Dealing with rejection: 5 tips for writers

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By Allison Tait.

Rejection is part of every writer’s life. Published or unpublished, beginner or established, every writer experiences the crushing emotion that accompanies a “sorry, not for us” or a “thanks, but no thanks”.

The difference between writers who go on to have successful careers and those who don’t comes down to one simple thing: what happens next.

I’m the published author of eight novels for middle-grade readers, three non-fiction books, two ghost-written books, and countless articles in magazines, newspapers and on websites.

I’ve also got three 90,000-word adult fiction manuscripts, two full middle-grade novels, five picture books and countless one-paragraph pitches for articles that are cluttering up the “rejected” area of my computer and will stay there forever (or until I finally remember to have a bit of a tidy up).

That’s probably (conservatively) half a million words.

List of books by Allison Tait the author and presenter at the Australian Writers' Centre.

Just in the last month, I’ve received three “yeah, nah” responses, each of which sent me into a bitter spiral of despair… Three.

When I tweeted about it (because I am in the business of keeping things real), one response I got was along the lines of “if you’re getting rejected, what hope is there for the rest of us?”

My response? It’s the hope that keeps us all going, every time we submit. It all comes down to the work. The right book on the right day to the right publisher.

In my case, it wasn’t the right book. Not yet.

So, having laid out my credentials for experiencing rejection, I’m now going to share my tips for getting through it.

Because if I’d let my first rejection derail my writing dream, well, I’d have 13 fewer books at the very least.

So, here are my 5 tips for managing rejection for writers

1. Allow yourself time to be disappointed
Or angry. Or upset. Or whatever range of emotions you might feel. Cry, scream, throw things (soft things) at the wall.

You have every right to feel ALL of the feelings about this.

But now is not the time to respond to a publisher’s/editor’s/agent’s email. Give yourself a day or two before composing a professional response (if one is required), and always, always, always remain unfailingly polite when you do.

The publishing industry is small and your well-vented thoughts about the publisher’s inability to grasp your genius will not do your writing career any favours.

And it probably doesn’t need to be said that heightened emotions and social media do not go together. Don’t @ the publisher/editor/agent to share your disappointment.

Four crumpled balls of paper and an origami paper crane taking flight with quote by Michael York about writing and rejection.

2. Don’t take it personally
One of the most difficult lessons we have to learn as writers is the separation of our work from ourselves.

Yes, we are putting our inner selves on the page and thrusting them at another person, asking them to love our words as much as we do.

But the truth is that publishers and editors and agents are only looking at what’s on the page – and whether it’s right for their business. Cold, but true.

3. Talk to your writer friends
If you’ve listened to the So you want to be a writer podcast, you’ll know about the importance of gathering a writing tribe around you.

Never will your writing friends be more important to you than in the moments following a rejection. Vent to them. Allow them to remind you why you bother.

Let them help you work through any feedback you may have received along with the NO (as an aside, if you did get feedback, pat yourself on the back – this shows a level of interest in your work that not every writer receives).

If you’re looking to network with more writers, the So you want to be a writer podcast community Facebook group is a great place to find them.

4. Be honest with yourself
Could there possibly be a hint of truth in the feedback you’ve received? Is it possible that your structure is not quite right? That your character needs further development? That the hook is muddied?

It usually takes me a few days to get to a place where I can concede that it’s possible that the publisher might be right.

When you get to that point, you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Ask a writer friend to read the manuscript for you – find the places where the feedback is similar because those are the areas that really need a spotlight.

Consider joining a workshopping course, like Write Your Novel, to help you improve your manuscript. Or think about paying for a structural edit or manuscript assessment for some serious hand-holding to get the story right. You can reach out to the AWC and chat to about getting your manuscript assessed.

And, once you’re really happy with it, send it out to another publisher or agent. After all, for them it might be the right book at the right time.

Artwork for Write Your Novel program at Australian Writers' Centre.

5. Choose to continue
The moments after a rejection are the ones that make or break us as writers. Published authors are people who persist through the pain of a “no” time and time again.

Published authors who establish successful careers are people who can manage the pain, but also their pride, time and time again.

They choose to pick themselves up and have another crack at it.

It doesn’t get easier, but your skin will get thicker, making the distance between your heart and your work just that bit further.

One of the best ways to deal with rejection is to be working on a new project. To know that every single time you write a manuscript, you get better. To love the process of creating a new world, new characters and a new story.

After all, it’s the joy of writing that keeps every writer coming back.

That, and the hope that the next one will be the one that gets a resounding “yes”.


 Author bio

Allison Tait bestselling author and presenter at Australian Writers' Centre.

Allison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al is currently working on a new manuscript. She blogs at allisontait.com.

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