How To Handle Rejection As Writers

Whether you’re a writer or not, new goals often accompany the New Year. For some, a New Year can bring a bit of disappointment when last year’s goals went unmet. Reflecting back on the previous year may bring up feelings of frustration and shame. Perhaps your writing goals were halted in their tracks by a harsh critique, a rejection letter or two or two thousand, or a demotivating comment or experience that caused you to spiral about the value of your work.

Why start the New Year of blog posts with such a depressing commentary? Well, rejection is a natural part of life in general and especially a part of life as a writer. Whether in the formal rejection letters from agents or editors we’re pitching our beloved stories to or the comments from beta readers and critique partners, our work faces a lot of negativity. Even if it is well-meaning and constructive, it can still sting. I’ve experienced that firsthand, and most, if not all writers, have as well.

But my goal for the first blog post of the New Year is not to fixate on these shattered dreams, failures, and uncertainty about the value of your story. Rather, I aim to give tips and pointers on how to respond to and process rejection, constructive criticism, and downright negative reviews. In the process of reading (or skimming), I hope you leave feeling more encouraged and ready to embrace this New Year and to persevere in your writing.

Let’s dive right in.

First, remember that your book is not for a universal audience. In other words, don’t expect everyone to love it. And don’t expect that everyone will hate it. It’s easy to go into pitching or sharing your work with the hope that it will find overflowing favor and praise from all those who read it. On the flip side, it’s easy to fall into a spiral of despair when you get a rejection or cutting criticism, wondering if your book is just the worst and no one will ever like it.

You’ve got to settle on a balance between the two extremes and recognize that some people will enjoy your book and others won’t be into it. Think about the Harry Potter series. It wasn’t accepted to publishers on the first many attempts. I also know a few people who said they couldn’t get into the series, so not even Harry Potter is universally loved, despite its immense popularity. Your book is the same: it’s not for everyone, but there are people out there who need your story and who will love it just as much as you do. Don’t let rejections deflate you and make you believe your book as no value to readers.

Similarly, seek out a balanced critique group or partner. While praise from everyone in critique group settings feels really nice, it isn’t always the most helpful. At the same time, if your critique group or partner fixates too much on the negatives, it’s no wonder you feel unmotivated. I’ve been in both types of groups, and by far the best critique sessions I’ve had are the ones where I’ve received constructive feedback on places in improve AND praise on other key pieces that shouldn’t go anywhere.

Speaking of critiques, consider tangible comments and feedback on your work fairly, but don’t succumb to the doom spiral. To reiterate, you don’t want to let negative comments get under your skin and make you believe lies about your books. At the same time, criticism is worth weighing, regardless of where you are in the process. I’ve had to stomach critiques for books I considered completed and had no intent to revise, yet upon reassessing my drafts and applying the comments I received, I made my books stronger. Yet not every comment is truly worth implementing. Weigh the advice against what others have said about the same part of your book. Is there agreement that a change needs to be made, or disagreement? Consensus can be a good, semi-objective gauge for knowing whether or not you need to revise. Likewise, if there’s little consensus among multiple readers, it comes down to your subjective gut feeling. Compare the advice to how it would impact the story you’re trying to tell. And, if you’re fortunate to get feedback from an editor or agent on a rejection letter that’s actionable (beyond a vague “It wasn’t for me,” comment), you should definitely consider it, but I’d still say the same above rules apply. Even editors and agents have their own nitpicky, personal likes and dislikes!

While you want to give every criticism its fair consideration, don’t get caught up in trying to make changes and spiral into the doom cycle of “I’ll never be ready!” Similarly, don’t let rejection letters with vague feedback shove you into a depressive slump about how your work is the worst. Rejections don’t necessarily mean your novel isn’t ready yet or needs major changes to be published. As long as you’ve truly put the work into revising your book and researching the publishing dos and don’ts, most rejection letters simply come down to subjective opinions from agents and editors. After all, they read so many books and pitches that they can’t take every decent book they get. Bottom line, don’t spiral, and reach out to a trusted writer friend for advice if you’re unsure how to move forward with your book. 

Related to avoiding the doom spiral and responding to rejection letters, it’s okay to take a moment to be disappointed, but persevere in your publishing pursuits. You’re not going to sell your book on the first pitch. That’s just reality. Be realistic with your expectations and try to keep a positive mindset throughout the long waiting game. It’s hard. I know from experience it’s so hard and there will be moments of extreme doubt or lack of motivation to persist. So let yourself process rejection letters, silence, and the long waiting game that is traditional publishing in a healthy way. Go for a walk, pray about it, even take a break from pitching if you need it. Just don’t let yourself stay in the wallowing. Find ways to boost your grit and endurance. Imagine, too, the business of publishing as a marathon, not a sprint, and keep as steady a pace as you can manage.

However, if you start doubting your story, seek ways to remember why you fell in love with the project in the first place. Questioning whether anyone will want to read or publish your story can be a huge demotivating factor. If you start to slide into these feelings of self-doubt about your writing and your story’s purpose, find ways to remember why you love your book. You wrote it for a reason—so what was it about your story that first sparked that joy and inspiration? Retrospection can be difficult in the moment. Try looking over your earliest notes and brainstorming for the book. Listen to the music that inspired you as you wrote the story. Draw character art. Maybe you just need to reread your story or jump into work on a sequel or side short story with the characters. If you’re constantly in danger of doubting your story’s value, write down your reason for writing the book and pin it up somewhere you’ll see it as a constant reminder to keep going.

For some of us, the reality is we don’t have the stamina on our own to persist. So last, but certainly not least, when you face rejection or discouragement, pray about it. Pray about your stories, your path as an author, and your rejections. If you are a Christian, you can trust God with the outcome of your life and your writing’s impact on others. It will likely look different than your hopes or expectations, but if you trust God with your writing, you can trust Him with the process, including the failures you may face. Be humble before him, respond like Christ to harsh comments on your work, and surrender your work and journey to God. Pray in the moment of facing rejections and thank Him for the opportunity to pitch your work, to share it with other readers, and to publish your novel. Gratitude is excellent medicine for heartache.  

Fellow writer, if you’re feeling the discouragement of rejection, know you are not alone. I’ve been walking this path for a while, too, and through it, I’ve learned these lessons I’m now passing along to you. I hope you’ve found at least one small encouragement to help you persist in writing your story and getting it out there.

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