the end of an otherwise fabulous day, so it didn't break me down too much. I wallowed for several days, wondered if I should trash the whole project, and then decided to gird my loins and keep moving forward.

    Emailing my best friend also helped. She reminded me about how rejections say nothing about me as a person as well as the fact that God was completely in control of every aspect of my life, and that he had something much better planned for me and my writing.

    Going to the store and getting my favorite candy and soda and then watching my favorite TV show with my sisters also helped tremendously :)

  9. So much good advice there! RJ- I'm with you on the chocolate! And Donita, I loved your insight on 1-star reviews. And Shannon and RJ, pointing out that they aren't rejecting us as people is so good to remember. And also, what Lisa said, we have to develop thick skin in this business--so true. It's part of the industry.

    I love seeing all those awesome book covers! I've read some, and I really want to read all the others!

  10. I'm really going to be keeping this post close :). I've been seriously thinking about entering an upcoming contest & the thought of not winning is very present for me!

    I thinknyou definitely have to allow yourself to be sad and mourn but not let it last too long. For some reason I think the line in the Gotye song is so, so true " you can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness".
    Then, it's probably wise to re-evaluate things like why you wanted to write and see if it's still true for you.

    Maybe submitting to a few places at a time? My dad was out of a job for a long time amd when he got a rejection it never seemed as bad when I/we knew there was another interview coming up or some sort of possibility rather than feeling like it was the end.

    When it comes go critiques I like criticism when it's meant in kindness and to help me. I try to think about who it's coming from and how they tend to be as a person. If I know them to say harsh this for the sake of it I try not to take it personal, although it's very hard *cough, cough*. But when it's someone I feel has knowledge of writing and is trying to help, I'm more open to it.

    1. Enter the contest! So what if you don't win? It will strengthen you and if you get feedback then you can learn from that too! :)

  11. This was really helpful. ^ ^ Thank you. I have not had any publisher rejections yet but I have had some negative feedback from people that's gotten me down in the dumps. But talking with my friends, listening to good music and drawing helps me get back on feet. I feel like I got something to say with my books, everyday they are getting better, everyday I get a little better at writing and I am determined to get them published by the publisher God wants me to be published by. I've had them in my head for over five years, I'm seeing these puppies through. ;)

  12. Tonya and Victoria, thanks! You've reminded me of my own self-lecture--words that I've recited to myself in the past. "Take advice and suggestions for improvement, particularly if the advice is repeated by three or more experts!"

    Set aside the negative. Focus on the positive, and carry on. :)

  13. For a while, I didn't handle critique very well. I'd quit my work and trash the book. Yeah, not good! But now, I use critique as a way to better my writing - even mean critique. Now I know how to stick to my work and better it without trying to please everyone because you can't.

  14. I don't handle rejection very well either. It's tough getting told what you pour your heart and soul into isn't "good enough". But it's really a good thing! I want my work to be the best it can be, don't I?! So critiquing is something I need to learn to handle. Now I have plenty of good ideas from this post: eat chocolate, develop a thick skin and KEEP writing. (I like the eat chocolate part the best.)

    1. Me too! Chocolate sends me to the clouds...:)
      BTW: I just discovered your blog and I love it!

  15. I'm definitely keeping this post around for the hard times. This post made me feel good, as it showed me that even the best of writers deal with heaps of rejection. Since I'm quite a young teen, I haven't officially been rejected...yet. I know that when the time comes, I'm not exactly going to handle it well (that's what happens when you're a perfectionist! :). What I do is: I give bits of my writing to close friends to read and tell me the weak points that I can improve on.I trust my friends' opinions and they always tell me what I can fix. I don't usually get mad or upset; instead I take it from there - press the EDIT button and smile, knowing that my friends love me and want to help me achieve my dream. When, the real stuff comes up, I know what I'll be doing, because I do this whenever I'm upset.
    I'll be:
    - gobbling down chocolate :)
    - hugging my best friend
    - writing in my diary
    - drinking double choc frappes' :D
    - checking out this post
    - crying into my doll's hair
    - going through my happiness journal
    That's when I will stop, get on with life and write to my heart's content. Thanks for the great post and encouragement! :)

  16. I find it hilarious that so many of us turn to chocolate for comfort. There's just something about biting into rich, dark goodness that makes the world seem right.
    I thought it was really cool, Ms.McDonough, what you said about the specific people God wants to reach with your story. Christian fiction has had such a strong influence on my walk with God, so I really appreciate the effort you're putting in.
    I had never heard of the book 'Starflower.'The cover intrigued me and after looking it up, I really want to read it :)
    Thanks, everyone, for sharing your experiences.

  17. Wow, I needed this today. Thank you, all! :)

    My favorite was Anne Elisabeth Stengl's. I can see why this one was placed last.

    This post really brought back the memory of receiving that first ever rejection email. It still stings to think of it, but it started out with a compliment, so whenever I think of the not-so-fun-to-read part, I make myself remember the first part. I think that really, really helped me deal with it. That and "moving quickly" like Roseanna pointed out and submitting it somewheres else! :)

  18. You know what I've realized a lot lately... it seems as though people who give negative reviews on books tend to not read that genre very often so OF COURSE they won't like it. Its quite irritating, even though I am not the author of a published book and I'm not the one being picked on.
    But then there are those who do like your genre and constructively review it... the world needs more constructive critics who don't dwell on the negative but also bring out the things that they liked as well as the things they don't. :)
    I just hope that when I'm published I'll be able to take it... :-/ I don't know how I'll react.

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  20. I've never taken criticism or rejection very well. Whenever I didn't get the part in the play, my writing didn't win a contest, or I loose a blog follower. I take it on a very personal level. But I have to admit, I'm getting better at handling it. Still, before I send my first manuscript (whenever that may be) I'm going to give myself a good talking to, and remember that it's not ME they're rejecting.