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The Pain of Rejection Never Gets Easier

Even though most writers know that rejection is part of the process of publication, we still feel the sting of it deeply. Every time. And honestly, it never gets easier. At least for me.

We often think of rejection in terms of getting a “no thanks” on a query or manuscript we sent to an agent or publisher. But the longer I’m on the path to publication, the more I realize rejection can come in many different ways and from many sources. And it always hurts, no matter where we’re at in the process.

As I mentioned in the last post, my publisher Bethany House gave me their feedback on Book 2 of my contract. It was incredibly difficult to hear they didn’t like the way I’d developed the story. In my head I realize my publisher only wants to make my book as saleable as possible, but in my heart, the feedback felt an awful lot like rejection.

I may have been slightly naive to believe I’d be immune to rejection or that it wouldn’t hurt quite as much once I finally got a book contract. But I was wrong. Whether it’s the first form rejection we receive on the first book we query, or it’s a “this-book-isn’t-going-to-work-for-us” rejection that I recently received, the pain punches us in the gut and knocks the breath from us.

We can take some small measure of twisted comfort in knowing we’re not alone, that rejection is as natural to a writer’s life as a thunderstorm in summer. But even when we know we’re not alone, how can we ease the pain that comes with rejection? Is there even a way?

After my most recent rejection, here are the thoughts I jotted down:

Rejection puts life in perspective.

The night after getting my rejection, I stopped and said to myself, “Am I missing out on too much of life because of the time I devote to my writing career?” Life happens in a blink. And I don’t want it to pass by with the regret that I didn’t take more time for the things that matter most. What can I do to make sure I’m slowing down?

Rejection keeps us humble.

Rejections are the quickest way to eliminate my pesky pride. If I succeeded at everything, if I never failed, and if I never got stinging criticism, I’d hate to see the size of my ego. The criticisms or painful realities never fail to prick a pin into that ego right about the time everything seems wonderful. Then pop! I’m back to realizing I’m just an average, ordinary writer.

Rejection reminds us that pursuing publication is NOT for the faint of heart.

The plain and simple truth is that pursuing publication is more difficult than anyone ever tells us. Or maybe they do mention it, but for some deluded reason we believe it will be easier for us. I had to ask myself, “Am I really cut out for this? Can I keep taking this kind of rejection book after book?” If we can’t take rejection, then we probably need to go back to writing stories for personal pleasure rather than publication.

Rejection shows us that we can’t please everyone.

There will always be someone who can find something they don’t like about our books. I won’t please everyone. So then, who should we please? We obviously can’t just think about ourselves and what we want. We have to be open to the suggestions of others. But who should we listen to? And how much should we be willing to change to please others?

In the next post, I’ll attempt to tackle those questions and share more details about how I’m handling my rewrites on Book 2.

For today, I’d love to commiserate about rejection and know I’m not alone in the pain of it! Have you been rejected recently? How did you handle it? What lessons have you learned or are you learning from the process?

*Influencer Update: Thanks to all who signed up to be Influencers for The Preacher's Bride! Bethany House will mail your free copy of the book in early September. They're giving me 50 MORE influencer copies than I'd originally realized! So, if you haven't signed up yet and you're interested in getting a book, please send me an email with your mailing address (use my Contact page). And if you don't know what it means to influence, Bethany House has some great ideas here: Influencer Tips.

58 comments:

  1. Very early in my calligraphic career, I took a workshop with a highly regarded calligrapher. Imagine being told in class, you should take up knitting or something else! Ouch! Want some ice for that burn, Ceej? Yup, it hurt deeply and after I had a good cry. I wanted to throw away my pens, ink and paper. I whined to Himself and whined to my teacher (who was so shocked this had happened) After I was able to calm down, I realized not every calligrapher is a good teacher. And I really loved learning this art. Rejection makes us better. As Michelangelo said: ancora imparo. I'm still learning.

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  2. Hi Jody,

    Sorry to hear you are hurting. I'm right at the start of the journey so haven't had the chance to be rejected by publishers yet! But I do a lot of amateur dramatics and not getting the part I want there REALLY hurts. I think it's because, secretly, you always do think it will be easier for you, or that you're probably better than most. You have to in order to keep putting yourself through it.

    And hey, you haven't been rejected - just guided in another direction. It's fascinating the insight you're giving here into the process, so thank you for that.

    I would love to read your book so will drop you an email.

    Best of luck with it - you're an inspiration to the likes of me!

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  3. Oh yes, Rejection. The man with the iron fist. I am getting used to dealing with it. It still hurts, but I agree with your points. I keeps me humble and aware that I will always have more to learn.

