Everyone Gets Rejected

[I’m taking a blogging break, so this is an encore presentation of a previous post.]

Lately I’ve seen a lot of writer blogs that speak poignantly about the pain of repeated rejections, and how it sometimes makes it hard to stay the course. Why do we keep writing? Why do we stay in this business?

If you’ve started submitting your work to agents and/or editors, then you’ve probably joined the ranks of the rejected-and-sometimes-dejected. I just want to tell you one thing from the perspective of an agent and former editor: You’re not alone. All of us have to deal with rejection.

As an agent, I field plenty of rejections for my clients. It still sometimes surprises me how much it hurts to get pass letters on my clients’ work. I only represent projects I truly believe in, and once I take them on, I put my heart into them and my full resources behind them. When I send them out there and get “sorry but this isn’t for us” within a matter of hours… I have to be honest, I take it kind of hard.

But those editors in the publishing houses? They get rejection, too. If an editor likes a project, they have to take it to their editorial meeting, and that’s their first opportunity to get rejected by the other editors. If their project makes it through editorial and goes to Pub Committee, it has a pretty good chance of getting rejected there. Individual editors might or might not take it personally depending on a number of factors, but you can bet they’re keenly aware of their record of hits vs. misses. Rejection stings on a professional level, and often the personal one as well.

Publishers experience “rejection” when a highly anticipated book doesn’t sell. Consumers are the final link in this rejection chain.

I guess we are all “in sales” to a certain degree. We have a product we need to sell. But when our product is also our art, and our words feel like they’re coming straight from our soul, it just feels awful when nobody’s buying!

So we ask ourselves, why am I doing this again? And we usually come up with answers like: I do it because I can’t not do it. This is what I love. I’ve been addicted to books since I can remember. I do it because this is how God has gifted me. This is what I do.

And as long as those motivations hold true, we’ll keep doing it. Writers will keep writing, editors will keep editing, agents will keep agenting, readers will keep reading, and publishers will keep publishing. And we’ll all keep getting rejected.

Is it worth the pain?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. by owner on January 2, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    Visitor recommendations…

    […]one of our visitors recently recommended the following website[…]……

  2. wall tiles bathroom on January 2, 2012 at 7:23 AM

    Great website…

    […]we like to honor many other internet sites on the web, even if they aren’t linked to us, by linking to them. Under are some webpages worth checking out[…]……

  3. fontanna czekoladowa on December 30, 2011 at 5:22 AM

    You should check this out…

    […] Wonderful story, reckoned we could combine a few unrelated data, nevertheless really worth taking a look, whoa did one learn about Mid East has got more problerms as well […]……

  4. Sherryl on January 7, 2010 at 11:52 PM

    >Rejection is hard, but part of the business. I'm glad to hear agents feel the pain, too!
    I think the worst rejection letter I ever had was one that said "we loved it and we almost accepted it"!
    At least they were honest, and gave me hope, but that was harder than a photocopied form in some ways.


  5. Shmologna on December 31, 2009 at 8:58 AM

    >We just have some kind of creepy attraction to agony.

  6. Lorelei Armstrong on December 31, 2009 at 3:01 AM

    >I wish I'd been rejected a bit more! It is far, far worse to be accepted by the wrong agent than to be out shopping for the right one.

  7. kanishk on December 30, 2009 at 11:19 PM

    >You are totaly right I felt that and know how it feels…but there is a moment when everything turns around if you continue working on your goal.

    kobe beef

  8. Carol J. Garvin on December 30, 2009 at 8:26 PM

    >Yes, I know it will be worth it because I love to write and whether my novels are ever published or not, that won't change.

  9. Randy Susan Meyers on December 30, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    >It's like the Mary Chapin Carpenter song: "Sometimes Your The Windshield, Sometimes Your The Bug."

    And yes, my book is about to launch, and I think it was worth the ride.

  10. Donna Hole on December 30, 2009 at 12:18 AM

    >I'm sorry: and then the spell checker miscorrected your name and I didn't even notice until it posted. Like, how embarrassing is that.

    Note to self: check the spell checker before supbmitting a query! Thanks Rachelle for having a sense of humor.

