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Handling Rejection like a Professional

Updated on September 16, 2014

By Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin

All Rights Reserved

“Rejections slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.” – Isaac Asimov

The science fiction guru ranks among rejected writers. The list is endless, and like the bald truth or not, it includes all of us.

For those of us new to freelance writing, this world is full of rejection. Whether you are a novelist or an article writer, readers or editors will give some of your work the thumbs-down.

The reality is harsh, but no writer is alone. The trick is to

meet rejection with the finesse that characterizes you.


A. Why editors reject authors

With editors sometimes keeping mum about why they turn us down, it is good to know why they do not accept our work.

1. It is not in a popular genre.

Every writer has his own voice and style. We are passionate about it as is, and often, we write from our hearts.

This means that we may not write in a popular genre. Taking myself as an example, my niches are pets, poetry and very often, self-help. Not everyone has interest in reading such articles or finds them useful.

Editors may not want to publish anything not written for the popular market.

2. There are grammatical errors.

Writing with heavy grammatical errors often goes straight to the bin.

Every writer needs to edit his work. Our speech patterns interfere with our writing, making some grammar inaccurate. We write as we think. This makes sentences truncated.

Editing does lessen the likelihood of rejection.

3. Quality is subjective.

And then, quality is subjective. What one editor likes is not the same as what another takes a fancy to. What captures one

reader's attention turns another off.

Quality is highly subjective, so some of your work will not appeal to some.

4. The editor does not agree with the writing style.

Further, the editor may not agree with your writing style. Some of us are more conversational; others, less so.

To each his own. Sadly, one's style may grate on another's perceptions.

5. The content is not unique.

This is perhaps one of the hardest obstacles to climb over as writers.

Research takes us into the hazy realm of content similarity and plagiarism. It sometimes makes some of our work similar to what is on the market.

This is why writers should always offer their unique perspectives on topics.


B. What to know about rejection

There is still more to know about rejection, but I hope these facts will console anyone who needs to read it.

1. It hits all writers.

Rejection hits all writers, in one way or another. Some may have manuscripts revised several times. Others hear a few harsh words. Some articles that we write may have no comments.

No matter how we receive rejection, we are not alone. It is a rogue wave that hits us all.

2. It is a painful evolutionary process.

Rejection is a painful, growing process for all of us. We hate failure, but it alerts us to the shortcomings that all of us have.

If we choose to learn from it, it helps to take our writing to the next level.

3. Not every rejection has value.

Remember that not every rejection has value. Freelance writers know that some clients are very arbitrary, make ambiguous requests and turn it down if it does not meet their requirements.

Some publishers, sadly, behave in the same way. It is important to remember that rejection, no matter how harsh, is never personal.

4. You go through the 5 stages of grief.

We go through the 5 stages of grief quickly as writers. We deny it, get angry, bargain, become depressed and finally accept it.

Get to the last stage quickly, for it is only then that you can move on to the next writing task.

5. You will meet with Stark Cruelty.

Once in a while, we meet with those who make cutting remarks.

We may receive a negative comment or two about our work.

Again, remember to accept this as quickly as possible and more importantly, ignore it. It is never indicative of your ability as a writer.

6. At times, it is our fault.

At times, it really is our fault. We may not have read submission guidelines carefully, or written on the correct topic. I plead guilty to this.

7. Do not try to convince the editor to accept your work.

If an editor has closed the door, do not knock until, perhaps, a new one takes his place.

As he has already made his mind up, doing so is a waste of the time you can use to write other material and get the recognition you deserve.

Besides, it is not professional etiquette.

How to deal with rejection

C. Famous writers and rejections

With no offense meant to these literary greats, it warms the heart to know that they have face rejection, some many more times than we have. They fully understand that attaining writing success simply means keeping at it, and constantly improving.

Publishers treated William Golding's Lord of the Flies with scorn, and turned it down 20 times.

Margaret Mitchell must have sighed at least 38 times, for that is how often Gone With The Wind met with rejection.

On a more modern note, publishers turned down J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone 14 times.

Carrie, by the prolific Stephen King, did not mesmerize readers immediately. Some editors felt that there was no market for apocalyptic fiction.

Editors recommended that Louisa May Alcott, the creator of Little Women, stuck to teaching.

We will have to simply keep going, no matter how many rejections we have. It is the only way to succeed.

On that note, Colonel Saunders lived out of his car and had his Southern Fried Chicken recipe rejected over 270 times.


How do you handle rejection?

See results

D. How to handle rejection like a professional

How then, do we handle the rejection monster and shake his hand?

1. Remember humility.

Practice humility. No one writes perfectly, so if people do not take to your work straight away, offer a thanks and accept your errors.

2. Mail a harsh rejection letter to yourself.

You.know your weaknesses best, so try mailing a harsh rejection letter to yourself.