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  4. You're not alone!! Rejection does come in all different shapes and sizes and colors. Like you said, it's not necessarily a, "No thanks". It could simply be a, "Not good enough." I entered the Genesis contest this year. I have an agent and everything. I won't lie. I didn't enter because I was super excited for the feedback. I entered because I really wanted to place. But nope. Didn't happen. Rejected! It felt wonderful (wink, wink).

    You'll get back up, Jody. I know you will. And you'll take away SO much knowledge and growth from this experience.

    Here's what I love MOST about the writing life: It keeps me cleaved to God, prfoundly connected to my Maker. It gets me on my knees every morning and brings me to utter things like, "I can't do this on my own." "Without you, this will be complete rubish." "I don't have the words." "I NEED you." I'm not sure those are things I would say if not for this gift called writing.

    More than contracts, or praise, or good reviews, or books sold...writing draws my heart to His. That makes all the other stuff worth it.

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  5. Rejection is never easy. I just take it as it comes and see it as part of being a writer and then use it as a good excuse to watch tv and read good books for a couple days. :) I'm sure you'll look back after you've rewritten and be glad!

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  6. Jody, I loved your post. Truly. Humbling, honest, and thoughtful. We can all identify with the struggles you shed light on. Keep up the fight and remember the journey's value, not the destination.

    Marissa

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  7. Yep, it's part of the game. Our Savior sure had extra-strength doses of it, huh?

    Sigh. Sorry to be a stuck record, but the Audience of One lifestyle SO lessens these CONSTANT poisonous darts!

    As writers, we open ourselves up, literally, like the pages of a book.

    Duh, Patti.

    You go, girl! God will (and is using) you in ways you never IMAGINED!!!

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  8. Sorry to hear you're hurting, Judy. But you know what? Maybe the pain of rejection shouldn't get easier. If it did, maybe we'd stop caring. If it didn't hurt so much we wouldn't feel so compelled to keep trying, to improve, to do anything to put an end to the rejection and become a better writer every day.
    When this new book does come out, you will probably look at it and think "this is so much better than I could have ever imagined!"
    So keep trying to heal the pain. You might end up fixing a lot more in the process.

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  9. Rejection hurts! What stood out for me in your post is how we can't please everyone. I think that's where much of our rejection comes from. We all have our own ideas of what is best about something and that usually results in rejection for someone.

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  10. Yeah for humility. Love me a humble person.
    ~ Wendy

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  11. The only thing I've had rejected lately are stories/essays I've written for publication...and in most cases, rejection comes in the form of no response. If I actually get a rejection letter, I feel I've accomplished something! Life keeps us humble, passion keeps us trying.

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  12. When I turned in the synopsis of my book to my publisher, I held my breath for fear they would tell me it wasn't what they wanted. I was sick w/ nerves. (Luckily it didn't happen.)

    Recently I've been rejected on a more personal level--by several authors! I'm at the stage where I'm looking for book blurbers. I shot big--and most of those big guys told me they are too busy. Oh well!

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  13. You are most definitely not alone. I've yet to hear about a writer that's submitted their work somewhere and has NEVER received a rejection.

    Everyone has to deal with it differently. Heck, I even deal with it differently each rejection and each different story.

    Thank you for sharing your experience so that we know we're not alone. And just think...once you reach the lowest of lows, the only place to go next is UP. Things'll get better now. And we'll all be here to keep supporting you as well as buy your book when it comes out.

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  14. Rejection: Husband leaving for another woman after 27 years of marriage. Pain? Indescribable.

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  15. I've been rejected for publication - it wasn't as painful as I thought because the editor was so darned nice and gave me loads of advice on how to make the story better. So I felt she was telling me I had potential and wasn't dreaming dreams that were too large for my ability.

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  16. Oh Jody, I'm so sorry BH didn't like the way your story developed. But if there's one thing I've learned about you, it's that you're no quitter. You've got holy determination, you've got talent, and you've got a desire to improve. I 100% believe that you'll come out of this stronger. And your book will reflect that.

    My husband constantly reminds me that this writing journey is not for the faint of heart. There are moments that I wonder if I've really got what it takes...then I realize I do, as long as I'm leaning on God.

    Staying humble with you,
    Julie

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  17. I have a question that has been bugging me...do you ever panic that you wont be able to "fix" the MS and make it the way they want it? That would really worry me and I think be more bothersome than the rejection.

