What Rejection Can Teach Us

“I’m afraid it’s going to have to be a ‘no’ from me.”

David French and I once wrote that rejection was just life’s way of telling you you’re unworthy. Despite that note of hilarity, it may seem as though there’s nothing to be gained from a rejection other than an increased desire for chocolate. However, some rejections can be very useful indeed, once you know how to interpret them.
By way of illustration, here are three recent nil pointsfrom my own table along with some thoughts.

1. Sample material from one of my novels to a literary agent.
“While we enjoyed reading your submission, which stood out from the many we receive, we couldn’t find an agent here who felt strongly enough to take it further and therefore we are afraid we are not able to offer you representation for this project.”
I’ll start by saying that I always take rejections on trust. It saves time. I don’t assume they’re just being kind, or that they’d love to discuss it with me further at great length and preferably in person over coffee. It just is what it is – all they need me to know is in the words.
The highlights, as I see it
    They enjoyed reading it.
    It stood out from the many.
    They couldn’t find an agent who felt strongly enough about it.
For me, the key question then is why didn’t an agent feel strongly enough about it?
The following thoughts arose
    Did I target the right agent and / or the right agency?
    Does my book have enough commercial potential?
    What changes could I make  – and would I be willing to make – before the next submission?
An afterthought
These days there is little value in writing back to agents. They’re snowed under and, realistically, they’ll probably refer you to The Writers’ & Artists’ Handbook, or The Writers’ Handbook, or even one of their own courses.
Okay, next please. 

2. This time it was a short story submission to a prestigious magazine.
:This piece was poetic and provocative, for some reason it reminded me of Keats with its longing. I really think it would work better as a poem than a story, because the event described is so isolated and framed in beauty. Were taking a pass on this in its current fiction form, but please do feel free to rework it/resend it or dazzle us with your other stories when we re-open.”
The highlights, as I see it
    They clearly read it carefully and understood the effect I was going for.
    I achieved that effect to some extent.
    They’re clear about what they’d like to see in order to consider it afresh.
    I know that such poetry is not within my repertoire.
The following thought arose
– Maybe a new piece in a different genre might interest them. 

An afterthought
I sent one in and I hope to hear back in a couple of months.

3. This final rejection is from the People Per Hour freelancing site.
“Offered to another bidder, price was not the factor. Thank you for your time.”
The highlights, as I see it
    My pricing for the job was appropriate.
The following thoughts arose
    Was my pitch right for the client?
    Was the client right for me?

In the end, the worst rejections – and indeed the only really useless ones – are those that tell us nothing new beyond ‘no thanks’. In the end, it’s a piece of information we can sometimes learn from and develop as a consequence.
Now, where’s that chocolate? 


  1. Chloe says:

    Thanks for sharing. I love how honest you are about this aspect of writing – the biggest aspect for all writers! That's really positive feedback which is both encouraging and frustrating!

  2. Hiya, Chloe. I think all writers want feedback (alongside validation, success, artistic freedom and financial security!) so it helps to be grateful for what we are about to receive!

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