List all your weaknesses and learn them by heart. It presses you to grow and not repeat them.

3. Try self-publishing.

Your novel may not sit well with an editor, but why waste it?

Publish it yourself. You may already have a ready pool of readers waiting for you.

4. Take a break.

If you need time away to regroup, take it. You will return with a fresh perspective.

5. Compare your writing with others.

Compare your writing with others in a similar genre. Assess what makes their work ring with readers.

Take care not to compromise or discard what are your own strengths.

6. Write about your love for writing.

Write about your love for writing on a blog post. Remind yourself about why you became a writer, and why you must sustain that passion.

7. Find support.

Other writers feel this too, so consult them. They may offer advice that you really need to hear.

8. Revise your work.

Look at your work again and edit it based on the points offered in the harsh comment or rejection letter.

You may get positive reviews for it after that.

9. Write on other topics.

If you have always written in one genre, write in another for a change.

A change of pace gives you a fresh perspective on your work.

10. Remember the times you succeeded.

Lastly, remember the times you succeeded. Some, if not all of your writing is surely popular.

D. Conclusion

With that, remind yourself that success is in your hands.


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    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      That is true, Deb. The problem with me is that I have a few! So I'm trying to sort it out!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      It will happen when it is your time, and you truly must find your niche. To find a niche, one must have passion, which will ooze out of your material, like maple syrup out of the tree. Today, while looking for material for my columns, I found a young man, who wanted to interview me about the lake. What better advertising than a college student doing a paper on what YOU have told him about a beloved part of your life?

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Never is easy to deal with, Dbro! And the more experienced we are, the harder it is!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Sujaya!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      It is, Denise!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Lady Guitarpicker. Will check out the hub, I'm a pianist myself!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Devika!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      True indeed, Sandra.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      That's true, lamb servant

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Pawpawwrites!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Bill!!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Oh my goodness... thanks for the tribute, Manatita!!!!

    • Dbro profile image


      6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks for this article, midget38. All of this advice applies to me, though I am not a professional writer. I am a visual artist, and all of the situations you describe apply to my business as well. I have "toughened up" over the years, but rejection still is painful. I remember when I first started entering shows I would cry actual tears when my work was rejected by the judges. Having one's art (and/or writing) rejected is like having one of your children criticized.

      I guess all painful experiences are opportunities to grow, and we should use this experience to learn both technical skills and emotional ones as well.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Dahoglund!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      True. We are guilty about getting ourselves rejected as well!

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 

      6 years ago

      a timely guide

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      6 years ago from Daytona Beach, Florida

      Great hub and I agree we must never let rejection get the best of us otherwise we are giving into the monster. Passing this on.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      6 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      If anyone has time please read my hub I would like to improve and leave a comment. Thank you, I won't cry I'm too old. "The Best Way To Tune A Guitar".

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      6 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      It is tough not to take rejection personal, but like you said, it is not about us, personally, but perhaps about other issues, such as timing, genre, marketability, etc. Taking the time to take a break sounds like a good idea!

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      6 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Like this hub very much and feel it is right on the money. I do like the thought that every rejection has value and is never personal. Wish I could write better hubs, but will keep trying, one thing I do know they are original.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I have had many rejection slips concerning manuscripts and felt disappointed but mostly after my first rejection. After a while I took it as a pinch of salt.

    • Sandra Eastman profile image

      Sandra Joy Eastman 

      6 years ago from Robbinsdale MN

      Wonderful truths and ones we writers need to keep forefront in our minds. We all have been there but it's what we do about it that counts.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      6 years ago from United States

      One must expect rejection as a writer. Get over it. This is very informative and well written.

    • Pawpawwrites profile image


      6 years ago from Kansas

      Rejection can be tough, but you have to try to learn from it, improve, and keep on keeping on.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      All valid points. If a writer can't handle rejection they are in the wrong business.

    • manatita44 profile image


      6 years ago from london

      Excellent article on rejection and how to cope with this as well as the loving advice. I knew a girl called Midget 38 who was rejected once; she then went on to write a million dollar book (joke Michelle)

      Would be nice though? Wouldn't it?

      Check this out. You're far away from being rejected here:

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I once considered it some kind of success that a publication rejected something of mine with a personal note saying what I wrote was good but needed something additional to fit the needs of the publication.

    • Vicky7004 profile image


      6 years ago from India


    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 

      6 years ago

      Hi Michelle, nice hub, thanks for sharing. You are right in saying that one should go against the so called popular attitude. But there remain a hairline difference between a perfectionist and an average one. So its imperative to look at the other side of rejection, there may be our own attitude of rejecting to new ideas and approaches is hiding and getting reflected as our weakness or someone's over reaction.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Let's give that rejection monster a good kick!


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