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  18. Oh, Jody, this made me so sad. Rejection is one of the hardest things we have to deal with in this life. But someone else said it well, this is not rejection. It is re-direction. Yet you ask some very key questions about how and why and who we write for. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on that. It is so hard to write from our hearts, and I know you said you love Book 2. It's like someone saying our baby is ugly. My advice is to take a deep breath, think, don't feel your way through what the editor said, and then see where you are.
    Karen

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  19. Hi Jody -

    Great post! Your strength of character shines through even the difficult parts of your story.

    Rejection still hurts. I started out in the non-fiction area and enjoyed some quick acceptances. When the rejection started, the shock to my system threw me off balance.

    Those rejections prepared me for ones I would get as a fiction writer. They pushed me to learn my craft and persevere.

    Lots of prayer and the support of other writers keep me moving forward.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  20. Jan Cline asked: Do you ever panic that you wont be able to "fix" the MS and make it the way they want it?

    My answer: Jan, that is an excellent question!! Fortunately I think most larger publishing houses will offer suggestions for the changes, ideas of ways that they think you can fix the problems, especially on the more major issues. My publisher has done so on both books. They don't MAKE me accept their ideas, but offer them as an idea of what they're looking for with the change. Usually, however, their suggestions are spot on.

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  21. Cyber hugs, Jody, on the news from BH. That has to be so hard to take. Sadly, rejection is part of this business, one that is not for the fainthearted.

    You're a talented novelist, and I know your book will only get better as you work on your revisions. Still, it's hard to hear that our stories need work. May the pain lessen as you spend time with your wonderful characters.

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  22. Those are great points. While rejection never feels good, I can look back on my writing journey and see how it's necessary, too.

    Some rejections are hidden open doors for something greater. It's that way with queries, submissions, marketing, awards, LIFE.

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  23. Rejection definitely makes you stronger and I totally agree with coming to the realization that you can't please everyone.

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  24. What I've noticed in my own writing journey is the sometimes erronous notion the that the higher I climb the farther I have to fall. The more time I put into a project or the closer a project gets to being accepted the harder the hit is when it gets rejected.

    When I can remind myself that I only have control over the writing and not what others think of it, that helps slow my mind down. And, as painful as the rejections are initially, so far they've pushed me into new territory with my writing.

    I hope your rewrites go well. Thanks for sharing this part of your journey. It is incredibly instructive for me.

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  25. I feel your heartache. Even though we are suppose to develop a thick skin whenever something so personal is “attacked” we feel the wound. Twenty people will love it, adore it, keep it forever and one person will call it drivel. It’s that one we will remember. But at least they didn’t come back with “no sale” they just want you to work some stuff to their liking. Bright side an all that? (Does that really work?)

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  26. Jody, thanks for your honest revelations here. They're all great and true. Rejection does sting, whenever it comes, but how nice that the rejection is coming as constructive criticism, and not as a full-out rejection of your work that pre-published and contracted writers experience. All is well and I have full confidence the comments will make your story even better. It's there, just time to roll up your sleeves and keep shaping. Good luck! :)

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  27. Thank you for your transparency. It is easy to think that once you have a contract you've arrived. Thanks for the wake up call and the dose of reality. : )

    I'm sure, btw, that you will be able to make that second book into what they're looking for. They gave you the contract because they believe in you.

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  28. I've never been rejected by a publisher. My work isn't quite there yet...but I was rejected by an online women's magazine, and in a very strange way.

    I sent in my stuff, and when they emailed me back, asking me to do something, it didn't have my name in the "To" section.

    I emailed them back and...No REPLY!
    I was very upset about that one.

    That was the first one.

    I handled it okay.
    The next day, I wrote again.

    Rejection stings, especially telilng my pastor's wife and my mother and seeing their faces in my perception resembling something like, "I told you so"...

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  29. Rejection does hurt. I like the way you put it, it's not for the faint of heart. Amen!

    I've haven't experienced the real force of rejection yet, but I can only imagine the sting. I'll remember to revisit these wise words.

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  30. Ahhh yes. Romance novelists were telling me that all the time back in the 90s. Not only do they often reject your second or third or fourth book or require MAJOR revisions, but publishers fold. Editors leave. Sales drop. Sometimes that great deal just vanishes...POOF. Just like everyone thinks landing an agent will make all their dreams come true, everyone assumes once you're in, all your troubles vanish and it's stars and sunshine from then on out. Nothing is guaranteed but all you can do is keep working and learning!

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  31. The hard reality that getting published is a trying journey IS probably the little secret you don't hear at writing conferences and after getting my novels rejected so many times, any little victory like an award, publication of essays, supportive remarks in the rejection letters helps the sting. You do get so discouraged that you want to give up, but I'm usually up and at it the next day.

