On Saturday afternoon I was on a panel with three other writers at the Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne.

Our topic was ‘Never Surrender’ and the topic was basically about rejection and how you cope with it. It got me thinking a lot about the writing process and the disappointment and self-doubt we all go through when our work is rejected.

Our session at the festival was packed out, and obviously, this was a topic that really resonated with writers. So I thought I’d devote this Tuesday Writing Tip to coping with rejection.

First and foremost, I really want to stress that rejection is NOT PERSONAL.

Publishers and agents are NOT rejecting you as a person, nor are they rejecting your ability as a writer.

Chances are that they have said “No” to your project for one of the following reasons:

  • It needs more editing to get it to a publishable standard.
  • They are not publishing/representing your kind of work.
  • They may have just published/accepted for publication a piece of work that is too similar to the one you submitted.
  • Their publishing/representing schedule is full for the foreseeable future.
  • They have tried to market a book on the same topic and it has not been successful.
  • Readers aren’t reading this sort of thing at the moment.
  • They have been flooded with submissions for this genre

These are just some of the things I can think of. I’m sure there are many more reasons why publisher reject our work that have nothing to do with who we are as a person or the way we write.

Getting that rejection letter never gets any easier. It still fills me with doubts about my talents as a writer and my ability to meet the needs of the readers I  want to engage.

But over the years I have developed strategies for coping and I’d like to share them  in the hope that you might find them useful too.

  1. I never pin all my hopes on one submission. I always have more than one submission out in the marketplace at one time. That way if one piece is rejected, I still have hope that the other will be accepted.
  2. If the publisher gives reasons for the rejection I try to take them at face value and not look for a ‘hidden’ agenda.
  3. I read a piece of writing of mine that I am happy with, just to reaffirm that I really can write.
  4. I share my disappointments with a community of other writers who really do understand what It’s like to be rejected and can offer me the appropriate sympathy and encouragement to keep going.
  5. I use the rejection as motivation to keep writing. The sort of philosophy, “If this isn’t good enough I’m damn well going to write something that is”. If I’m busy working on a new project, it stops me from ruminating about the one that just got rejected.
  6. When I’ve got over the initial devastation, I look at the manuscript and try and assess where the rejection has merit. I fix anything that needs fixing and submit the work to another appropriate publisher.

I commend each and every writer for your bravery in putting your work out there – in submitting a ‘piece of yourself’ for scrutiny by others.

Letters to Leonardo took more than ten years from initial idea to publication.

It can be a heartbreaking, but such a rewarding process when your manuscript finds a publisher or agent who loves it as much as you do.

As a writer I still think there are things that can help your chances of being published – to limit the number of rejections that come through your letterbox:

  • Always be professional. Vent your disappointment in private – have chocolate, wine, do yoga, have a mineral bath, do whatever it takes to make you feel better, but always maintain your professionalism in public forums whether it be conferences, social networking or simply meeting with other writers.
  • Then MOVE ON – get your next project out there.
  • Persist – don’t let setbacks dampen your enthusiasm for your writing.
  • Focus on the things you HAVE achieved rather than the ones you haven’t.
  • Measure your successes by what you have achieved personally as a writer – not by how much money you have made or by whether your work is now in bookshops.
  • Celebrate each success no matter how small. An invitation from a publisher or agent to submit your work is something you should be pleased with – it’s the achievement of another milestone.
  • If someone has offered you constructive criticism about your work, take it in the spirit in which it’s intended – use it to hone your craft – use it to become a better writer.

I wish you all the very best with all your works in progress, and hope that this post has given you some strategies to cope with one of  the hardest parts of being a writer.

Happy writing.


P.S. If you’ve got other tips you’d like to share on how to handle rejection, please leave them in the comments section of this post.





  1. Excellent article, Dee! I endorse all of the strategies you’ve mentioned. And I can add another tip or two that have proved useful for me over the past 10 years.

    1. I’ve never forgotten what another author said once, ‘Regard your rejections as part of your apprenticeship of writing and learn from them.’ Remember, even established writers get rejection letters at times.

    2. I keep every rejection letter in a plastic-sleeve folder – it is proof that my work is ‘out-there’, not sitting uncompleted in my computer. And more, importantly, they are concrete proof that the letters have changed over the years.

    From one liners addressed to ‘Dear Author’, to my most recent one addressed ‘Dear Sheryl’ and containing, not just the most positive comments about my writing ability I have ever read, but also insightful comments about the story and characters – i.e. they ‘got’ the story.

    These are some of the things that keep me going in the face of rejection. Plus, I think it is important to always have several stories on the go at the same time!

    Let’s face it – if you love what you do with a passion, if the need to write is as essential as breathing, why would you give it up?

  2. This is a great post -I have seen many, many blog posts from publishers and editors who are not afraid to post the crazy, rude or unprofessional responses they get from writers they’ve rejected. It’s just sad. A rejection is not a personal attack, and it’s so damaging to a writer’s career to respond to it as though it was.

