How to Handle Rejection by Patricia Davids

Those dreaded rejection letters. The ones that tell you your baby is ugly, needs work or just won’t fit their line. How do we deal with having our hopes dashed, our dreams shredded?

This is how I did it. I yelled, I cried, I stomped through the house and screamed in frustration, then I went straight to the store, bought a half-gallon of black walnut ice-cream and eat the whole thing. Later, when I was sick to my stomach and was done repeating “That stupid editor is going to be sorry some day because I’m going to be famous!” When that was all out of my system, I was ready to reread that letter see if there was anything I could use to make my story better.

At first, the letters said I didn’t have enough conflict in my stories. I didn’t really understand what conflict was, so I added more problems for the characters to solve. That didn’t solve my problem. Conflict in a romance novel is about the internal reason why one person can’t fall in love with another.

Sometimes the rejection letters weren’t any help. Here are a few examples.

“At this time our publishing program has no place for this manuscript.” OUCH

“Regretfully, I have to pass on this. In the end, we are just not having any luck with this time period. (Western), as fun as it may be, and until it revives through a major upswing, I simply can’t take any on.” THAT SUCKS, TWO YEARS WORK DOWN THE DRAIN

“I loved the very witty and very strong writing, but ultimately I just felt this wasn’t quite emotionally intense enough.” I CAN FIX IT!

“While I thought the characters and the story were interesting, I just didn’t love it the way I wanted to.” TELL ME WHY. I’LL FIX IT.

Staring at these rejection letters, your first instinct is to pull your hair out. But what they really mean is that you simply have to keep trying, keep sending your story out until your work lands on the desk of someone who does love it the way they want to. The best revenge for rejection is success.
I know Cathy Stang set her rejection letters on fire in the kitchen sink. What are some ways you have handled a rejection?


Reese Mobley said...

I usually treat myself to a banana split or something else truly decadent and then mope until one of my dear critique partners smacks me around. Their never-ending support has kept me in the game when I was ready to throw in the towel.

The most painful rejection I ever got was from my former agent. He hated my wip and that really took the wind out of my sails. I found out later that he wasn't the greatest agent--for me--and that made it easier to finally go on. Without him!

What helps is to have a project that you are truly excited about writing. That and the revenge factor. Knowing that some day you'll be able to look back and say, "see what you passed on?" XOXO

Rox Delaney said...

It got to the point where I'd allow myself 30 minutes tops to mope and pout, then I'd have to pull up the proverbial bootstraps and put it behind me. I think I finally got it down to 15 minutes.

Reese, you're right. If you're working on something else you love at the time of the rejection, it isn't as painful. There's a lesson in that. :)

Pat Davids said...

Ah, Reese, I remember how down you were after your agent didn't like that wonderful story. I'm glad you're back in the saddle and working on a great new book.

Rox, 30 minutes? That's not nearly enough time to work up a good tantrum. I give myself a day at least.


Rox Delaney said...

Yeah, 30 minutes. Wallowing in self-pity all day only made it harder to leave it behind. But believe me, I really put those 30 minutes to good use before I called my critique partner to boohoo. At that point, I was told to buck up and get busy. You wanna talk whips? LOL

Joan Vincent said...

Rejection never feels good and it sometimes made me want to give in and cry. Stoic German upbringing didn't approve of that though. One rejection which still sticks with me was from Harlequin. It said I really knew my history, had a great handle on writing in the period but my plot was contrived. I was told that people never fall in love at first sight. This from Harlequin who never have ever published a contrived plot--and I have a bridge over the Arkansas I want to sell! (Pat this was Honour's Compromise--Jamey and Cecilia's story) The best remedy for rejection is to make the book the best it can be and send it back out and resend and resend. Someday it will land on the right editor's desk at the right moment.

Nina Sipes said...

I LOVE the picture. That so looks like I feel. I used to get rejections that were bad form letter copies. They weren't as wonderful as the ones you talk about in your article. However, I got one that ticked me off soooo bad. It said nothing exciting happens in the beginning and that was a requirement. I sat down and said to him,"You want exciting, I'll show you exciting!" Within two paragraphs of the beginning line a baby is thrown at a ship and a woman slits her own throat. And a story is born.
However, when I started writing, everyone told and I read of famous people's rejections so I prepared myself. I made a box labeled rejections, all rejections go in there face down. They remind me I'm a writer. However, the stomping, hairpulling, telling myself I'm just a hack, takes a little longer to settle down.
Lately, I purchased my rejection letters a new box. It is a hollow book labeled, Gone With The Wind. It tickles me. However, I'm not going to get rejections if I don't submit. I haven't submitted for over two years. One reason, a big one, it because I doubted my talent. That is like a shoe to kick yourself with, while those darned rejections are little nails hammering the sole on them--re-enforcing one's self doubts.
I once put myself to bed over a rejection. The room was dark, I was doing the rejection up proud. Then my beloved came in. He told me I had talent and wasn't a wannabe-hack. Then we sat in silence--maybe a minute. Then, he asked me how soon supper was going to be. Ya gotta love a guy who keeps his priorities straight, it made me laugh and still does. Romance book material, he ain't but he suits me fine.

Nina Sipes said...