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  32. I'm out on submission and so I'm regularly up for rejection at that level. I like to tell myself that once I get a book deal, I'm home free, but I've heard to many stories like yours, to know that that's not true.



    Elle Strauss

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  33. Rejection is one of those Inevitable Things that come with being a writer. It still hurts a good deal when it happens, but to me it's a necessary rite of passage. I don't write to please everyone, but I like to make people happy. When I get a rejection, it's a twofold reaction of "What did I do wrong?" and "Live and learn."

    Last rejection I got was in the form of two negative reviews on ABNA. One was because sci-fi wasn't the reviewer's genre - which I understand - but my work nonetheless went over well. The second compared me to Star Trek (which I never watched) and basically told me I was unoriginal. I raised my eyebrow and went on, but this taught me that, no matter how well my work might go over, I cannot please everyone. And likely will not.

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  34. Jodi,

    *Big hug* Publishing does seems like a rough business! The only thing I can think to say is to focus on the success and learn from the negative. As with life, when you focus on the negative, it will put you at a standstill. Thanks for sharing your insight here, I really appreciate it as an aspiring writer myself.

    I pray the sting will not be so strong as you work through book 2.

    As for me, I'm going into this expecting nothing but rejection so if something positive comes out of it, I will be surprised and pleased. Sounds a bit pessimistic, but it's how I roll. ;o)

    Can't wait to read your 1st book! I emailed my info so I could be an influencer. That would be fun & I would love to help you out!

    ~arenof4

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  35. Jody,

    Thanks for sharing your very real experience with the publishing process. It is sometimes easy for people to assume that once that first contract is signed the hard work is over. Your post reminds us that we must continue to work hard and that there are no guarantees.

    I have had three manuscripts rejected by my current publisher and am currently preparing number four to be sent out. Though your rejection was painful, the sharing helped me to realize I am not the only one.

    Keep going and I am really looking forward to reading The Preachers Bride, if it is written with as much caring and compassion you express in your blog it should truly be a winner.

    Suzanne Santillan

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  36. I have just received my first two rejections and I am fine. I think I would feel the same as you though if I had the book2 issue.

    Keep smiling and happy scribbling. :)

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  37. I'm actually finding it easier to received rejections to my queries as the time goes on. It's not really rejection of my work, because they haven't even seen my work. Now, the kind of rejection you are dealing with? That would sting. A lot! I always tell myself not to take it personally, but it's hard. Our work IS so personal. Good luck with the revisions. Hopefully, you can develop a story both you and the publisher are happy with!

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  38. I got hammered on edits of my third ms, so I know what a shock it can be.

    A couple of things help to mitigate the sting for me.

    1. Consider the motives of the editor. If you trust that they only want to make you book the best it can be, then it's easier to be objective.

    2. Give it some time. A year away from that first really deep crit, I'm philosophical about it. A harsh critique (not that the editor was harsh, but that it felt harsh to think my ms wasn't as perfect as I thought it was) turned out to be a great thing for me. I write better as a result, and I know more what is possible when I start edits.

    I'm sure you'll be able to turn your ms into the story your editor wants, and it won't be as difficult as you might imagine. And you'll be a better writer for the process!

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  39. Hi Jody..rejection hurts like hell. As writers after a couple of our books are published, rejection or feedback like "this won't work for us hurt more." We tend to get complacent. Perhaps thats why the rejection happens, to urge us to work harder.

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  40. Umm. Yeah. One door closes. Another opens.

    "The writing's not good" does not mean "I'm not good."

    "I don't like it" does not mean "I don't like you."

    So I remind myself that the One who was rejected was/is in control.

    After I have a good cry. And a bowl of M&M's.

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  41. Hi Jody! I'm so sorry about your latest "rejection" (which, by the way, wasn't really a rejection). I face rejection ALL the time at work... I work for a website where things are fast paced and have to make an impact immediately. I can't tell you how many times my managing editor has thrown out articles/slideshows that I spent HOURS on. Not even given them edits, but just said "this isn't worthy of ANYTHING.

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  42. Now I can't wait for Friday's post! :-) The hardest part for me is putting myself out there because I KNOW rejection is inevitable. But I'll never grow otherwise.

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  43. Jody,
    I love this blog! I especially appreciate your being so open with us about your feelings. You've made it and still suffer the same fears and insecurities we all suffer. God bless your humility. It's very refreshing.

    On another subject, when will "The Preacher's Bride" become available to purchase and will I be able to order it online?

