Publishing · writing

Rejection and Writing: A Tragedy in 6 Steps

This monk has the face of a man who has had to rewrite that illuminated manuscript 18 times.

Let’s talk about rejection.

I’m not a big fan of it; I doubt anyone is. But rejection is a fundamental part of the publishing process. Not all editors and presses are suited for all material, and some works could use a little more shine before they are sent out into the big bad world.

The beauty of rejection in the publishing industry is that it can happen at every stage of the process. This means that everyone has the opportunity to become adept at being rejected.

Our great tragedy starts at the beginning of that path to expertise.

Step 1: The Writing Group – Someone in your writing group is going to hate your writing. Hate is probably a harsh term. Let me rephrase. Someone in your writing group may not be interested in your genre or your writing style. Maybe they never like any writing but their own. Maybe they have despised fantasy ever since their older brother threw their toy dragon in the toilet. If you are lucky, they will channel this emotion into constructive criticism and point out places where you could improve your work. If you are very unlucky, they will either tell you that your writing just isn’t for them, or they will pick it apart.

Step 2: The Editor – This rogue often reappears at various points, so he can be considered part of step 2, step 3.5, and step 4.5. Regardless of where he appears, have no doubt that he is going to take the reddest of all pens to your work. Repeatedly. Cut it to pieces. Tell you to get rid of characters. Poke at plot points. Ask if particular phrasings are part of your style or something…unfortunate and unplanned. But after many run-ins and crossed swords, someday some editor may shake a dusty head, look at you, and say, “Yes, this manuscript is ready,” but only after he and his brethren have rejected you a dozen times first.

Step 3: The Agent – Finding an agent is like internet dating. There seems to be an infinite sea of options, but the ones you like aren’t interested in calling you back. A few may message you then disappear. You may even have the chance to meet one or two of them in person. But with differing degrees of kindness and malice, the vast majority of agents will put your manuscript aside and decide against representing you as an author. You can survive this. They used terrible mirror selfies as their profile pictures anyway.

Step 4: The Publisher – I’ve mentioned publisher slush piles before, and with the amount of query letters and book proposals a publisher sees, it makes sense that most publishers have neither the time nor resources to publish most authors. You can add another rejection or twenty to your count here.

Step 5: The Reviewer – Reviewers are an interesting bunch. Some have a rule that they won’t review a book that is truly terrible, and others are quite happy to write honest reviews about books that they could not stand. This type of rejection will have a particular sting because many readers idolize reviewers and use them to see what they should read. As a reader yourself, you may even look up to someone who rejects you, so the heartbreak will feel extra personal.

Step 6: The Reader – Grabbing your readers by the shoulders, shaking them, and asking, “Why won’t you love me?” is probably not the best response to their criticisms. Fight the impulse to do it. A reader can reject a book for 1001 reasons that range from the book’s hideous cover, the fact that the author shares a name with a high school nemesis, an oddly written plot summary, to the book’s placement in a physical or electronic bookstore. At this stage, readers will reject your book time and time again and be noticeable only in their absence.

The above steps are, admittedly, a very tongue-in-cheek description of the rejections writers face on the road to publishing. Despite the attempt at humor, it is true that rejection is simply part of the process, and it is helpful for writers to not take these dismissals personally and instead use the series of rebuffs to improve.

Easier said than done, I know, but if it ever becomes too much, remember that you are not alone in your rejections. If you ever have a moment of despair and need a bit of laugh about the oddity of putting words to paper, there is always Two Medieval Monks Invent Writing from The Toast. I highly recommend it.



19 thoughts on “Rejection and Writing: A Tragedy in 6 Steps

  1. Great article! 🙂 I am sadly one of those reviewers that sometimes attack for no known reason. Thankfully, I am not someone anyone looks up too. 🙂 I am also a writer who has a hard time letting my son, he is 12, critique my writing. He is so harsh! 🙂 He thinks I am a terrible writer. I need thicker skin. I am glad he tells me the truth, so I can work harder to make something better, or hide my book from him. Which ever works. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have the utmost respect for reviewers who tell the unvarnished truth even if it comes out with some teeth. As for family members, I shudder at the thought of mine reading my work. I may have to go with your method of hiding my manuscripts!


      1. It works fairly well.(hiding my work) . I don’t have a lot of respect for reviewers. We are just readers, an opinion is an opinion. 🙂 As a reviewer, I would rather you have little respect, that way I can feel better about picking on things. ha ha . I am way too snarky today.. ! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I agree, great article. I am, sadly, without a writing group for the time-being (it’s a timing issue) and my stuff isn’t really appropriate for my kids. I think my 11yo liked the beginning of my latest, Endgame, but maybe he was just being nice. C’est la vie.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Sometimes good writing groups are surprisingly hard to find! You have to worry about personality fit, scheduling, and a thousand other details.

        It’s great that your son has had a sneak peek of your work though; I suspect that years from now he’ll look back on that fondly.


      2. Mine is not really appropriate either, but the first chapter seemed okay. But he ripped it to shreds. Told me I needed a hook, and I told him..that is what you just read! He replied. Oh. No… that was not a good hook. 😦 lol

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I suffer badly with any form of rejection. Perhaps it is something to do with my past (perhaps???)
    I do take it personally, so much so that I don’t bother approaching agents, publishers or reviewers. Subsequently I have very few reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sympathetic to that. Rejection can be incredibly difficult especially when we think of it as personal. Still, I think that every time we put ourselves out into the universe even if it is only a little bit, we get a little more willing to risk rejection. And I think you need to give yourself more credit; you have a decent social media following, and you couldn’t have gotten that without being a bit brave.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. When I first started sending my novel submission out (after delaying the finishing of it in fear of what was to come), I had to give myself some counselling! The first rejection stung, then after that I took it more in my stride…thinking why give ‘them’ the power to make me feel bad, and recognising the reality that rejection is a kind of ‘right of passage’ really helped the disappointment troughs. The main thing is to feel good about your own writing if you’ve learned the craft nad enjoy it, know that judgment is very subjective, and keep going whichever publishing route you choose in the end.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great review of the reality of getting your work out there towards successful publication. I could have done with this years ago…

    Although on 2nd thoughts if I knew then what I know now, I think it would have been much harder to slog away at the novels. In many ways ignorance kept me going. But then once you have finished all the stages of work mentioned above and the product is there, no one can take it away from you. So it is worth it in the end.

    One thing I would like to add is something I read ages ago about non-professional readers – especially those who are like us are aspiring writers. To be honest echoes a lot of the above comments as well as points raised in the article. There are a lot of reasons why we need to be careful of reviews by our contemporaries which centre round the fact that they may be at the same level or a lower level of writing ability than we currently are. We don’t really know do we? While their criticisms of plot holes or technical stuff will be valid, their overall criticism of the way you construct your work may simply be that in essence it different from the way they write.

    I thinks what you pay for with professional readers and editors is their ability to stand back and look at your work without an unconscious agenda. Because it is their job and they have a wide range of experience they are in a position to encourage you to develop your personal style rather than trying to impose their style on you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re right that writers have to be aware that the quality of feedback they receive can vary. And honestly, I hate to say this, but tenacity may be a more valuable quality than actual writing style. Writers who keep trying to improve and keep putting themselves out there tend to be more successful than those who don’t.

      Liked by 1 person

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