  11. Donna Hole on December 30, 2009 at 12:06 AM

    >Sometimes I forget that acquiring an agent is only the first step in the publication process.

    Rejection is not a happy occurrance. It's a part of the process. But as an aspiring author, hearing the soothing words: Thanks, but I don't feel I'm the best agent for this work, can be devastating. Especially since I, as an author, don't put a mere couple hours into researching the agent of query. I personally spend months getting to know the agent. So much time is spent on cultivating the agent I take the "rejection" as a personal rejection.

    Silly, I know. Especially since, as I've said, I devote a lot of energy to an agent that will possibly only spend 30 seconds reading my query. Eh, life is a gamble. Things work out or they don't. (No, I haven't queried because I don't think you'll represent what I write.)

    I follow (or rather Lurk in) your blog because you have useful, insider information and you seem to enjoy interracting with aspiring authors.

    I just wanted to take this year-end opportunity to say thanks for being willing to give honest, essential information about the publishing/agenting world, and to say I appreciate your posts. Even when I don't comment.

    And also, I really like this particular post, because it speaks to the wannabe in all of us. It lets me (as a aspiring writer) know that the "buck" doesn't stop at acquiring an agent, or excited editor of a publishing house, or even at gaining the approval of an entire network of hopeful individuals at the publishing house level.

    The public, after all, is the ultimate approval source of a novel. So; happy new years to you Rachel, and thanks for being an integral part of the process.


  12. Nancy Swan on December 29, 2009 at 10:59 PM

    >For memoir writers, our words do come from our souls. For Christian memoir writers, our words are formed by our faith. For all writers, our words come from a belief that our work will affect someone's life, cure an illness, give reason to hope, or inspire love and forgiveness. The message carried on the wings of our words is not rejected by agents to clip our wings but to send us in another direction.

    Rachelled, your insightful and tender blog entry takes the sting out of "rejection," perhaps long enough to change it to "reflection." Thanks.

  13. Sandy at God Speaks Today on December 29, 2009 at 10:55 PM

    >Thanks for this post. As long as I can't NOT write, I will accept the fact that rejection is part of the process.


  14. Mira on December 29, 2009 at 10:43 PM

    >I know, Step! Totally unintentional this time – sorry. I took my response down. Just the wrong tone and timing.

    Rachelle, I do think your point that reality can sometimes be painful is a good one.

    It's just that it's all so subjective. I hope people are careful when they give feedback.

  15. GunDiva on December 29, 2009 at 8:36 PM

    >Since I'm not looking to write as a career, I think I might do okay with the rejection. As another commenter said, it means that at least my work was complete enough to get to the rejection stage. Heck, I'm going to throw a party when I FINISH my novel!

  16. A Cechini on December 29, 2009 at 7:58 PM

    >Mary Hawkins, what a great point.
    Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  17. The Rejection Queen on December 29, 2009 at 5:48 PM

    >I'm waiting for your rejection as we speak.

  18. REG on December 29, 2009 at 5:24 PM

    >I am reminded of Jeremiah 20:9 when I am compelled to write. Sometimes you just can't hold the worlds in. They burn inside of you like a fire and must break out lest they consume you.

  19. Steph Damore on December 29, 2009 at 5:04 PM

    >They you go Mira, getting into another debate =)lol

    I was just going to comment on the "is it worth it part"–for me, it is, but I have to be careful as to how much of my life I devote to writing. It's a hard balance to maintain. When you want something so bad, it's difficult to be rational. I guess that's my New Year's resolution–finding my balance.

  20. Anonymous on December 29, 2009 at 3:53 PM

    >Sure, we all get rejected but it's hard not to take it personally–esp when we obviously don't see what's flooding agents and pubs' in-boxes.

    Writers all want to think their idea is unique and special but how else are we to know why we're rejected if there's no feedback? Silence is worse than rejection.

  21. Dave Cullen on December 29, 2009 at 2:23 PM

    >Thanks. It's true about everyone in the chain feeling the rejection sting. (And also the sting of having to reject. I finally met my editor and publicist together for lunch this spring, and they are a great team, but Cary, the publicist took great delight in saying that his job was so much more pleasant because his role was to say yes to everyone, and Jon's job as editor was to say no to almost everyone. No fun.)