Love does happen at first sight. I, as a romance writer, (that's my excuse, I'm really just very nosy.) have asked many people what first attracted them to their spouse and when THEY KNEW it was the person they wanted to spend their life with. To date one of the pair of four couples told me they knew within an hour of first being around the person, not necessarily actually meeting/talking personally with them that they were going to marry that person. I'd call that first site.
I love the stories people tell me they are so different from what we write and yet sooo wonderful.
I suppose it is because I met my husband because of a business card.

Starla Kaye said...

Great picture! Maybe something with a little foot stomping, too, would be good.

Yes, rejections hurt...and they make you mad. They can make you rebel as well. Stupid agent, stupid editor...I'll show them!

I don't deal with this problem right now, thank goodness. But if I did, I would pout a bit and then find someplace else to submit the work to. There are many, many places to submit short stories, novellas and novels to these days. The way I see it, there are so many opportunities and challenges. I love that!

Hey, my word verification is "porps." Is that like a bunch of porpose friends? Like "my porps"?

Penny Rader said...

Love the picture, Pat! I pout a bit when I get rejected. The hard part is putting myself out there to get rejected in the first place.

Rox, my pouting usually lasts longer than 30 minutes.

Reese, I'm glad you're still sticking it out. I can't wait to see you in print.

Joan, I hope Jamey and Cecelia's story finds a home soon.

Nina, I love hearing stories about how people met. And I hope you're going to tell us the story about the business card.

Starla, love 'the porps.' :D My word is floush. Do you suppose that means flush the toilet with a flourish?

Joan Vincent said...

I never doubted that people fall in love at first sight. My husband says he fell in love with me and knew he would marry me the night we met. This despite the fact that he met me when he complained about the music at a dance I organized in college and I pointed out the doors to him and told him he should walk right out of the building. I guess he took rejection much better than we do with our books!

Nina Sipes said...

Joan, Sometimes a person just has to wonder how the male brain works. My husband is 4 years older and 3 years ahead of me in school. He remembers an incident in grade school where I chewed him out for cracking his knuckles. I don't remember him from school at all. When I graduated, I moved to Denver. I was going to somewhere the booths matched in the cafes. (I'm shallow.)
About 6 years later, my mom when back to KS to visit a friend for the weekend. Ron, divorced about a year, came romping through with the friend's son and tossed a new business card my mom's way. About 6 months later, mom and I were cleaning our purses on the kitchen table at the same time. She laughed and tossed me the card. It said:
Ronald L Sipes, Esquire
Low time Pilot
Telephone number and address.
I laughed and mailed him a note that said I had 40 acres of clods needing hopped and I required a price estimate and references.
He laughed when he received the letter and sent one back to me. We corresponded in like fashion for a while and then escalated to a couple of phone calls. 6 months later, I decided to quit my job and having difficulty finding just what I wanted, that friend of my mother's from Manter came to visit. She said I'd have a job the next day and could live with her if I wanted. I decided to go, see if there was anything going to develope with Sipes, so I said sure. He came to town the next day after he'd called and mom had told him where I was. I had drove all night, worked at a Tractor cab manufacturing job (sweaty work) and then mom called to say he was on his way to town to meet me for the first time. I got off the phone, jumped over the couch, showered, dressed, and answered the door twenty minutes later. We were married on the second anniversary of our first date. We both kept all the letters and silly notes. They are together now tied with a ribbon and are in my cedar chest. Before the letters were over, the community, mail carriers and post offices were also involved with the silliness of the letters. I mailed him one without his name to Blowing Sand, KS 67862 and Ronny got it! By the way, in the 6 years I was gone, someone upgraded the cafe and the booths all match.

Nina Sipes said...

Have you ever asked your husband what exactly was the thing that made him decide that you were the one. I've started asking that question and the answers have been so different and yet so fabulous. I've sometimes later met the spouse that was fallen in love with so quickly and was quite taken aback as the person described, looked at with those love goggles, wasn't the person I met. Aren't love goggles wonderful?

Joan Vincent said...

Thanks for sharing! Never believe you can't write a compelling story.

Rox Delaney said...

I started thinking the other day-- Yeah, I know. What a surprise!--and remembered that it was another rejection that led me to write what became my first published book.

After that initial weeping and moaning period, which was much much longer than 10 minutes, I got mad. Really mad. "They want babies, brides and cowboys?" I shouted to no one listening? "I'll give them babies, brides and cowboys!" And The Rancher and the Runaway Mom the 1999 Maggie winner in Contemporary Romance was born. It later became Rachel's Rescuer after it was (eventually) sold to Silhouette Romance.

Sometimes getting mad can lead to good stuff, at least for me. It gave me the determination I needed--without the usual shove from critique partners--that I needed.

Just one more rejection story, this one with a happy ending. :)

Becky A said...

Hi Pat,
At least your rejection letters say something. Mine are like this:
Thanks but no thanks. Sorry I don't have time to explain why.
I have noticed several publishers and agents that tell you up front they don't have time to "critique" your stuff. So when you get rejected, you have no idea why. Makes it a little more difficult to fix what they didn't like but oh well, you just have to keep plugging away.
Thanks, Becky

Rox Delaney said...


That's where contests and critique groups/partners come in handy. Every one of us has received rejection letters with no clue what's not right. It's all a part of the process. We learn and grow as we go along. Sometimes it's painful, the same as growing up was at times. Hang in there!