Rejection letters : A survival guide

I hope you’ve all been getting your work out into the world following my short blog series on ‘Getting Your Poetry Out There’ but it seems only fair to come back with some tips for dealing with the one inevitability of a writer’s life: rejection. There’s no soothing it or changing the blunt fact of a rejection letter dropping through your door or pinging into your inbox, but here are my tips for taking the edge off:

  1. You’re a proper writer now

Ask any writer about rejection and they will have a few stories, some of them seared painfully into their memory. That’s because what’s happened to you has happened to every writer, and no matter how established they are it will still be happening on some level. To write, and to attempt to publish, is a pretty risky business. A sure-fire way of not getting published is never to send anything out. And you’re one of the ones who tried, so, well done.

2. Aim for more

Set yourself a rejection target. Aim for as many as you like. Have a read of this piece in which the author advocates aiming for a hundred rejection letters a year , as a record of their own perseverance. Collect those slips like medals. And along the way you’re bound to pick up some acceptances, which are of course their own reward.

3. Use the feedback

Admittedly, not many rejection slips are going to give you feedback at any level of detail. But they might say something like ‘I really liked this piece but it’s not quite there’. Go back to that piece and revise and polish it with fresh eyes. If you’ve got a piece that keeps on getting rejected, rest it up for a while or seek advice in a workshop. Treat everything as useful feedback.

The joyous occasion may occur when you receive a rejection slip that says ‘Please send again in future’. Do not rest idle. They mean it.

4. Know the territory

If a particular magazine keeps on rejecting you, perhaps you need to pay some attention to the finished article itself. Get hold of a copy and maybe even some back issues and give it your thorough attention. Do you really like the things they publish? Do you think you write the kind of thing they’re likely to choose? Added bonus: reading work by your contemporaries is never a waste of time.

5. If all else fails…

If a rejection you’ve received is getting you down, and particularly if it’s affecting the way you feel about writing, then perhaps you should take a break from making submissions. Whether it’s a month or a year, this will get you back into feeling like your writing is a safe place to experiment, rather than a dangerous place of risk and resentment. It’s fine to decide what’s good for you and there’s nothing to say it’ll be permanent. Enjoy the freedom!

Happy writing and submitting to you all. If you want a soothing voice on the perils of creativity, I can’t recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast Magic Lessons enough.

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1 Comment

  1. Liz Newman 22 November 2018 at 4:10 pm

    I was once on a radio programme called The Rejects’ Revenge. A number of writers read out some fairly nasty rejection letters for books that had subsequently become bestsellers. I believe Jasper FForde, author of The Eyre Affair, had seventy-six rejections before he was published.

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