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Six guidelines for turning rejection into success

Rejection hurts. No matter who it’s coming from, or what part of your life it’s directed at, it hurts. As writers, we have to risk rejection if we want to see our work in print. 

What’s the best way to handle rejection? Can we turn it into something positive?

When I began submitting my poetry to literary magazines, my mentor told me I’d need to develop a thick skin and to look at those rejection slips as stepping stones: with each rejection I received, I was one step closer to getting published. Though I accumulated a bonfire-size pile of rejections, I kept writing and kept submitting. When I received my first acceptance letter, I jumped up and down in a little victory dance. All that work paid off. My second acceptance letter came the following week.

Years later, I brace myself again for rejection as I begin to query agents for my memoir. My first rejections contained specific, constructive, and encouraging remarks that I used to make my book better. I also received a few generic form-letter rejections–“doesn’t work for us but keep submitting.”

Fortunately, I only received one strange and unprofessional rejection letter. Obviously, my memoir hit a nerve because the reader (the agent’s assistant) reacted extremely emotionally in a negative way. I’m sure if I’d received this letter first, I would have been devastated. Because I’d had plenty of experience with rejection, I didn’t take it personally. 

How can you learn to see rejection objectively and even benefit from it? Here are a few guidelines from my own experiences:

  1.  Stay neutral. Know that rejection is part of life and a big part of writing. This doesn’t mean you don’t care, but that you aren’t attached to the outcome. You are neutral. When you receive a rejection letter, don’t accept an emotional charge from it. Think of it as the Zen of Rejection. Say out loud, “Okay. So what. Next…” With each rejection, remind yourself you’re getting one step closer to acceptance.
  1. See it as an invitation. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll see rejection for what it is—an invitation to look at your writing through a new lens. If the rejection letter contains any specific, constructive advice, evaluate it with an open mind. If you’re not sure about the suggestions, seek advice from a trusted writing mentor or friend.
  2. Have compassion for others. If you get a mean-spirited rejection, have compassion for the author. Well, okay, jump up and down, swear a little, get it out of your system, THEN have compassion. A person who purposely sends back hurtful, unhelpful remarks is obviously not a happy person. Realize this has nothing to do with you but everything to do with them.
  3. Have compassion for yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over rejections. Sure, I’ve made stupid mistakes (like a typo in the very first line of a query letter once!) but I didn’t beat myself up over it. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
  4. Remember your passion. Never, ever let go of your dreams. Never, ever let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. Remember why you’re here—it’s not to let others tell you who you are or what you should be doing. I have a Post-it note on my desk that says, “I love to write because it makes me feel good. Writing feeds my soul.” Why do you love to write? Remind yourself with a Post-it note.
  5. Remember you’re in good company. Others who survived rejection and went on to become successful authors: J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, George Orwell, John Grisham, Sylvia Plath, Patricia Cornwell, and even Dr. Seuss. They persevered. So can you.

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