    There is some great advice in here for writers, and I hope everyone who reads it is able to take it to heart. A rejection is a sign that you were willing to put your work out on the line, and that doesn’t always work out the way you want. All it means is that you need to try again.

    Thanks for posting this!

  3. Well put, Dee! For every children’s book I’ve had published, I’ve gotten MANY rejection letters and I make sure to keep writing and sending out submissions so all my eggs aren’t in one basket. In addition to being an author, I spent several years as a children’s book editor, and rejected manuscripts for the same reasons you’ve listed.

  4. These are great tips! I totally agree about keeping several “irons in the fire”–that way all your hopes aren’t riding on one submission.

  5. Thanks Dee,
    for posting these Coping strategies on how to deal with Rejections.
    I’m printing your suggestions off to Remind me when the next one comes … and it will.
    But hope fully a few “Acceptances” will come my way soon.
    Karen :))

  6. Wonderful post, Dee.

    I used to use rejection letters as scrap paper for printing out the next ms! But I also always try to honour that grief, because it is a real grief, before letting it go.

    (And anyone coping with rejection might like to know that Ark in the Park was rejected by 7 publishers before HarperCollins took it. It went on to win the CBC book of the year, has been published in 6 other countries and is still in print 17 years later. So… don’t give up!)

  7. Thanks Wendy,

    That’s a great point you make – we have to honour that grief – it’s okay to be unhappy about your piece of writing being rejected – and then you have to let it go and move on.

    Thanks for sharing your inspirational story about Ark in the Park.


  8. Great post. Van Gogh, Bach, Handel, Rembrandt and so many Impressionists….even their work got rejected. Sometimes the public needs to get used to a new ‘sound’ or new ‘voice’.

  9. Some great advice, Dee.
    One of my strategies for coping with rejection is to have a “backup plan”–a list of other places I’ll send the manuscript if it gets rejected. After a brief mourning period, I pull out the plan and get to work.
    I also recently read a great interview with YA author Kathi Baron on how she copes with rejection. See

  10. Thanks Carmela,

    The interview with Kathi Baron is great. I’m writing a follow up piece on handling rejection for next week so I’ll make sure I include the URL.


  11. Great post, Dee. Yes, it’s not personal. Publishers are making their best guess in the circumstances with the resources available. Publishing is gambling and we’re making the best bet we can. But it doesn’t mean a publisher is right, anymore than any other gambler. So much is about the mood of the moment rather than the quality of the work, and it is a myth that the good will always succeed (or the bad fail).

  12. Great post, Dee. Thanks. Great suggestions, and even more in the comments.

    For me, I used to read a lot of “how I got my agent” posts on blogs, but when I read stories of how this writer or that writer found an agent very quickly, I’d get down on myself for not doing as well. When that happens, I remind myself of a couple things:

    1) many, many, many now best-selling authors went through heaps of rejections before getting their first book published. In his On Writing book, Stephen King talks about filling a three-inch nail with stacked rejection letters — a lot of paper — before getting his first piece published. Persistence is key, in writing to get the best work and in submitting to find the ‘right’ agent.

    2) everybody’s journey is different. A good life lesson for anything, and one my husband is constantly trying to drill into my head. 🙂 Like the butterfly gaining strength through breaking through its cocoon, struggles help us grow and get stronger. Every rejection is an opportunity to either take it personally and give up — never — or evaluate for useful information then move on. We can’t judge our own path by that of other writers. Each path is different. The important part is only that we continue down the path and along the way, pick up whatever helps make us better writers and stronger people.

  13. Thanks very much for your input, Andrew.

    What you say is so true. Even if you have a great story, you still have to believe in it and have the persistence to keep trying until you find a publisher who loves it as much as you do, and maybe even resubmit in a few years when ‘trends’ and reader needs have changed.

    I’ve had so much input and comment on this post that I’m going to do a follow up one next Tuesday. Would it be okay if I used this quote from you?

    “Publishers are making their best guess in the circumstances with the resources available. Publishing is gambling and we’re making the best bet we can. But it doesn’t mean a publisher is right, anymore than any other gambler. So much is about the mood of the moment rather than the quality of the work, and it is a myth that the good will always succeed (or the bad fail).”



  14. Thanks Samantha for your insightful comments.

    I totally agree that it’s what you do with the rejection that makes the difference. I know that I have certainly learned a lot from mine. When publishers like my work enough to give constructive suggestions in their rejection letters, I always take their comments on board.

    I also agree that it’s not constructive to compare ourselves with other people’s success stories. We have to make our own journey and find our own inspiration.


  15. Thanks Dee for posting such a great article. It is also very helpful for us illustrators. I am also going to print out and put on my pin up board. Thanks to everyone else’s feedback too. Was good to be reminded by Samantha that everyone’s journey is different.

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