Whenever we submit a part of our soul that we translated into words, we do so armed with nothing but the hope that the person reading our work will understand it.
Sometimes they do. Most times they don’t.
Rejection scrapes the heart. But, well, there’s nothing to do about it. In fact, rejection is as much a part of being a writer as punching those damn keys. It’s as much a part of being a writer as the edits and the rewrites and the social media marketing.
Rejection is this universe’s way of testing our commitment to our cause. If we wouldn’t have to deal with rejection, everyone would be a writer.
For any aspiring writer, a rejection letter, regardless of the provenience of said letter, is one of the most dreaded of objects. In this line of work getting rejected is considered a sort of literary murder — people are knowingly destroying something you’ve spent time on, and a lot of it. But the thing is, everyone gets rejected.
The literary gods we so eagerly offer our praise to were rejected countless times.
Because editors and agents are quite human. And to be human means to make mistakes. But it’s not just about that, like one publisher wrote Frank Herbert while rejecting Dune ( “I might be making the mistake of the decade, but …”) It’s more along the line of literary preferences.
I know publishing is an industry, and I know that it’s all about business decisions, but editors/agents make those decision on account of their own ideas of how a book should look or what it should do, and they have to be able to sell it. It’s like giving your novel to a lot of random strangers. If you’re unlucky, you might even get a long streak of people who won’t like your story.
Agatha Christie received some 500 rejections, and then went on to sell more books than anyone else on the planet with the exception of Shakespeare.
J.K. Rowling got rejected 12 times before making over a billion dollars out of Harry Potter and breaking all sorts of ridiculous records in terms of book sales.
Dr. Seuss received a rejection letter that went like this, “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” Of course, he didn’t give up.
“I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” This is how the youngest writer ever to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature was rejected.
“We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.” This is what J.D. Salinger received for The Catcher in the Rye, which is probably famous just because the narrator has such a clear and interesting voice.
“It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.” This one was addressed to none other than Ernest Hemingway.
William Golding received a rejection that went like this, “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” Of course, he didn’t give up, and his masterpiece, The Lord Of The Flies sold 15 million copies.
It took Gertrude Stein 20 years before getting her first poem published.
As I said earlier, Frank Herbert got rejected 20 times, John Grisham got rejected 25 times, even the King got rejected a dozen times for Carrie.
"Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature." - The Wizard of Oz
"An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book." - War Of The Worlds
"Our united opinion is entirely against the book. It is very long, and rather old-fashioned." - Moby Dick
Even James Joyce, considered by many to have been the supreme literary genius of the past century, received 22 rejections for The Dubliners, before it finally got published. He sold three hundred books in the first year, out of which 120 were purchased by Joyce himself.
“An absurd story as romance, melodrama or record of New York high life.”- rejection letter for The Great Gatsby
Alex Haley wrote for eight years before selling his first short story. Eventually he went on to win the Pulitzer. Much like Norman Mailer, who got his fair share of rejection letters before winning the Pulitzer also. Twice.
Jack Kerouac, George Orwell, Mario Puzo, all of them got rejected countless times.
Okay, so everyone gets rejected. And there’s nothing you can do. You can become a perfectionist, but the truth is that you never know what your words are worth to someone else until they read them.
There’s only one way to please everyone: by writing nothing at all.
So, yeah, don’t lose sleep over who thinks what about your writing. Your job is to punch those damn keys.
Don’t think, just write.
Let them decide what your writing means, if it’s any good, or what it’s worth it to them, while you work on your next piece.
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