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  44. I wish I had all the answers to your questions, because it would make my life so much better. But I don't. I'm having my own struggles, as I make the transition to freelance writing.

    My personal angst falls along the lines of artistic integrity, control, vision, and collaboration. Where are the boundaries? Can I draw a line? Where do I draw it? Being edited is extremely challenging. I don't always fully agree with the choices being made.

    I'm married to an editor who gives me regular feedback and perspective. But I still struggle. Like you, sometimes I want to just pull in my sails, tie the boat to the harbor, and mourn the loss of my ideas and the words I carefully crafted. This afternoon I had one of these moments.

    I'm not sure anything softens the agony. I'm not sure experience makes us any better at taking critiques and giving up control. The more we write, the more opinionated we become about our own work.

    One thing that has helped me is this: writers are unable to accurately judge their own work. Why this is, I'm not sure. But I see it in my own life and hear about it from others. The perspective that editing provides can give us insights we will never have on our own.

    In this, we can see our pain has a purpose.

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  45. Jody, I'm sorry your second book hasn't gone perfectly.

    I like to think I'm pretty tough when it comes to rejection and criticism. But 5 minutes ago, someone just defriended me on Facebook because we have a difference of opinion on a political issue and I'm taking it way harder than I should.

    Maybe I'm not so good at rejection...

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  46. M.J. Macie asked: When will "The Preacher's Bride" become available to purchase and will I be able to order it online?

    My Answer: Thank you for asking!! :-) It will definitely be on bookstore shelves by Oct. 1. But it's already available for pre-order! If you check out my Books tab at the top of my blog, you'll see where it's availabe.

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  47. Thanks so much. I'll check out your Books tab and pre-order. Can't wait to read it.
    M.J.

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  48. Enjoyed your honest post. I too had thought after the book deal it would be smooth sailing. I'm interested to hear your perspective on balancing the writing for yourself & pleasing others. I can imagine that would be difficult for me as well to be so pleased with the story and be told it needed significant changes. When they are your characters & your heart is in there how do reconcile the changes requested?

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  49. I received a rejection this morning :( I try to not let it get me down, and move on to the next query, the next few thousand words on my wip.

    I agree that it's important to put all this in perspective. I appreciate your thoughtful post. It's nice to have blogger/writer folks out there who "get it."

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my blog. I appreciate it!

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  50. I am right there with you! It's so hard. My first book has been out there for 2 months, and I've gotten my share of critics. But the writing journey is so worth it! Wouldn't trade it for anything.

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  51. As I work on queries, I am bracing for rejection. I'll be referring back to this great post.

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  52. Rejection comes with the territory (to use a cliche) but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with. AND, you have to wait so long just to hear a "no".

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  53. Terri asked: When they are your characters & your heart is in there how do reconcile the changes requested?

    My Answer: I'm hoping I can tackle that question in tomorrow's post, Terri. It's definitely hard when we pour our hearts and souls into a book, to then have to cut the book apart with edits. But I think before we make major changes in our books, there are some questions we can ask ourselves and I'll share those in tomorrow's post! :-)

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  54. Oh, Jody. I'm sending you cyber hugs and a cyber basket of baked goodies and fresh coffee.

    I so appreciate your blog. I think it's a blog that every writer should read regularly. It's a blog that teaches about the publishing industry more than any other blog I read. Your experiences are there for all writers to learn from. Writers have many ups and downs. Thank you for sharing yours. It is such an encouragement to see someone push through the tough times and come out better on the other side. I know you will persevere!!

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  55. Very well said. Yes, I've been rejected, and I much prefer the acceptances:) Some rejections sting a bit longer than others, but I am grateful for the things that I learn through them. My goal is to become a better writer and to fulfill my calling.
    Blessings for your weekend,
    Karen

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  56. I was rejected yesterday and while I've gotten to a place where it merely stings like a bee (as opposed to be stabbed through the heart with a rusty dagger), all I could think was "I can't believe you didn't even want to see pages. Really?"

    Thanks for this. Right thing at the right time.

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  57. It never gets easier, does it? You're right--it isn't for the faint of heart.

    I've been worrying lately that my morning hours are not enough--that every other author is spending much more time on this. So thank you for reminding me it's okay to enjoy life--my personal life--right now.

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  58. "If we can’t take rejection, then we probably need to go back to writing stories for personal pleasure rather than publication."

    I always write for personal pleasure. If I don't like my own work why should I think anyone else does?

    Marc Vun Kannon
    http://authorguy.wordpress.com

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