    One of the best things for me about finally selling a book was not having to worry about magazine editors saying no no no for a couple years. It was a welcome break.

    The other nice thing about writing is that the longer I've stayed at it and the better I've gotten, I still get a ton of rejections (eg, the NY Times op-ed page nearly always says no), but the ratio is much better. And now sometimes they come to me. What a relief that is.

    I've also found that working with great editors pays off because they tend to get promoted. Having friends in high places often means having worked with them when they were in low places. It just takes ten years.

    It does improve.

  22. Rachelle on December 29, 2009 at 2:20 PM

    >Mira & Lissa: I have to interject here to say that a publisher saying a story isn't unique enough is not harsh or cruel, although of course it could be painful. It might simply be a statement of fact, that, taken in context, makes total sense. The context is "amidst all the memoirs out there, and all the life stories out there, this one doesn't have a unique enough angle to make it saleable."

    Rejection is hard, and when we hear specific feedback, it can be that much harder to take because of it's specificity. But writers are always begging for feedback, are they not? And isn't it' helpful to know why someone didn't decide to publish your story, even if it hurts?

    Mira, the fact that a memoir "isn't unique enough" is not necessarily "utter nonsense." Sure, all individuals are unique, but that's different from the type of "unique" required in publishing. Most great memoirs aren't great because of the amazing uniqueness of the author's life experience, but because of the way the story is written.

    Nobody is passing judgment on anyone's life. But it's our job to make a judgment about whether your particular rendering of your life story is something that resonates with us and will resonate with other people.

  23. Mira on December 29, 2009 at 1:45 PM

    >Lissa – that's so terrible, it almost funny! I hope you didn't listen to him – it's utter nonsense. Everyone's story is unique.

    Arrgghhh. Why would someone say that to an author about their memoir? Rejection is one thing; people who are callous or harsh or even cruel in their rejections is something else altogether. Blech.

  24. Solvang Sherrie on December 29, 2009 at 1:18 PM

    >I'm feeling the pain this morning with a fresh rejection in my inbox. I don't think it ever gets easier. On the bright side, it was a personal rejection from a request for a full. I'll cling to that happy thought for now.

  25. Lissa on December 29, 2009 at 12:06 PM

    >So much further potential for rejection which will be mostly out of my control. This post did not make me feel better.

    I think rejection stings a little bit extra when the project is a memoir, because it's not just my writing, but my life that's being judged. However, I was particularly comforted the time a publisher told me that my story wasn't unique enough.

  26. Lauren on December 29, 2009 at 11:55 AM

    >I believe everyone eventually is satisfied and gratified in their hard work whether it's in the way they originally planned or not – God's divine purpose and all that. The thing to remember is not to write with the idea that you're going to get a particular piece published. Write with the idea that you're writing for God, yourself, and your characters. That's what I constantly have to remind myself.

  27. T. Anne on December 29, 2009 at 11:36 AM

    >Thanks Rachelle. The sting of rejection lasts only a moment, but my desire to write eclipses all that pain.

  28. Mary Hawkins on December 29, 2009 at 11:35 AM

    >Is writing worth the pain?
    Because the joy of knowing that one of my friends truly enjoyed or was touched by something I wrote is worth the sting of dozens of professional "Thank you for your submission, BUT…" letters. And because I fear the pain of looking back over my life and seeing all the opportunities I let pass much more than I fear the pain of a few rejections.
    Thanks for this post.

  29. Anita Saxena on December 29, 2009 at 11:16 AM

    >Thank you for pointing out that its not only writers that have to deal with rejection.

  30. james on December 29, 2009 at 10:51 AM

    >If the dream is big enough the facts dont count! Michael Jordan didnt start until his senior year in high school. Rejections suck, but without them there can be no success either.

  31. Olivia Ryan on December 29, 2009 at 10:28 AM

    >Most of us who write, whether published or not, have experienced rejection and often continue to do so at times throughout our writing careers; it can feel very wearying sometimes, so it's refreshing to read about it from another aspect. I know from experience that what you say is very true, so thank you for sharing it.

