Lessons From Getting Dozens of Rejections as a Writer

How to face and overcome the dreadful “no”

John Cooper
Mar 12 · 5 min read
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

If you’re a writer and plan to have your work read at some point, you must face the uncomfortable and unfortunate process of rejection. It’s difficult to fathom at first, and it has the power to drain you of your energy and your creativity, But it’s important to take that failure and turn it into something you can grow from.

I started seriously writing about three years ago. I started with short stories, writing little 3,000-4,000 word stories just to give myself the boost of getting something completed and done. It worked, and after having a few successful writing experiences, I decided I wanted to take the next step and try to share my work with people other than my friends and family. It was a difficult choice at first. Our writing is like our children. We want to shelter them, to keep them close and safe where the big bad world can’t hurt them.

But I wanted to be a writer, so I sent my children out on their own — to flourish in the world and make something of themselves. I submitted my stories to a few publications online that I thought might be a good fit for what I had written and crossed my fingers.

After months of refreshing my email every hour, of clearing my spam folder just in case it got misfiled, I got my response. It was a short and unemotional canned rejection letter — my first of what would be many in the next few years. That rejection was hard, but I expected it. Almost no one gets published on their first try, so I did some tweaking and sent my child back out for another round. That first story got about four rejections from various online magazines before I gave up and released it on Amazon as a short story.

The small number of reviews for that story were … middling. They said I had a decent story and good flow, but my editing needed serious work, something that would and still plagues my work to this day.

I have what I like to call edit blindness. I call it that because when I go back and read over a piece of work I’ve written, my brain will automatically correct the mistakes it sees instead of flagging them for me to fix. So unless I take my writing word for word and read out loud what I’ve written, there are many times where I’ll miss mistakes I’ve made.

Edit and Edit Again

That excitement is a trap, though, and will lead to a quick scan before submitting what’s probably a messy work that needs some love and attention. It’s OK excited about your story, but make sure you take the time to give it the aftercare that it deserves so your story doesn’t end up hurting itself because of preventable grammar or editing mistakes.

I pressed on in my journey and continued writing short stories and submitting them. I also continued to get rejections. These were easier now that I’d been through the process a few times, but each still stung. I wanted to break that plain, to have something published and approved and out to the world, but after a half a dozen stories, it still hadn’t happened.

Don’t Take It Personally

Not every rejection is merit-based. A lot of times publishers or editors will already have a story similar in tone or setting at the moment, or maybe their magazine or press wasn’t as good of a fit as you had hoped. These aren’t reasons related directly with the quality of your story but will be rejections all the same, and it’s important to make sure you keep a level head and don’t let them discourage you.

Over the past three years, I’ve submitted more and more stories to be published, and to this day I have yet to have something published outside of here on Medium. It’s a hard road to travel. I’ve read stories from places I’ve submitted to and tried to study what separated those stories from mine. Often there isn’t a cut and clear separation — which can make things all the more frustrating.

Stay Busy

Many publications or magazines will tell you the expected time before you hear from them, but some won’t. And some won’t even let you know they’ve passed. I’ve waited for weeks, almost a month for a response — sometimes even longer. I sit and refresh my emails over and over, knowing good and well I won’t hear anything for a while still.

You must stay busy. Move on to your next project or story, and focus your time and energy on that instead. Sitting around and waiting for a response can be mind-numbing and can lead to some negative mindsets that’ll only hurt your writing in the long run. I try to have a new story written and ready by the time I hear from my last one, just to stay busy and focused.

Just Keep Swimming

Rejection can be a depressing and demoralizing thing, but it’s a large and ingrained part of our craft. It’s as unavoidable as the sunrise but can be just as useful. Step back and think about why your story didn’t make the cut and approach the next one with the mindset that you want to learn from that rejection. Even if the reason wasn’t based on the quality of your story, each rejection can teach you something about yourself and your writing, and it’s important to have a positive outlook on the process.

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Thanks to Niklas Göke

John Cooper

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Husband, Father and aspiring author. Join me in my quest to tell stories.

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