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Dealing with Literary Rejections: Six Viewpoints

Rejections - Charlie Brown

I was asked yesterday ‘how’s the writing going?’ which is always an interesting one to answer. First you have to gauge if it’s a genuine enquiry, or a generic ‘how’s things?’ A non-writer friend probably doesn’t want to hear a long moan about rejections. But submissions, and in particular rejections, is one of the unavoidable and recurrent themes of a writer’s (certainly a poet’s) life.

For me, the problem starts with the word ‘submission’. It’s so, well, so passive. To submit is to rollover onto your back like a cat with its claws retracted, begging for attention. It just ain’t dignified.

There are thousands of articles and blog posts about dealing with literary rejections. And can we get enough of them? I don’t think so, judging by the social media indicators. I’m not the only one to be fascinated by how others deal with the rejection game. I’m just as fascinated to know how the rejectors deal with it too. There are two sides to it, but perhaps it’s easy to forget that when you’re the submissive party.

Here are six viewpoints on rejection that I’ve enjoyed. You have to read them to get the full stories, but I’m giving you a flavour.

“No Thank You” – On Rejection and Writing by Chuck Sambuchino in Writers’ Digest.  “You can’t please everyone, and the moment you try, you cease to write anything interesting.” Chuck runs with the idea that all rejections are subjective, and you can rationalise them all you like but ultimately you just have to deal with it and not let it unsettle your writing.

Rejecting Rejection by E Kristin Anderson at The Writing Barn. Rejection slips are just part of the submissions game – there are no acceptances without rejections along the way. “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

“Never Give Up” — or How One Writer Got Published in Poetry Magazine After 12 Rejections at the Bookbaby blog, Chris Robley tells the encouraging tale of poet Todd Ross who was eventually published 15 times in Poetry magazine, despite his previous 12 rejections by same.

Submission, Rejection, Acceptance, Reward by Roy Marshall. Paying attention to the detail of cover letters and appreciating the ‘good’ rejections can bring some comfort. “Once or twice I’ve felt less pleased by an offhand acceptance than by polite and careful rejection.”

Ten Levels of Rejection (and What to Do About Them)Nathaniel Tower takes a close look at the exact wording of rejections and draws some biting conclusions. “Not all rejection is equal.” Great to see the ‘passive aggressive’ rejection (beloved by certain publications) finally unmasked! (Number 4)

And finally, Robert Peake gives some soothing advice in What Should You Learn from Rejection Letters? at ReadWritePoem. “The very fact of rejection is insufficient grounds to conclude your that poems are terrible, that you are a terrible poet, possibly a terrible person, and that giving up writing for good would be a service to humanity.” Oh we hope not, Bob, we hope not.


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  1. I wanted to make the comment, “I would not reject this advice” but have decided not to 🙂 But as with your post on the Don Share workshop this is all very useful, thank you.

  2. Great post, Robin!
    By coincidence, I had a conversation about this very topic with the 19 year old son yesterday. Our thoughts led us to the vast difference between ‘losing’ as in a tennis match where you have a lot more control than in the literary game where someone else’s opinion comes very much into play ~ and ‘losing’ becomes the guessing game that surrounds ‘rejection.’

    It seems easier to learn from losing in the tennis game than from literary rejection as you can almost always see quite clearly what you need to work on and where your strengths lie.

    It seems that being involved in the competitive side of writing requires a mindset that can cope with rejection as well as acceptance.

    • Hi Jean, that’s it isn’t it – how one takes it is (in a way) all in the mind – back to Kipling’s good old maxim ‘if you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same’ – comparison with tennis v apposite!

  3. […] we all know, rejections can vary in quality, and you just have to deal with them. But I do believe there are good and bad ways to reject, just as we’re always being told […]

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Robin Houghton 2021