  32. Caroline Starr Rose on December 29, 2009 at 10:25 AM

    >After signing with an agent this fall, I decided to go over my submission records for the last eleven years. Here's what I found:
    211 editor rejections
    75 agent rejections

    Writing is a long, solitary slog. I keep reminding myself my work can only get better, and I have something unique to say.

  33. Marla Taviano on December 29, 2009 at 10:25 AM

    >Thanks for posting this again, Rachelle. It's one of my favorites. Hits home bigtime.

  34. Mira on December 29, 2009 at 9:57 AM

    >I really like this post alot, Rachelle. It feels like you really 'get' what it's like to have something so personal rejected. It's healing to have that acknowledged. Thanks.

    It's also a good reminder that everywhere down the line, we're all human, all dealing with frustrations and roadblocks.

    Is it worth the pain? That's a very individual question and depends on people's motivations, as you wrote. For me, yes. It is. 🙂

  35. David Mosley on December 29, 2009 at 9:25 AM

    >I have heard that Stephen King got enough rejection letters that he had to use a railroad tie to nail them to the wall. I don't know if the story is true or hyperbole or just plain false, but even the big names got rejected at some point.

    I received my first rejection letter a little over a year ago. It was my fault. I broke all the rules (not having known them). For that matter, my book was not even finished! It still isn't if I want to be truthful. Perhaps it is because making it, being published is my end goal for my writing but not my career, but I loved getting that letter. It meant someone had to read my work and say no. Someone at least semi-professional said something about something I had written. It was a wonderful experience. One I'm glad to have in case I never submit a book for publishing again.

  36. Richard Mabry on December 29, 2009 at 8:28 AM

    >In his little book of advice to writers, George Singleton points out that "To get published…takes time, patience, commitment, stubbornness, and the brains of a hammer." Why? Because it comes after repeated rejections. Yet the writer doesn't give up, instead choosing to say, "I'll show them."

  37. DL Hammons on December 29, 2009 at 8:24 AM

    >For me, the whole process is very similar to asking a girl on a first date. And I'm not talking about just any girl, but one from a upperclass, all-girl, catholic school. These girls don't say yes to just anyone, they have reputations to think about. But they're the only game in town, so if you want to go out dancing on a Friday night you'd better be ready to endure plenty of uncomfortable moments until you find the one that takes a shine to you.

    Your an awesome dancer, funny, smart, a good listener, and serious about finding that one special partner. You can't understand why ALL the girls wouldn't want to go out with you, but one after another they answer NO THANKS. You start to wonder if theres something wrong with you. Do you have body odor? Maybe its the complexion? Then you blame your lack of dating success on the girls themselves. Stuck-up bitches!

    All the while a fear grows in the back of your mind, poisoning any confidence you might muster. Maybe, just maybe, I'm meant to be alone?

    I don't fear being rejected by any particular agent. Rather, I fear being rejected from the profession.

  38. Shelby on December 29, 2009 at 7:50 AM

    >is it worth the pain?


  39. A. Grey on December 29, 2009 at 6:34 AM

    >'can't not do it' best line ever… theme of my life where writing is involved.

    … says the girl who just stayed up until three-something writing and is now trying to hit a vein for the coffee I.V. so she knows what end of the horse to put the saddle on when she gets to work in a half-hour…

  40. Sharon A. Lavy on December 29, 2009 at 6:20 AM

    >I have a suggestion for an uplifting post tomorrow? Please? =)

  41. Anonymous on December 29, 2009 at 4:27 AM

    >Exactly! I'm a journalist so have seen my name in print lots of times. But I'm not a masochist so if agents keep saying NO cuz my novel isn't the latest hot trend (paranormal teen thriller), then I'll contact editors directly. Then there's always the Kindle route–sad but true. Why let agents control our lives and futures?

  42. Kamelia on December 29, 2009 at 4:23 AM

    >You are totaly right I felt that and know how it feels…but there is a moment when everything turns around if you continue working on your goal.

  43. Superfast on December 29, 2009 at 3:23 AM

    >I guess at this point in our technological history, the question is not "Should I continue in the face of rejection?", but rather "Should I just move on to all these other ways which I can be a writer instead of pursuing this irritating and financially crippled industry?"