A Writer’s Guide to Dealing with Rejection

Letter tiles spelling 'NO' in two open hands

By Rebecca Fletcher

Dealing with rejection is one of the few things you’ll have in common with nearly every writer. Putting yourself out there is a daunting thought, and the idea of having your work handed back to you with a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ is more off-putting than a pineapple and anchovy pizza. However, rejection can be a positive – if painful – experience for writers. How, you might ask?

You’ll earn your stripes

Say you have a publication you subscribe to; chances are that’s the publication you want to see your work in. But there’s a reason why some publications are considered more prestigious than others: it’s much more difficult to be published there. These publications have built their reputations through consistently publishing high quality submissions over time, and it’s in their interest to preserve that quality, and therefore their reputation. When they reject, it’s as much for self-preservation as anything else.

Therefore, having a list of other publications you’d like to see your name in is a good back-up plan. There are usually far more publications in those ‘not the “top”, but still great’ tiers, so you’ll have more options.

I’ve seen more than one piece rejected by one editorial team that was subsequently printed, unchanged, in another publication. That means that there was nothing wrong with the piece to start with; it just wasn’t the right fit for the initial target. Once you get a few publications under your belt in a few different places, bigger publications will start taking your work more seriously based on your author bio and publishing credits. Like it or not, author platforms can play a big part in building publishing momentum.

Fair? Who knows. But if you get rejected by your journal of choice for two years and get accepted in the third, you’ll know that you finally earned your place there.

You can make it a learning experience

When you’re just starting out, it’s worth looking carefully at the publications you’re submitting to, especially if you’re happy to submit just about anywhere. Most publications will send you a blanket rejection email (and if you gather enough of them, you see they’re all working from the same template). However, every once in a while, you might receive some personalised feedback in your rejection that will help you improve your piece or boost your spirits a little. Australian publishing is quite a small community, but it’s still very keen to support writers. As such, many Australian editors are more inclined to offer helpful critique when rejecting than overseas publications are.

Another consideration is that some student publications (like Farrago) and publications designed specifically to help young or emerging writers (like Voiceworks) often provide personalised feedback on unsuccessful submissions. If you write genre fiction, some genre magazines provide brief feedback on stories and poetry as well. While this feedback may not always be relevant to what you were trying to do (or maybe that’s just how I feel), it’s good to see the disconnect between that publication and your writing.

You’ll find your niche and your strengths

I mentioned before that I saw an article rejected by one publication that was published in another, but I didn’t mention that the piece was published in a more prestigious magazine with a wider readership. In that case, the rejection was actually a favour to the author.

Sometimes, if a publication doesn’t think that your piece is a good fit, then maybe it isn’t. However, it’s also possible that there’s an even better place for it. From personal experience, I’ve written some things that might look literary if you squint, but are probably better suited for a humour publication like Defenestration Mag or The Daily Drunk. No one tells you about humour publications, so that’s something I’m chasing up in my own time – but it’s possible that a similar epiphany is awaiting you.

The thing about good writing is that it’s good, even if it’s not the right fit for where you submitted. Sometimes editors take the time to let you know that. For example, I’ve been complimented on my long sentences – while they’re clearly too long for a lot of people, they’re easy to follow, even if they’re way over twenty words (this one is 36 words long). This means that I can write conversationally without things getting too crazy. My journalism career clearly failed before it began, but maybe I’m better at blog posts than feature articles. Seems like a good thing to know, right?

You’ll get better at dealing with rejection

Rejection is a fundamental part of putting yourself out there in the world, and building resilience will help you in all aspects of your life. The other thing is, rejection isn’t necessarily even a comment on the writing itself. There are plenty of tales out there of authors who were rejected countless times, then went on to great success. If they’d let themselves be dissuaded by the first (or tenth) rejection, they would never have been published. It was through their perseverance and commitment to their goals that they found success.

Rejection means one thing: your work wasn’t the right piece for the right time. The most useful part of being rejected is shelving your work and looking at it again with different eyes, at a later date, to see if you feel differently about it. If you still feel it’s a good piece, keep submitting to different places. But if you’ve done the rounds and it hasn’t found a home, then it might be worth asking someone else to take a look and see what needs changing. While humbling, this process will also make you a better writer.

Ultimately, the only way you’ll know if you’re good enough to be published is by submitting. I promise you that rejection gets easier to manage the more often it happens. The sting never completely stops, but by taking rejection as a challenge to hone your skills and focus rather than an indicator that you’re not good enough, you will become a stronger, more confident writer. Plus, you can always write up your summary and submit it to the Grattan Street Press blog (just like I did) – what’s the worst that could happen?

Rebecca Fletcher is a digital content manager by day, frustrated humour writer/participant in the world at night. Her work has been published in Farrago, Defenestration and Misery Tourism, and she’s aiming for 100 rejections in 2021. You can follow her exploits at saltyturnip.com or at @Notaturnip on Twitter.

Cover photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.

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